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When Should I Upgrade My Desktop Publishing Software?

Cost, Use, Learning Curve, and Compatibility Issues


Adobe InDesign CS4

A lot of designers still use Adobe InDesign CS4 (and even earlier versions) even though it's now at CS6.

Adobe InDesign CS4, Image from Adobe, Inc.

Question: When Should I Upgrade My Desktop Publishing Software?


While some software users like to always have the latest version as soon as it is released, not everyone can afford to be on the cutting edge. How long you wait to upgrade depends on not only your finances but also how you are using your desktop publishing software.



It's not uncommon for some users of desktop publishing software to stick with their version through two or three or more upgrades. But this doesn't work for everyone.

Covered in this FAQ:

  • Cost
  • Professional Use
  • Learning Curve & Features
  • Software/Hardware Compatibility & Support
  • 6 Points to Ponder For Deciding When to Upgrade


Desktop publishing software can be expensive. Professional packages can run into the thousands of dollars. Even consumer packages can push a hundred dollars and they often upgrade those packages every year.

For the casual user, constant upgrades are not really necessary. Unless you feel you just can't live without the newest features or extras it doesn't hurt to wait. If you stay a couple of upgrades behind you can often upgrade to the not-quite-the-latest version for much less than if you jumped on each new package as it comes out.

Using free desktop publishing software also avoids the financial burden of upgrades. But beware of staying too far behind. Some companies may not give price breaks to upgrade to the newest version if you are more than one or two versions behind. You could end up paying full price as if you weren't already a user of the product.

In addition to the traditional retail packages, some software manufacturers offer a type of installment plan. It may require being online to access the software (cloud computing) or installing software that is in some way time-limited. While the overall cost of the software may be higher than purchasing it outright, for some people paying a monthly subscription or lease is financially easier to manage.

What some readers are saying about the cost of upgrades:

"I would love to upgrade to Adobe CS5, but I can't afford it. Not all of us are big business and the price is too far out of reach." —Konamele

"I am still working with CS2 and QuarkXPress 7 because I can't afford to upgrade. ... As for less expensive, or even free software, if I didn't have what I have, I would work with and do the best I can with what I can afford. (I hope it doesn't come to that though.)" —Guest Jim

"...the cost of waiting too long may mean you have to totally re-buy the software. You have to weigh that problem." —Houndgirl

Professional Use

Sometimes an upgrade is simply the cost of doing business if your business depends on desktop publishing software. The client doesn't generally care what software you use but others might — such as your collaborators, service bureau, or print provider.

What some readers are saying about the upgrading for business:

"The trick is to time your upgrades so that you're in phase with most of the users with whom you exchange files." —prepresssupervisor

"... if you're a passive producer, that is, you receive materials and produce paperwork - by all means use old/comfortable software. If your proofing though, the newer tools make life easier. If I'm proofing an ad back to a client, I can Adobe connect and share monitors in realtime to finalise the artwork - only sending a PDF proof at the last moment for signoff. I think also that it is a reasonable expectation for clients to have up-to-date software." —Guest Terence Boylen

"Then comes the problem that the printers you work with--who are forced to buy the latest versions to keep up with their customers--begin to stop supporting your two or three-version old software." —Houndgirl

Learning Curve and Features

Do you have the time and inclination to re-learn your software. Even if you aren't changing products, just versions, some upgrades will completely change the way the software works. Are the new and improved features worth it to you? When Broderbund released new versions of The Print Shop and PrintMaster, long time users discovered that they weren't getting an upgrade. Instead, they were whole new programs with fewer features and incompatible with all the files created by earlier versions. Upgrade doesn't necessarily mean better.

What some readers are saying about features upgrades:

"... I've decided to wait on all upgrades unless a trusted reviewer tells me it's a must. ...I'd be very suspicious of the value of upgrades. What is good for marketing isn't necessarily good for the established user. Are a bell and two whistles really worth purchase, installation, and retraining expenses and the possible loss of some functionality?" —Guest 94magna

"Just purchased Print Master 2.0 thinking it was an upgrade from Print Master 18, but found (in conversation with Broderbund customer service) that the two programs were developed and produced by different companies. I discovered only after installing Print Master 2.0 that it does NOT RECOGNIZE any of the projects/files created in Print Master 18." —BarryUlrich

Software/Hardware Compatibility & Support

At some point you may find you must upgrade your desktop publishing software because you've upgraded your operating system or your computer hardware. Before you buy the newest OS or a different computer, consider what that means for all the software you currently use. It might not work. Also consider that even if it will still run on your new system (perhaps with some tweaking), you may no longer get technical support from the manufacturer if you're too many versions behind so you have to upgrade — or change programs.

What some readers are saying about compatibility issues:

"Don't mention 'upgrade' to a mac user. To upgrade my CS 3 suite, well - I have to buy new hardware to run the OS that allows the upgrades." —Guest Connie

"Resist upgrading until it becomes apparent the old stuff doesn't work anymore. I love my old mac with OX 9 using Quark 4, Photoshop 5.0 and Illustrator 7. If we didn't have to process our client's newer file formats I'd still be using that setup. If it ain't broke don't fix it!" —a2zprinter

6 Points to Ponder For Deciding When to Upgrade

  1. The features are worthwhile to you and the type of work you do.

    Read reviews not only from professional reviewers but get opinions from day-to-day users. It's probably a good idea to wait a few months after a new release before getting onboard the new version bandwagon.


  2. You have the time and desire to learn how to use the new version.

    Again, check reviews and user comments to find out how much the software has changed to gauge how much time you'll need to invest in learning how to use the software.


  3. A lack of compatibility with those with whom you must work or share files with impacts you negatively.

    Consider those up and down stream from you. How do you receive files from others? What kind of files do you need to send out? If PDF is the norm, be sure to check the PDF features of the upgrade you are considering.


  4. You must upgrade your computer and older versions won't work.

    Sometimes a few tweaks is all it takes to keep using older software on new computers. Try that option first before upgrading if other upgrade reasons don't apply.


  5. You must have ready access to technical support that isn't provided with older versions.

    Before deciding not to upgrade, try to find out how long the manufacturer will continue to support your version. Also look for active technical support forums with both staff and knowledgeable users.


  6. You can afford it and can't afford not to.


    • upgrade before upgrade pricing is no longer available
    • consider subscription or month-to-month pricing if offered
    • try out free or open source software if upgrading current software is no longer a viable option

More Upgrade Options


Readers Respond: Top Reasons to Upgrade or Not Upgrade Your Desktop Publishing Software

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