The Digital Art Studio: Recovering CS6 Access If CC Expires

As an artist, if you give me some paper and something to draw with, and I can start working. As a digital artist, my digital art studio is only as powerful as the applications I have properly installed. That’s a big reason why the range of tools available via the Adobe Creative Cloud (CC) feels so empowering. However, I recently discovered how completely disabling it can be if your Creative Cloud subscription is interrupted.

We all know that you cannot keep using CC apps if your subscription is cancelled or expired. In some cases, this means that if you save files in CC and end your subscription, you can lose access to your own files. While we keep pleading and wishing that Adobe would give users a way to permanently “earn” current versions of an app, I had always felt a bit safer knowing that if I save my files correctly, in an emergency I would be able to switch over to my perpetually-licensed CS6 Design Premium. Alas, I recently discovered that my foolproof backup plan to “just switch” to CS6, doesn’t quite work as smoothly as I’d assumed. Here’s what happened.

Losing Access to CS6


I’d been swamped with work and life, and felt unable to add even one more task to my queue when the email notified me that my CC subscription was expiring in a few days. Deciding that I’d just switch to CS6 until I had time to work things out, I continued to press-on with my current tasks. Then it happened. While I was in the middle of a full work day, my cloud tether snapped. “Oh well,” I thought foolishly, “I’ll just switch over to my CS6 apps.” But to my astonishment, every time I tried to launch a CS6 app, the Creative Cloud app launched as well. Unable to validate my CC subscription, the CC app prompted me to enter a new subscription or quit. There was option to instead just enter my CS6 serial numbers, which made it impossible to launch any of my CS6 apps. I found this particularly perplexing because I’d installed the CS6 apps initially with perpetual licenses and serial numbers. However, it turns out that once you install CC, it takes over management of older app updates. And in my case, CC was blocked the launch of even my previously-registered, perpetually-licensed CS6 apps.

Of course I could re-up my subscription (and I did have an internet connection), but for a variety of reasons, I wanted to make certain that there was some way to get my CS6 apps working without reinstating the CC subscriptions.

Why Keeping CS6 is Important

Ever since it shipped, I have kept the CS6 Design Premium Suite on my computers. I really do enjoy many of the features in CC apps, and even rely heavily on others (such as Illustrator’s raster brushes), and yet there are many times I still prefer to work in CS6. For instance, when I need to quickly create Illustrator or InDesign documents that I know will open clients’ or colleagues’ computers who don’t use CC, it’s easier to have everyone in the workflow using the same version, so I just stick with the CS6 apps.

I’m also mindful that glitches happen. I have a basic distrust in the reliability of digital security and internet connections, so I’m especially skeptical of applications that are dependent on connectivity and the validation of credit cards and passwords. The what-ifs range from having to work on files on someone else’s machine with older apps, to the thought of some day not able to upgrade my computer enough to justify maintaining CC. In any case, I want to be certain that I won’t be locked out of my own files. And so, when creating documents for myself, even as I’ve grown increasingly dependent on new features in CC apps, I’ve also made a habit of saving versions I’ll be able to open in CS6 if needed.

Thankfully, so far my Photoshop’s CC PSD files have opened flawlessly in Photoshop CS6. So I’m comfortable working (for now) in Photoshop CC without worry about app-lockout. But with Illustrator and InDesign it’s not quite as simple. All recent Illustrator formats are PDF, and therefore openable (and to some extent editable) in Illustrator and Acrobat, but many things can go awry in the translation. So I generally save back copies in Illustrator CS6 format whenever I remember to do so. Most images remain intact and many features remain editable, although artwork created with newer features such as my beloved raster brushes are expanded. With InDesign, most of my files remain editable and intact as long as I remember to save as IDML (InDesign Markup, openable with CS4 and later). A recent InDesign CC feature helps by adding an option to automatically save an IDML copy of a document when you package the files.

So with my files are largely in order, I was kind of shocked that I couldn’t launch CS6. It turns out though, it doesn’t matter if your CS apps were on your computer before you subscribed to the Creative Cloud. At some point, your CS products become connected to the CC app. I have not yet been able to determine if this happens when you install CC for the first time, or when you apply updates for CS apps through the Cloud app. In any case, for me the result was that my previously installed CS6 suite was unable to launch without Adobe intervention.

Getting Help from Adobe

After a lot of time and one-on-one help from Adobe, I was finally able to regain control of my CS6 suite, but (and this is important), only after I agreed to give Adobe technical support remote access to my system files via a live internet connection. This obviously will not work if you are on a government or university computer, or are in an internet-free zone, so I probed a little deeper to see if there is any other way to get up and running on CS6 if your CC is expired.

First of all, if this happens to you, take a deep breath. Then make sure your CS6 serial numbers handy, and know you’re in for some down time. If you have an internet connection, Adobe recommends that you contact them via a toll-free phone (the support contact number for US region is: 1-800-833-6687) or 24/7 chat (via Note: We’ll update this info if we have further navigation hints for reaching the right department.

To solve the problem, Adobe Tech Support will want you to grant them remote access to your computer. If you can’t or won’t allow this, you can ask if they can explain the process over the phone so you can bypass the CC apps and re-enter your serial numbers. If this doesn’t work, Adobe support told me that if you completely search and remove ALL Adobe files, you will be able to reinstall CS6 fresh, at which point you can enter the serial numbers when prompted. If you’re on a Mac, and you use Time Machine, you could also try to recover a version of CS6 you had before installing CC. If you do this, please let us know the results in the comments.

Final Thoughts

In any event, now that I know what I know, I’ll likely download any available updates to the original CS6 installer—so if this situation does occur without my ability (or willingness) to cede my computer control to Adobe, I will be able to get back to work with my files.

Posted on: December 19, 2016

Sharon Steuer

Sharon Steuer has been creating, writing about, and teaching workshops on digital art since the early 1980s. The current edition of her Illustrator WOW! book, The Adobe Illustrator WOW! Book for CS6 and CC, is the fourteenth book in the series, and her "Artistic Painting in Illustrator" online video courses are available from Sharon is also the author of Creative Thinking in Photoshop: A New Approach to Digital Art, and is a regular contributor to Her digital paintings and illustrations have appeared in numerous books and magazines and have been exhibited nationally. You can find Sharon via,, and @SharonSteuer (Twitter).

9 Comments on The Digital Art Studio: Recovering CS6 Access If CC Expires

  1. And always save any project as .idml, which opens in CS5 and 6

  2. Yet another vivid example of bogus Adobe practices. Work in CC and risk yourself or clients losing access to YOUR creations.

  3. Any InDesign project, I mean of course, (most) other programs can save files in ‘lower’ versons

  4. Adobe’s subscription-only approach is the closest thing we have to monopolistic despotism. Because it’s so all-or-nothing and so expensive for people who rely on Adobe apps only occasionally, I’ve never signed up. And, unless every other alternative is erased from every PC in the world, I never will.

    So, while I sympathize with Sharon, I don’t think it’s OK to complain about the Dark Side once you’ve stepped into it. If, instead of lamenting the downside of lapsed subscriptions, she and the majority of subscribers all let (or threatened to let) their subscriptions expire, Adobe might be forced to reconsider installable programs. Programs we can hold onto for several years. Programs that are always there when you need them.

    Adobe may claim that CC provides all the latest and greatest all the time. Yet those incremental enhancements come at a very high price. And, like bundling by cable and car companies, the only way to get the essentials is to pay for far more applications or features than you’re ever likely to use. Their plans are either one or all. There are no in-betweens. And, as the brutish survivor of a once competitive environment, Adobe lords it over everyone with a level of arrogance that would make a pharoah blush.

    For everyone who can amortize the cost through the fees that they charge to their clients, this is probably all fine. But for the group that can’t, there are, fortunately, still other installable options. Options that can be used for years. Options that, combined, cost less than a single year’s subscription to All Apps.

  5. The key to this post though, is that even if you:
    1) save back your files in CS6, and
    2) HAVE legal and permanent serial numbers for an installed CS6 from before there was even CC

    If your CC expires, you will NOT be able to “just open up CS6 and keep working”–as I had previously assumed. Once you’ve installed CC, then you are in for time-consuming steps in order to simply access your CS6 files on a legal copy of CS6.

  6. More reasons why so many design professionals are switching to Affinity software!

  7. Gad, what a pain! Thank you Sharon for pointing all this out. I think one another solution would be to maintain CS6 on a “backup” computer/laptop, one that never had CC installed. If you happen to have a backup comp sitting around.

    I’m assuming they want access because they need to remove some hidden Adobe CC processes from the hard drive. These are usually easily found (and “killed”) on the Mac with Activity Monitor. Not sure how that’d work on Windows.

  8. Uwe Laubender

    April 2, 2017 at 4:54 am

    As a workaround: Use InDesign CS5.5 (or below) instead of CS6 if you can. CS5.5 is not affected by any Adobe Cloud process.

    But if you have to rely on CS6, because e.g. some customers require to hand over documents in that exact format you cannot do that.

    And more: If you are using 3rd party plug-ins be aware that they are perhaps installed with the registered CS6 version bundled with the cloud.

    Then you are stuck using them on a re-installed CS6 perpetual version. They will not work because they are not registered with your perpetual version.

    Simple reason:
    Using CS6 with the cloud will change the serial number of an already installed perpetual version.


    • Thank you Uwe for the added info for readers. You’re right, if you’re willing to go back to CS5 or 5.5 then you can keep everything distinct.

      And good tip to make sure to check your plug-ins as well.
      I’d love the option when you install CC to “keep my CS6 separate”—that sure would be appreciated.

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