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Adobe's XD design tool is now free

But serious users must still pay $10 a month to get around a limit on prototype sharing.

One new feature coming to Adobe XD is a tool to group different aspects of a design into layers. XD's layers are designed to be simpler than the proliferation that can bog down complex Photoshop or Illustrator documents.
Making XD a free product reflects Adobe's new emphasis on growth.
Adobe Systems

Adobe Systems' XD, a relatively new tool for designing the look and structure of apps and websites, no longer has a price tag -- with one caveat.  

For years, designers used other Adobe software, most notably Photoshop, to mock up websites and apps. But in many ways, Photoshop isn't great for the job. So Adobe released XD -- short for experience design -- in 2016 to help graphic designers control how tapping an app button or clicking a website link will lead people through a digital realm. XD 

"XD could be as big if not bigger than Photoshop someday," said Scott Belsky, Adobe's chief product officer and leader of its Creative Cloud software. "This is the center of design. We believe the product is at a point where the world really needs to see this."

The decision, announced Tuesday, to make XD free shows a new emphasis on growth at Adobe, a company that's profited mightily from its shift to pay-by-the-month subscription software. This latest move comes two weeks after another attempt to woo new users: a massive price cut for schools, which can now pay $5 per student per year for the full Creative Cloud suite of Adobe software.

If Adobe lures you in the door, though, expect to pay its usual premium pricing eventually. The cheap education deal doesn't apply to college students, for example, and the free standalone XD lacks some collaborative abilities of the full $600-per-year Creative Cloud subscription in which it's already included.

What limits exactly? The free "Starter Plan" version of Adobe XD lets you work on as many designs as you like. But when it comes to online sharing, you can only offer a single design at a time.

Adobe XD lets designers not just determine the visual look of a website or mobile app but also the flow people will experience as they tap buttons or links.

Adobe XD lets designers not just determine the visual look of a website or mobile app but also the flow people will experience as they tap buttons or links. 

Adobe Systems

In contrast, people who use XD through the full Creative Cloud subscription -- or pay a $10 monthly XD-only subscription -- can share links to multiple prototypes and design specifications at the same time. That kind of sharing is more likely to be important for designers working with multiple clients or at bigger businesses.

The design-sharing limitation may sound like a pain, but it's what made the free version possible.

"It was a difficult sell internally," Belsky said. "If we didn't believe the opportunity on collaboration for the enterprise team side of this wasn't enormous, we wouldn't do it."

The free version also could help Adobe catch up to rivals. Adobe released the first XD prototype, called Project Comet, in 2015.

"I wish we'd started a couple years earlier," Belsky said. But he's confident Adobe XD is the right combination of powerful, fast and now priced to move. "This really will be the center of gravity of design."

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