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Becoming an ACE and ACI

Becoming an Adobe Certified Expert or Certified Instructor is something that I’ve found that many people are interested in. There seems to be a lot of questions about how to get certified, and if it’s worth it or not. I’m hoping to give you a little bit of help in both of these areas with this blog.


First of all, you’re probably wondering, “what authority does this dude have to tell me about getting Adobe certified?”. I took my first Adobe Certified Expert exam back in February of 2001, when I became a certified expert in Photoshop 6 (btw, Photoshop CS4 = Photoshop 11). Since then, I’ve gotten certified in most versions of Photoshop (including CS3 and CS4), Illustrator, After Effects, Premiere Pro, Acrobat, InDesign, and I was one of the first people in the world to become a certified expert in Encore DVD (now just called Encore). Later in my career, I was also involved in creating some of the tests – authoring the majority of the After Effects CS3 exam, and I’ve also been a technical editor on other tests for Premiere Pro and Illustrator. So, I’ve been around the certification block a little bit.

Let’s start from the bottom up. You become an Adobe Certified Expert by taking a pretty hardcore test about a given program. These tests are computer-based, and I’ll give you links to where to go to sign up for those at the end of this post. Currently, these tests cost about $150USD, and if you fail, you’ve got to pay the same amount to take the test all over again. It’s important to note that you don’t just become an “Adobe Certified Expert”, you become an “Adobe Certified Expert in…” such and such of an application. And you don’t just certify in a given application, you also certify in a specific VERSION of that application. The downside of certifying then, is that your certification expires when the test for the next version is released. So, as I mentioned, I’m an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop CS4. While I will go to my grave being a certified expert in CS4, if I don’t recertify when the test for Photoshop CS5 comes out, then I’m no longer authorized to say that I’m an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop (without mentioning the version number), AND I no longer have the perks of being an Adobe Certified Expert.

What exactly are the perks of being Adobe certified?

Once certified, you get permission from Adobe to use their logo on your resumé, portfolio, demo reel, web site, promotional materials, etc. That’s pretty powerful. However, you get even MORE features when you become an Adobe Certified Instructor. Adobe requires you to become an Adobe Certified Instructor before teaching at an authorized teaching facility, which generally earns you about $400USD-$500USD per day or more. You become an Adobe Certified Instructor by being an Adobe Certified Expert with some kind of teaching credential. This usually comes in the form of a college teaching degree. But for those that want something a little faster (and cheaper), you can also become CompTIA CTT+ (Certified Technical Trainer) as well. The CompTIA CTT+ certification is kinda like a teaching degree for nerds. It’s a one time test that you take that has two parts: a computer based test similar to the Adobe cert tests, and also a video test. The video test is a video that you send in of you teaching a class. I should probably warn you that the computer based test is the most boring thing I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. I fell asleep like 3 times during it. I would rather get stabbed in the face while being dipped in boiling oil than to take that stupid test again. I’ll provide a link to CompTIA at the end of this post.

Let’s say you want to get certified. Where do you go to get the knowledge you need to pass the test?

Unfortunately, Adobe does not have any authorized curriculum (like Apple does, for example) that can help you get certified. Adobe does prepare certification guides that give you a basic outline of what will be on the test. One of the best resources out there is the actual help documentation that comes with Adobe software (or can be found online for free on adobe.com). There are some random exam aids and helps out there. I’ve tried a few. Some of them don’t seem, uh… legal. Some of them are really expensive and don’t really have anything to do with the actual questions on the exam. Nothing that I’ve tried has been more helpful than the actual help documentation, though. How do you know you’re ready to take the exam? Using Adobe’s exam outline as your guide, go through the same topics in Adobe’s help. If you learn anything new, you’ll probably want a little more study time before taking the test. Try to find tips, articles, blogs, and books in the topics that you aren’t as comfortable with.

So, it takes a lot of studying and money to take just the expert test. Should you do it?

 Well, that depends. When getting a job as a digital artist, most employers really only care about your art skills. While certification can be a real help to some, many people might do better by going down to the local city college and taking a basic art/design class. Most bosses don’t care about your age, gender, educational history, eccentric musical tastes, unwanted facial hair, seedy family history, or anything else other than your artistic talent. However, there are two types of digital art professionals: artists and technicians. Artists might be able to create beautiful art in Illustrator, for example, but not know a thing about overprinting, ICC color management, bleed, or any of the other technical concepts critical to creating a good print of their art. So, some wise employers do see the value of what technicians add to the mix. The Adobe certifications prove, at the very least, that you are a technician. When I first got certified back in Photoshop 6, I was working at a company doing payroll. It sucked. I did a few freelance Photoshop jobs at night, but I REALLY wanted to work with digital art applications full time. My Adobe certification did allow me to be able to finally score a great full time graphics job and ditch the drudgery of payroll. I found a company that wanted someone who could troubleshoot and fix technical problems, and that Adobe logo on my resumé was all it took to show how much I knew. While at that job, I learned all that I need to (in both artistic and technical worlds) to move on and do whatever I wanted to after I left.

One last word of warning. At least in the English versions of the test, the grammar doesn’t always make sense. This is the fault of both Adobe’s marketing people, and the non-native English speaking company that Adobe has hired to create these tests. Sometimes, you’ll read a test question over and over and over again, wondering how you’ve NEVER heard of a certain feature or button. Then, after the test, you go home and research it, and you still have NO IDEA what they were talking about! After doing some writing of these tests, I now understand the problem. I would write a test question, and then the company that is in charge of the test would “refine” my questions, and they would make absolutely no sense from a user’s point of view. So, be aware of that going in to the test so that you don’t go insane. Especially if you are a trainer like me, and always like to call things what they’re actually called!

For me, being an Adobe Certified Instructor has helped me to make a lot of money teaching, and has surely helped me to be able to write the books and publish the video training that I have. It also forces me to stay current on new features as I get recertified. I’ve made back the money I spent on tests many times over, and it was worth it. But it’s not for everybody. Remember that nothing can take the place of artistic talent, but being Adobe certified might put you in a position where you can more fully develop that talent.

Thanks to Tip Squirrel for letting me write this guest blog. If you have any further questions, hit me up on Twitter


A video podcast I created on Getting Adobe Certified, including a way to save 50% off of the cost of the test

The Adobe Certification Community, where you can learn more about the benefits of certification, find exam guides, and register to take tests.

The CTT+ page on the CompTIA website. Learn more about the CTT+ test, register to take the test, and suffer through more boredom than 10 lifetimes of waiting in amusement park lines:

3 Comments on Becoming an ACE and ACI

  1. Sarah G // 24/08/2009 at 4:07 pm //

    Very useful! I hadn’t considered it on a more technical side vs. Artistic, and this is an honest and genuine insight into the pros of it.

    Having read this, it’s certainly something I’d consider looking in to in order to get that “in” to the business!

  2. Juliano Guerra // 24/08/2009 at 8:32 pm //

    I always watch your tutorials Chad.

    Cheers form Brazil!

  3. Very Helpful
    thank you….

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