I'm looking at starting down the path of creating my own unique designs for my sites (I'm a developer at heart, and care more about things working).

I'm most familiar with Adobe Photoshop, but after the research I've done I've decided that that isn't the best program to use. (Not to mention my version is fairly out of date - I got it as part of CS2.)

At this point I'm looking at Fireworks and Microsoft Expression Design.

Fireworks is fairly popular, and the price is within the range I'm looking for.

Because I'm a developer, I can get Expression Studio, which includes Expression Design and a handful of other applications, for around the same price.

In my eyes, this is basically a toss-up. I can see myself using the other products in Expression Studio, but on the other hand there's a ton of tutorials for Fireworks, which means I can probably get running much faster.

Unfortunately, discussions about Expression Studio 4 versus Fireworks CS 5 are non-existent. So, I'm hoping someone has already done the research on what I'd really be missing.

(Once again, however, perhaps Expression Design being less-featured, if in fact it is, would be better for me to get started, since there's less tools to mess with.)

EDIT: Photoshop is out. I'm really just looking at Fireworks versus Expression here.

Also, I realize I can get trials of each, however what I'm really interested in is whether the programs are comparable as far as features. I don't want to pick one just because it's slightly more intuitive only to realize that more advanced features that are included in one aren't included in the other.

Having used both Adobe and Microsoft products in the past, I feel confident that neither created something as difficult to use as, say, Gimp.

My experience with Fireworks has been good for web design, but I always go back to Photoshop. I wouldn't be so sure that CS2 is so out of date that you can't use it for web design.

I've used Expression Design for a few things and it is pretty capable as a vector design tool, but it really lacks the maturity that Photoshop and Fireworks have in tools, filters, shortcuts, masking, etc. It's good that you've already noticed that the support community around Fireworks is going to be a lot better than Expression.

Personally my order of choices would be

1. Photoshop CS2
2. Fireworks
3. Expression Design

Any tool will work, but knowledge, experience, craft and visual perception will be far more important than what tool you use to successfully create an interface design.

• Thanks - +1. I guess my concern with CS2 is how much of a pain it is to install on 64-bit Windows 7, and that I can look forward to no support/updates (and some of the stuff in CS3+ for PS is pretty dang cool). At this point I can't really afford to shell out to upgrade. We've also got answers like graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/989/… which suggest that I'd be better of learning a design tool others will be using ... – James Skemp May 27 '11 at 18:58
• FWIW, Fireworks makes it much easier to create objects with varying degrees of transparency and creates smaller files from them. The latest version also does a lot of CSS for you for things like regtangles with gradients + rounded corners. The CS6 cloud subscription is inexpensive, and a subscription to one product less so. All products in the suite offer 30 day free trials. – Amy Blankenship Jan 18 '13 at 2:15

From a thoroughly pragmatic point of view, keep in mind that that resources in terms of support, tutorial materials, etc. available for Photoshop are about 50x what's out there for Fireworks and about 500x the resources for Expression. That's not something to discount.

Speaking of discounts (how's that for a great segue?), since you already have Photoshop CS2 you can upgrade to CS5 for [quick pause while I check the Adobe store] $199 if you're in the US, which is only$50 more than the Photoshop upgrade. The fact that you (presumably!) intend to make money at this, and already have familiarity with Photoshop, the question becomes "Will the investment in learning a whole new program, Fireworks, cost me less than \$50 in lost production?" The answer depends on your particular circumstances, but I can tell you that FW is a very different program from Photoshop, and may not be so easy to learn.

While I, like sirtimbly, would go with Photoshop, no question, there are plenty of web devs who swear by FW. Your best bet at this point would be to download a free trial of Fireworks, jump onto Adobe TV and find some tutorials, and see how you get along. You may find it thoroughly intuitive and enjoyable to use, or a baffling, annoying pain. Either way, I think you'll have your answer.

• Unfortunately, the copy of Photoshop CS2 I have is part of the Creative Suite 2, and therefore not eligible for upgrade pricing; from your link "You cannot upgrade from products within a suite edition to individual products." However, that's a good idea. +1 for pulling down trial versions of each (although in my particular case I can always just play around with the versions at work). And no, I don't intend on making any money from my purchase; I'm a developer, so any freelance work I do is development, with design being left to others, or purchased. – James Skemp May 28 '11 at 2:41
• Those bits of info would have elicited a very different answer, since I'm well aware of the upgrade paths available. For hobby purposes, I would simply go with the trials, check the web for tutorial resources, and go with whichever fits your style. – Alan Gilbertson May 28 '11 at 16:39
• Sorry, I should have been a bit clearer about having it part of CS2, not just the CS2 version. Updated. – James Skemp May 29 '11 at 0:16

The game has changed. From Microsoft Expression's site:

Expression Design is now available as a free download from the Microsoft Download Center, and no new versions will be developed. Customers who previously purchased Expression Design as part of Expression Ultimate or Expression Web will receive support through the established support lifecycle.

So, if anyone revisits this question, it won't hurt to try Expression Design because it's free, but it won't be developed or supported any further, so I'd count that as a pretty big negative.

• And Fireworks is now cancelled as well...sad that the winning software to the original question is determined this way. – BlackjacketMack Feb 26 '14 at 12:48

Personally, I've found that really just starting with html and css is sometimes better than using design software. The main reason is because most design software is still made for print and specialized on a certain type of print. There just isn't a good piece of web design software (yet).

What's nice about starting with html and css is that you don't have to try to account for how the code will work when designing, because you're already using the code to design. There's also the added benefit of being able to make sites smaller (if you use css3, you don't have to use as many images), check out Smashing Magazine's article on the subject.

If you want some articles on the benefits of making a mockup in markup, these are some nice ones:

• Unless you pasted in the wrong URL, the article actually assumes that a PSD is being used - that a design has been designed. But I'm 100% with you that using HTML and CSS to accomplish as much as the design as possible is the best route to go. – James Skemp May 28 '11 at 14:45
• @James, yes, but my point with that link was the benefit of making sites smaller. – dkuntz2 May 28 '11 at 18:50
• But I guess that moves us even further away from the question. I'm looking for what application to invest my time in learning for creating designs, not the best way to implement. However, despite that, I'm tempted to give you +1 because it's a good answer - just not a good answer for this question. – James Skemp May 29 '11 at 0:21
• Fireworks does a much better job of allowing you to slice things in a way that can make the site smaller. Just sayin' – Amy Blankenship Jan 18 '13 at 2:17