Adobe Stock: Best overall
Why we picked it: Adobe Stock is the best site to get premium stock photos, thanks to its large collection of 4+ million true premium stock images. The premium collection is of significantly higher quality than the standard collection images, which are already very good. You can get them in small sizes (around 2MP) for a discounted price of $119.99, or you can get them in full resolution for $249.99.
Adobe Stock Premium also has the best licensing since all images come with the Enhanced license, which permits unlimited copies, prints, and use in advertising. At the same time, Shutterstock and iStock allow you only 500,000 copies. However, to use images for merchandise, you will have to buy an Extended license for $79.99, which is cheaper than what you have to pay at Shutterstock and iStock.
Potential flaws: There are no major flaws in Adobe Stock’s premium collection. The biggest issue is that some premium images that depict highly in-demand topics cost twice as much ($249.99 for small and $499.99 for full-res. images).
» More: Adobe Stock review
Shutterstock: Most popular
Why we picked it: We chose Shutterstock as our preferred stock image platform because it ranks as the leading stock image site, providing an unparalleled selection of royalty-free images (434 million) at competitive rates. Additionally, Shutterstock offers an exclusive collection of premium stock images under the “Offset” brand, which was formerly a separate website. This collection features 1.3 million superior-quality images crafted by accomplished artists and distinguished for their exceptional quality compared to the standard collection.
With straightforward licensing terms, you can purchase these premium stock images at $249 for a Standard license or $349 for an Enhanced license. The Standard license lets you use the image for advertising, packaging, print, and blogs, all with unlimited distribution, but it doesn’t allow merchandise. To use the image also for merchandise, you’ll have to get the Enhanced license.
Potential flaws: Shutterstock premium images are more expensive than iStock’s and Adobe Stock’s, and Shutterstock also has the smallest collection of premium stock photos (1.3 million).
» More: Shutterstock review
iStock: Budget option
Why we picked it: iStock’s premium images are not quite on the same level as Adobe Stock’s and Shutterstock’s in terms of quality, but they are much cheaper. You can get them with a subscription costing from $0.44 per image when you buy a pack of 750 downloads per month with a yearly commitment up to $7.00 per image when you buy 10 images per month with a monthly commitment. Yet, this is still several times cheaper than Shutterstock and Adobe Stock premium images.
Potential flaws: iStock’s premium images are not always on the same quality and value level as Shutterstock’s and Adobe Stock’s premium collections. Most look like very good stock photos, but they don’t have a premium feel to them. Regardless, if you want excellent stock images at a reasonable price, their premium “Signature” collection might be worth paying for.
» More: iStock review
2 premium picks that didn’t make it and why
There are two other premium stock photo sites that are quite good but might not be worth your money or could pose security threats to your marketing campaigns.
Getty Images is a super-popular stock image site, mostly known for its vast collection of editorial images. But it also offers 38 million premium stock images. Like Stocksy, its license is not the best, as Getty Images will pay for your legal fees (within reason) but will not pay you for any damages resulting from their mistakes.
Stocksy is quite affordable, costing from $15 to $125 per image, but we must warn you about their licensing. Although the majority of the royalty-free terms are standard, you don’t get any indemnity. Quite the opposite, you’re obliged to indemnify Stocksy (like all stock photo sites require you to), but they do not indemnify you for their mistakes. And that’s a major red flag!
What are premium stock photo sites?
A premium stock photo site is a website that offers high-quality, professionally shot, and curated images for licensing and usage. These sites typically require users to pay a fee, either per image or through a subscription model, in order to access and use their content. The images offered on premium stock photo sites are typically of a higher quality and come with more extensive licensing options compared to free stock photo websites.
How we picked
Number of premium images
- Shutterstock: 1.3 million
- Adobe Stock: 4.5 million
- iStock: 22.6 million
- Getty Images: 38 million
- Stocksy: 2.1 million
Quality of premium images (are they indeed “premium”)?
Many stock photo sites divide their images into standard and premium, which is a cunning marketing move. It allows them to advertise good images as premium and make twice as much money, even though they are not worth it. When someone marks their images as “premium”, you should check their quality and assess if they’re worth the extra money.
And this is exactly what we’ve done for you here. We thoroughly analyzed all so-called premium collections for quality and value.
- Adobe Stock: Exceptional premium images (better than Shutterstock).
- Shutterstock: Most of the premium images send a powerful message, have a certain degree of intimacy, and offer unmatched quality.
- iStock: Not really premium images, but are still higher quality than their standard collection.
Cost & licensing terms
|Shutterstock||$249/$349||$10,000/$250,000||500,000 usage in print, advertising, and packaging. Unlimited web distribution./+ Merchandise with Enhanced|
|Adobe Stock||$119.99/$249.99||$10,000||Unlimited usage in print, advertising, packaging, & web distribution./+ Merchandise with Extended (+$79.99)|
|iStock||$0.44–$33||$10,000||500,000 usage in print, advertising, and packaging. Unlimited web distribution./+ Merchandise with Extended (+$144–$244)|
|Stocksy||$15–$125||None||500,000 usage in print, advertising, and packaging. Unlimited web distribution./+ Merchandise with Extended (+$144–$244)|
|Getty Images||$150–$499||Lawyer costs but not damages||Unlimited usage in print, advertising, packaging, & web distribution.|
Frequently asked questions
What’s the best premium stock photo site?
The best site for premium stock photos is Adobe Stock’s premium collection. It contains over 4.5 million premium stock photos, available for as low as $119.99 and comes with the most comprehensive license. Good alternatives are Shutterstock’s Offset and iStock’s Signature collections.
How much do premium stock photos cost?
Premium stock photos are generally more expensive than the standard stock photos. They cost from $30 to $500 per image, while the standard cost from $0.22 to $20, on average.