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Best Stock Photo Sites for Graphic Designers 2022

Matic Broz profile picture By Matic Broz Updated July 31, 2022
Best stock photo sites for graphic designers

After years of testing all the so-called “best options for graphic designers”, we finally found two that are really good: one for professionals and one for amateurs. For professional graphic designers or those who want to be, we recommend Adobe Stock as the best stock photo site because it natively integrates with Creative Cloud (Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.), offers the second largest collection of royalty-free images, flexible credit options, and a 30-day trial period with up to 40 free downloads. If you are an amateur or have a smaller budget, we recommend Canva, which is much cheaper and much easier to use. However, it is also more limited when it comes to creating designs and has 3 times smaller selection of stock images.

Adobe Stock is the best stock photo site for graphic designers, thanks to its excellent integration into the Creative Cloud and high-quality royalty-free photos. It works well with all Adobe applications for designers, including Photoshop, Illustrator, and Premiere Pro. This feature allows you to browse photos, videos, and other content without leaving the apps. This way, you only pay for the photos you use in your project’s final version regardless of how many you test. With this feature alone, you can save a lot of budget and time.

You can buy stock photos, videos, and other assets with cheap subscriptions or more flexible credits. With monthly or annual subscriptions, you can buy images for $0.26 to $9.99, which is slightly more expensive than Shutterstock. However, the on-demand options aren’t only cheaper ($8.00-$9.99) than Shutterstock, but also more flexible. Of particular note is Adobe’s generous free trial, which lets you download 10, 25, or 40 images for free. The number of images you can download for free depends on the subscription you choose.

We also recommend Adobe Stock for its versatility and excellent licensing terms—it’s one of the two agencies (the other is Getty Images) that offer unlimited indemnity, which we deem one of the most important trust signals.

Budget pick

Canva

Best all-in-one stock agency

Canva is an impressive online graphic design platform suitable for users with any level of experience in design, graphic creation, visualization, and creating attractive social media posts. For users who need more, Canva Pro costs only $9.99/month.

Get Canva Start free trial

Compared to Adobe Stock, Canva is not primarily an image agency, but an online graphic design platform that has an integrated collection of 110 million stock images. The entire platform is built on an easy-to-use drag-and-drop editor and hundreds of thousands of professional templates. For $9.99 per month, you get access to the entire platform, all 110+ million stock images, videos and other assets, a social media scheduler, and more. There’s also a 30-day free trial of the Pro account and a permanent free account that’s great for testing, but limits many of Canva’s features.

Canva’s editor is much easier to use than all Adobe apps (except for Adobe Express, which is a similar tool to Canva but not as good), and what is even more important to some people, it has much simpler licensing. About a year ago, Canva got rid of multiple licensing options and now only has one default license, which becomes active as soon as you drag an image or element in your design. And you may use unlimited assets with the Pro plan.

Also great

Shutterstock

Best stock photo site overall

Perfect for businesses of any size, individuals, and corporations, Shutterstock is the best-performing, most expansive, and very affordable stock photo site we’ve tested.

Get Shutterstock Start free trial

Shutterstock is the best stock photo site because it has the largest collection of stock images, with over 396 million images in its database and another 200 thousand added weekly. Due to Shutterstock’s strict technical standards, this guarantees an endless supply of beautiful and professional photos, vector graphics, videos, and music of the highest quality.

It’s great for enterprise-level graphic designers, thanks to the integration into Creative Cloud that similar to Adobe Stock’s but not as smooth and is available only for three apps instead of 10. But the enterprise platform make it a very solid choice for major firms.

You can choose between different purchase options, from image and video package subscriptions to unlimited music downloads, mixed downloads, and editorial content packages. Images only cost $0.22–$4.90 if you buy them on subscription, but they get pretty expensive at $9.16–$14.50 if you buy them on demand. There’s also a 30-day trial period where you can download 10 free images worth $29.

All Shutterstock licensing is royalty-free, with two types of RF licenses: Standard and Enhanced (extended). While both licenses have decently broad terms, we expected higher indemnity for both, especially the Standard License, which has $10,000.

Shutterstock also has a pretty good support team you can reach via live chat, email, or phone. Live chat is our favorite because it responds within minutes, but email is also pretty fast, as you’ll usually get a response within 24 hours.

How our picks compare

Adobe StockCanvaShutterstock
Images279 million110 million395 million
Pricing (subscriptions)$0.26–$9.99$9.95–$12.95/month$0.22–$4.90
Pricing (on-demand)$8.00–$9.99/$9.16–$14.50
Extended license$79.99/$67.96–$99.50
Free trialYes (10, 25, 40 images)Yes (30 days)Yes (10 images)
Customer supportGood live chat, ~2 days over email, phonecallLong email, phonecallExcellent live chat, quick over email, phonecall
Additional featuresNative Creative Cloud integrationCloud-based graphic design platformCreative Cloud plugin, Image Editor, other helper tools
Legal coverage$10,000$100,000$10,000

Why do graphic designers need images

Graphic designers create visual content, which includes strategic use of colors, font, composition, and shapes to create beautiful graphics. An integral part of design are high-quality images—that is nonnegotiable. And the cheapest and most convenient way for designers to get images is through stock photo agencies, like Adobe Stock, Shutterstock, and Canva.

Why you should trust us

To understand which stock photo sites are the best for graphic designers and which are not worth spending money on, we tested, reviewed, and fact-checked every stock photo site: Shutterstock, the best overall stock agency; Adobe Stock, the best stock agency for graphic designers and anyone using Adobe’s apps; iStock, a great place to buy premium images at affordable prices; Depositphotos, the best source of stock photos for small businesses and individuals; Getty Images, a premium stock agency with a long tradition and the best source of editorial images; and over 20 others, like Alamy, 123RF, Vecteezy, YayImags, Bigstock, Dreamstime, Offset, Photocase, StockUnlimited, CanStockPhoto, StockPhotoSecrets, and PxBee. This holistic approach, combined with years of experience in stock photography, gave us the opportunity to write the most comprehensive guide on the best stock photo sites—the one you’re reading now.

The writer of this article, Matic Broz, has been passionate about photography for over 2 decades and is now specializing in stock photography and the use of images in marketing, graphic design, and websites. Through years of experience with stock agencies, he knows all of them inside out. He tested each with several accounts (we know that one review is not enough!), while also consulting with other experts in the field.

The article is also regularly fact-checked by stock photo site representatives, who ensure that the data is 100% correct. However, the opinion remains our own because we understand that our editorial integrity is the reason you trust our reviews.

How we picked

We looked at over 30 stock photo sites, both free and paid, commercial, premium, cheap and expensive, legit and scammy to find the best one for designers.

Here are a few features we focused on.

We wanted a stock photo site with a large number of images (over 100 million), excellent image quality, and great variety. The number of images is crucial when choosing a stock photo website because if you need thousands of images for your designs, you can quickly run out of fresh photos. We checked the databases of each stock photo website and took notes on the number of images. To check for quality and variety, we searched each stock photo website for over 50 keywords and analyzed the results. Both metrics were qualitatively assessed based on our expertise and experience. The quality review covered technical quality, including exposure, sharpness, grain, saturation, color temperature, and impact, focused primarily on the current year’s trends in graphic design. The diversity review focused primarily on what percentage of the images were from the same photo shoot or were very similar to each other.

Affordable image pricing is important, especially for designers on a tighter budget. All our picks sell stock photos for as little as $0.26, or even less, and never more than $20 (except for premium stock photos). We also paid attention to the pricing of the extended licenses, focusing on stock agencies that sell them for less than $100. In addition to the prices, we took into account how many buying options there are—the more, the better. We checked whether the stock photo agency offers subscriptions, on-demand options, and in which sizes and durations. Having a free trial is also important as it allows customers to get an insight into what they can expect.

A good stock photo site needs broad but simple licensing terms, meaning fewer licenses with high legal coverage (indemnity) and a higher reproduction limit. We compared them based on how many copies, reprints, and impressions they allow, whether or not you’re limited by your budget, and their indemnity value. We also considered how many licenses a stock agency offers because, in our experience, customers prefer fewer licenses as they are easier to understand and don’t require complex comparisons. So, the stock photo sites we recommend offer two main types of licenses (standard and extended).

Additional features and tools are meant to simplify or enhance a customer’s workflow. We reviewed and tested all the additional features where possible. Since some are limited to enterprises, or we couldn’t get in touch with the support team, we asked the customers with access to the additional features for their opinion. All our picks offer various integrations, plugins, built-in tools, helper tools (converters, resizers, upscalers), team collaboration tools, admin dashboards, APIs, and customer insights.

When something goes wrong or you need a refund, you contact customer support, and not getting a response for a long time gets very frustrating. This is why we picked stock photo sites with great customer support (except for iStock, which makes up for it elsewhere) and multiple channels of access. Crucially, when testing customer support, we didn’t tell them who we were, so we got treated like every other customer. We took notes of the response times, contact options (live chat, email, and telephone), and the usefulness and kindness of the support teams.

Our pick: Adobe Stock

Number of images: 297+ million | Pricing: $0.26–$9.99/image | Free trial: Yes (10, 25, or 40 images)

Pros

  • Superb image and video quality.
  • Offers templates, 3D objects, and fonts.
  • More than 1 million free images.
  • Creative Cloud integration.
  • Works with Photoshop, Illustrator, & others.

Cons

  • More costly than some alternatives.
  • No promo codes or coupons.
  • Expensive premium content.

Adobe Stock is Adobe’s stock agency, which leverages it’s customer-base using Lightroom, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Premiere to deliver high-quality and unique stock assets. While it’s a relatively new agency (founded in 2015), Adobe Stock has a long tradition, since it’s the successor of Fotolia (founded in 2005), which Adobe acquired in 2015. Since then, Adobe Stock has grown into one of the stronger Shutterstock alternatives and our top choice for graphic designers.

Pricing

Adobe Stock’s pricing is ideal for designers, especially subscriptions which let you download any type of standard asset, including photos, vectors, illustrations, videos, music, 3D, and templates. It consists of 8 subscription plans and credits, which come with credit packs.

Adobe Stock subscription pricing
Adobe Stock subscription pricing

Subscriptions, costing $29.99–$249.99/month ($0.26–$9.99/image), come in four sizes (3/10, 25, 40, and 750 monthly downloads) and two durations (monthly and annual). What we like most about Adobe Stock subscriptions is the versatility of the content (dubbed “assets”) you may download. You can download all standard assets, which include photos, vectors, illustrations, templates, 3D, and music tracks. Instead of standard assets, you may use subscription downloads for HD videos, which consume roughly 8 downloads.

For those who need even more flexibility, we recommend credits, which you can use to buy any asset at Adobe Stock. These also include the assets you cannot get with subscriptions, like premium images, 4K videos, and the Extended license. You can get credits with credit packs that come in sizes of 5 to 150 credits, costing $49.95–$1,200.00 ($8.00–$9.99/credit). Then, you can use the credits to download any asset, which cost anywhere from 1 credit for the standard images, up to 20 credits for 4K videos (check this table for full credits pricing).

The star of the Adobe Stock pricing is the free trial, which gives you the first month free of the 10, 25, or even 40 downloads plans, effectively saving you up to $99.99. This makes it the best free trial we tested. However, Adobe Stock never offers any coupons or promo codes; the only way to get a discount is with seasonal offers.

Licensing

All Adobe Stock licenses a royalty-free but they differ in the pricing, the reproduction limit, and in the manner which they can be bought. There are the Standard, Enhanced, and Extended licenses. Before we get any further into the licenses, let us point out that Adobe Stock is one of the few agencies that provide unlimited indemnity for its content, as long as you used it with respect to the guidelines.

The Standard license ($0.26–$9.99) comes with every standard asset you download, which you can do with subscriptions and credits (and the free trial). It gives you unlimited web views, 500K copies or prints, and unlimited legal coverage. But you may not use it for resale or product where the asses have the primary value. The Enhanced license is very similar in the rights it gives you, with the exception of giving you unlimited reproduction. You get an Enhanced license with the premium assets, such as 4K videos and premium photos, which you can buy with credits only (costing $96.00–$119.88).

The Extended license serves the same purpose as the Extended licenses at all other agencies–it gives you the right to use the asset for resale and in products where the asset is the primary value. You can get it with credits and it costs $79.99. No license gives you the right to distribute the stand-alone file. To do this, you must get the copyright holder’s permission, which is usually not worth the hassle.

Customer support

Adobe Stock offers customer support over live chat and forums, neither of which we were too happy with. The community forum rarely helps you find the answer, as it is mostly answered by amateurs and not Adobe employees.

On the other hand, the live chat can help answer your question but the experience is all but pleasant. First, you need to talk to the AI and explain your problem; however, if you go in-depth, it won’t understand you. So, it’s best to be quite vague and reply with something like “I need help with buying.”, otherwise, it won’t understand you and will keep asking to rephrase your question.

When you successfully get past the AI, you will be quickly connected with an employee. However, first, you will get a general Adobe assistant, who, in our experience, knew a lot less than we did. If they cannot answer your question, you will be reconnected for the second time to the Adobe Stock expert. In our experience, this person was knowledgeable, but neither of them was kind and their language skill was lacking, thus making the conversation more difficult.

Overall, the Adobe Stock customer support will resolve your question, but the experience might not be pleasant or speedy.

Additional features

Adobe Stock is packed with features that are going to make your workflow easier and more enjoyable. Because we use Creative Cloud ourselves to create graphics for Photutorial as well as for personal life, we’re very comfortable recommending it to you as well.

The most important feature of Adobe Stock is its integration into the Creative Cloud, which is Adobe’s suite of apps. This integration allows you to access all Adobe Stock assets without leaving apps, which is very useful if you want to test an image or a video before purchasing it. In fact, you may use as many watermarked assets as you want and pay only for those that you use in the final version of your project (we also explained how it works).

On top of the integration, everyone can download free files from the free collection of 1+ million assets.

Our pick: Shutterstock

Best overall

Shutterstock

The best stock photo site

Perfect for businesses of any size, individuals, and corporations, Shutterstock is the best-performing, most expansive, and very affordable stock photo site we’ve tested.

Get Shutterstock Start free trial

Number of images: 390+ million | Pricing: $0.22–$14.50/image | Free trial: Yes (10 images)

Pros

  • 390+ million images.
  • Ten free images during a 30-day trial.
  • Great image quality.

Cons

  • Limited on-demand options.
  • Not the best for videos.

Thanks to the affordable subscriptions and the largest database of great stock images, Shutterstock is our number one recommendation among stock photo sites. Having launched as a subscription site only in 2003 (adding on-demand options in 2008), subscriptions remain the most popular buying option at Shutterstock because of the affordable prices and reasonable terms.

Pricing

Shutterstock pricing page

Image subscription plans come in four sizes (10, 50, 350, and 750 monthly downloads), costing $25–249/month (or $0.22–$4.90/image) and offering three payment options (monthly, yearly, and yearly upfront). The annual subscriptions require a 12-month commitment, but they save you 40% compared to the monthly options. This makes them an excellent choice for those who need stock images for at least 8 months (buying an annual subscription despite needing it only for 8 months is more cost-efficient than buying 8 monthly subscriptions). Subscriptions are also a way to get the free trial which is available with the 10 downloads per month plan.

With a subscription, you only get access to a royalty-free license, which is sufficient for most uses (more on that later). However, if you need extended rights, you must purchase the Enhanced license, which is only available with image packs. Image packs come in three sizes (2, 5, and 25) and cost more than subscriptions—$29–$229 ($9.16–$14.50/image) for the Standard license and $199–$1,699 ($67.96–$99.50/image) for the Enhanced license. As we mentioned earlier, we’re not fond of Shutterstock’s image packs because although they’re quite affordable, they are very inflexible. You need to buy a separate image pack or each type of license, which gets even worse with video packs that come in three sizes, three resolutions, and two licenses, giving you 18 unique video packs.

Speaking of videos, you can get them with video subscriptions in sizes of 5, 10, and 20 monthly downloads and the durations, costing $79–669/month ($8.35–$37.80/video). A neat option if you need stock images and videos at the same time, is the FLEX25 subscription plan. With it, you get 25 credits per month, costing $42–69/month that you can use to download either images or videos. Each image costs 1 credit and each video costs 8 credits. What makes this plan so versatile is that you may use the credits in any way you want.

But 25 credits per month (that’s 3 videos) is probably not enough for most of you. So we reached out to Shutterstock customer support and asked if they offer larger FLEX subscriptions. They told us that you may get a highly customized plan based on your needs, but so that you get an idea of what to expect, here’s what they offered us: A FLEX Premium plan for $5,000/year, which comes with 1,000 credits annually, allows unlimited users, and gives you the Enterprise license. Image, footage, and editorial images cost 5 credits, while music costs 20 credits.

Like most stock agencies, Shutterstock offers coupons to give you the best prices. We browsed dozens of coupon sites and sieved through hundreds of coupons to determine that the highest discount you can get at Shutterstock with coupons is 25%.

Licensing

Shutterstock offers many licenses for its content, but for most users, the most important are the Standard and the Enhanced licenses. Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of the Shutterstock licenses, we want to emphasize that all Shutterstock licenses are royalty-free. In short, it means you may use the images perpetually, without geographical restrictions, and you only pay a fee the first time. We also checked with Shutterstock whether getting a rights-managed exclusive license is possible since it’s not advertised on the homepage: Yes, you can get an exclusive license, with the price starting at $10K.

The Standard license is the cheapest and most basic Shutterstock license. Costing between $0.22–$14.50/image, it allows unlimited web distribution, 500K prints or copies, a $10K video production budget, and provides $10K legal coverage. You can get it with subscriptions and the Standard image packs. It’s best used for personal projects, blogs, social media posts, and graphics.

When you need more rights, such as unlimited distribution, $250K legal coverage, the allowed use in merchandising and templates, or an unlimited video production budget, you should get the Enhanced license. You can get the Enhanced image packs costing $67.96–$99.50/image.

Another quite popular license, especially for media houses, is the Editorial license. It’s similar to the Standard license, except it may be used for one purpose only, costs $99-$199/image, and provides $25K of legal coverage. Lastly, there’s also a Premier (Enterprise) license, but most of its characteristics are tailored to each company, so we won’t get into that. However, if you need help with negotiating with Shutterstock or choosing the rights terms, get in touch with us and we’ll help!

Customer Support

Responsive and helpful customer support is a rarity but it’s vital in the selection of the stock photo site. Shutterstock offers four options for customer support: (1) A Help section with dozens of answered questions, (2) live chat, (3) phone call, and (4) email.

We have thoroughly tested all of them to verify how fast we could get help and how useful they were. The live chat customer support is our favorite because we usually get the first response within 2 minutes. The team behind it is knowledgeable and willing to verify information when they’re not sure, which is a big plus because we believe that waiting for the right answer is better than getting the wrong one immediately. If you request a custom plan, your information is forwarded to the email customer support, from which you usually get a response within a couple of hours, but always before 24 hours.

Additional features

Most customers view Shutterstock only as the source of stock photos, but it offers many free tools and integrations. Starting with the simplest and most obvious, Shutterstock provides an image resizer and file converter, which help you quickly adapt the images to your current project without having to buy 3rd party software.

Graphic designers can also benefit from the Creative Cloud integration, which natively integrated Adobe Stock, but Shutterstock provides a plugin that lets you integrate Shutterstock’s image database in the most popular CC apps. This includes Photoshop, Illustrator, and Premiere.

If you don’t want to use 3rd party apps to create graphics, the most popular of which are Canva and Adobe Express, you can use Shutterstock’s Editor. However, it’s not as sophisticated as some alternatives, so you might not be able to create the same beautiful graphics.

Shutterstock Editor using a template
Shutterstock Editor

For web developers, there’s also a WordPress plugin that lets you use images without ever leaving the WordPress editor. However, this feature is not useful when you need to edit the images first.

Other good picks

iStock

Number of images: 148+ million | Pricing: $0.22-$9.90/image | Free trial: Yes (10 images)

iStock, formerly iStockphoto, is the best stock image site for commercial purposes because like Adobe Stock and Shutterstock, it can be integrated into the Adobe Creative Cloud as well as iStock Editor, Dropbox, and Sketch. Like Adobe Stock, iStock also offers premium stock content (called “Signature”), which is more expensive than the basic downloads. It’s worth noting that iStock is not great for merchandise because of expensive extended licenses for which Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, and Depositphotos all prove superior. In January 2022, iStock introduced its free trial which is currently available only in certain countries.

Pros & cons

Pros

  • 140+ million images.
  • The signature collection is of superb quality.
  • Competitive prices.
  • 10 images with the free trial.

Cons

  • Signature images are a lot more expensive.
  • Expensive extended license.

More details

  • Subscriptions ($0.22–$4.00/Essential image; $0.44 to $9.90/Signature image): Subscriptions are divided into Basic (for Essential images) and Premium (Signature images). Both come in four sizes (10, 25, 50, and 750 monthly downloads) and are available with month-to-month and annual plans.
  • On-demand ($8.00–$12.00/image): iStock offers ten credit packs (1 to 300 credits) that you can use to buy photos, vectors, illustrations, and videos at the following prices.
  • Royalty-free license ($0.22–$12.00/image): Unlimited web distribution, 500,000 copies or prints, and a $10,000 legal guarantee.
  • Extended license ($79.99): Unlimited web distribution, unlimited copies or prints, $250,000 legal guarantee.
  • Free trial: 10 free stock images with the 30-day free trial. Learn more
  • Coupon code: You can get up to a 20% discount with iStock coupons.

Depositphotos

Number of images: 224 million | Pricing: $0.22–$14.00/image | Free trial: Yes (10 images)

Depositphotos is an RF microstock photo agency based in Florida. Its collection of images contains 224 million files of high-quality photos, vectors, videos, and illustrations. Since it offers incredible e-commerce stock images, it’s the best stock image website for bloggers and small businesses.

Pros & cons

Pros

  • 70K+ free high-quality visuals in addition to 220 million paid visuals.
  • Multiple file format support.
  • Free editing tools.
  • Flexible price plans.
  • Files are offered for personal, editorial, and commercial purposes.

Cons

  • Free visuals require attribution.
  • No general subscription for all kinds of content.

More details

  • Subscriptions ($0.22/image) are either monthly or annual (14% cheaper) with 30, 75, 150, and 750 monthly downloads. You get the best price ($0.22/image) by choosing the largest plan for a full year. But you can use my 15% promo code for Depositphotos and pay only $0.197/photo.
  • On-demand plans ($2.99/image) are available in sizes of 3, 10, 25, and 100 images. You can choose between a standard license and an extended license. To get the best price, choose the 100 image plan for $2.99/image. In contrast, the smallest 3 images cost $14.00/image.
  • Extended license ($63.96) is available with on-demand packs only, costing $63.96–$89.00/image, based on pack size. Thus, the best investment of your money is buying a 100-image plan, compared to buying 25 images four times.
  • Free trial is not available at Depositphotos. To get Depositphotos’ free trial, sign up and wait a couple of hours to get an invitation to a 7-day free trial of 10 photos via email.
  • Free photos is a collection of 70K free files similar to what Adobe Stock offers. Furthermore, Depositphotos lets you download watermarked images, giving you a chance to test the image in your design or project before buying it.

Stocksy

Number of images: 1.8 million | Pricing: $15–$125 | Free trial: No

Stocksy is a premium stock photo agency, best for book covers. While its library doesn’t contain many stock images, the ones it has are top quality. Because it has only on-demand options, Stocsky is more expensive than some other stock photo sites. If you want to buy stock images for a book cover, first find the image you want, click Add to cart, and proceed to the checkout. If you need exclusive rights to the image, Stocksy can freeze the market for you, meaning it won’t sell the images to anyone else in the meantime. This costs from $1,2500 for half a year, up to $9,000 for 5 years.

Pros & cons

Pros

  • Superb images and image value.
  • Royalty-free and rights-managed options.

Cons

  • No subscriptions.
  • Moderately expensive.
  • No free trial.

More details

  • All content (images, videos) can be bought on-demand only, which makes them more expensive.
  • Royalty-free images cost from $15 to $125 based on the size. Extended licenses for images cost $100 for multi-seat, $300 for an unlimited print run, and $500 for product resale.
  • “Market Freeze” is an option for Stocksy to stop selling the image, thus giving you exclusive rights. This costs from $1,250 to $9,000 for half a year up to 5 years.

123RF

Number of images: 180 million | Pricing: $0.36-$11.80 | Free trial: No

123RF stock photo site isn’t as good as Adobe Stock, but it’s larger than Canva’s. It’s also integrated into Designs.ai, an online graphic design suite based on AI similar to Canva. However, it’s quite slow and a lot less intuitive than Canva. In addition, it’s more expensive than Canva and even Adobe.

Pros & cons

Pros

  • 180+ million images.
  • Good image quality.

Cons

  • Unsophisticated photo editor.
  • No one-time purchase option.
  • Requires internet connection.

More details

  • Subscriptions ($0.36–$3/image): Available in sizes of 10, 50, 150, and 350 motnhly download with the monthly and yearly (25% cheaper) options. There’s no daily download limit.
  • On-demand plans ($2.69–$9/image) are available in sizes of 3, 10, 25, and 100 downloads, but you can also get a custom pack of up to 1,000 downloads.
  • Extended licenses ($59–$130) are sold based on the required extended use.
  • Free trial (10 images) lasts 30 days and is available with the subscription of 10 monthly downloads.

Dreamstime

Number of images: 185 million | Pricing: $0.225–$51.78/image | Free trial: Yes (watermarked only)

Dreamstime is one of the cheapest sites, with prices starting at $0.158/photo. The lowest prices are bound to this link, which brings a 30% discount. This stock photo agency offers an extensive collection of subscription and on-demand plans, so choosing the right one might be tricky. Extended licenses are usually quite expensive, costing around $70+, but at Dreamstime, you can get one for as low as $26 with subscriptions.

Pros & cons

Pros

  • Cheap stock images with a 30% discount.
  • The cheapest extended license.
  • Extended licenses with subscriptions.

Cons

  • Often overedited images.
  • Poor variety.
  • Free trial images are watermarked.

More details

  • Subscription plans ($0.158/image) are available in six different sizes: 5, 10, 15, 25, 100, and 750 monthly downloads. By prepaying for the entire year, you get a 23% discount. I partnered with Dreamstime to give you an additional 30% discount connected to a link. This link allows you to get the best stock photo prices possible. With the largest plan, you will get stock photos for as low as $0.158/photo.
  • Credit packs ($8.00/image) come in ten different credit sizes, that you can use to buy images. However, the pricing of images depends on the image level. The higher the image level, the more credits it costs. To determine which level the image falls into, click on each image and check manually. Furthermore, levels change every day because they depend on image popularity and age. The credit prices range from $0.616 to $9.54 based on the credit pack you choose.
  • Extended licenses ($16.10/image) are uniquely sold with subscriptions at Dreamstime. This results in the best possible price in the industry – $16.10 for an extended license. Of course, you can buy an extended license on-demand for 50 credits, or $62.50.
  • Free trial (15 images) but they will be watermarked.

Unsplash

Number of images: 4+ million | Pricing: Free | Free trial: No

Unsplash is the best free stock photo site with over 4 million Creative Commons images that you can use even for commercial projects without attributing the author or Unsplash. Unsplash is one of the faster-growing free stock photo sites, with almost 100k files added last month.

You can use all their photos for free, for commercial or non-commercial purposes. What is more, you don’t even have to ask permission or provide credit, although it is appreciated. You can read more about Unsplash License. Since virtually anyone can post on Unsplash and no commission is paid to the author of the image, finding a good picture that perfectly satisfies consumers’ needs is challenging.

Even though Unsplash is an incredible free stock photo website, we recommend you use a site like Adobe Stock or Shutterstock for commercial purposes. Over 4.5 lifetime downloads of Unsplash content, which is around 35 per second.

Unsplash is the best free stock photo site with over 2 million Creative Commons images that you can use even for commercial projects without attributing the author or Unsplash.

Pros & cons

Pros

  • Surprising diversity for 4 million images.
  • Free even for commercial use.
  • Doesn’t require attribution.

Cons

  • Some topics lack image coverage.
  • No indemnification.

Pikwizard

Number of images: 1 million | Pricing: Free | Free trial: No

This is a simple stock photo website that makes searching and downloading images from its huge library a breeze. There are over a million free images. The template options are extremely affordable and allow professionals with no design experience to get started right away. The paid portion of PikWizard is its graphic design tool, DesignWiazrd, which integrates the PikWizard library.

Pros & cons

Pros

  • Free images.
  • Integrated into DesignWizard.

Cons

  • Basic graphic design tool.
  • The library contains ads for paid stock photo sites.

More details

  • 1 million free images, but mixed with ads, making it difficult to browse.
  • You can get paid image editor, which is quite expensive. Canva is a much better alternative.

Summary: 10 Best Stock Photo Sites for Graphic Designers

  1. Adobe Stock: Best for graphic designers
  2. Canva: Best for beginner designers & unlimited downloads
  3. Shutterstock: Best for enterprise designers
  4. iStock: Best for commercial projects
  5. Depositphotos: Best for low-budget designers
  6. Stocksy: Best for book cover designers
  7. 123RF: Best Canva alternative
  8. Unsplash: Best for free images
  9. Dreamstime: Best for cheap extended licenses
  10. PikWizard: Best freemium

How to choose the best stock photo site as a graphic designer?

Stock photo sites are the most popular places where graphic designers buy their stock photos. They offer high-quality images at affordable prices. There are dozens of stock photo sites on the Internet, but choosing the right one is very important. Here are some factors you should consider before buying stock photos from a website.

  1. Price. Price is the most important factor you should consider when buying stock photos. As a graphic good designer, you need a lot of stock images, and if you buy at the best price, you can save a lot in the long run. But the price is only one factor, so also pay attention to what you get for that price. For example, not all stock photos are just as good, and some sites offer other features that are worth spending a little more money on.
  2. Quality. Quality is the first thing that matters when you’re looking for high-quality photos. The higher the resolution, the better the quality. A good stock photo website will offer you high-resolution images without watermarks or copyright restrictions. Besides, the sentiment value and overall symbolic quality are even more important because they determine how customers perceive your design.
  3. Reputation. Reputation is also an important factor when you’re looking for a reliable source of stock photos. Look at the feedback from previous buyers. Also, inquire about how reputable the company is. Some stock photo websites use unclear or misleading licenses or contract terms.
  4. Diversity. Variety is often overlooked, but it’s crucial to the success of your graphic design career. You may not realize it right away, but if you work long hours, you’ll eventually run out of good images on a particular subject. If you choose an image bank with a wide selection, you’ll always find new subjects to use in your work.
  5. Licensing. While many websites offer royalty-free licenses, they provide their own version of it, which can often be very restrictive and force you to buy an extended license that costs much more.
  6. Additional features. Some stock photo websites offer additional services, such as editing tools, like image or video editors. For example, Canva has a simplistic image editor, while Adobe Stock integrates into Creative Cloud to improve your workflow.

With that in mind, I’ve listed the best stock photo sites for graphic designers that meet all the above criteria. I’ve also ranked them from good to bad.

What is a stock photo in graphic design?

In graphic design, stock photos represent

Stock photos are images taken specifically for commercial use. You can purchase them from stock photo agencies or freelancers who specialize in high-quality photography.

Some people dislike stock photos because they seem too generic, but for designers they’re indispensable. We use them to get visual content quickly and inexpensively. They can look real if they’re well integrated into the design, and that’s what you should aim for.

Do graphic designers use stock images?

Yes, graphic designers use stock photos because they’re more compelling and much less expensive than taking photos themselves or hiring a professional photographer. Stock photos allow graphic designers to create better designs faster. Also, they make sure that your brand looks consistent across different platforms.

Here’s why. Say you need a photo of the White House, but you don’t live nearby. Then you can quickly jump to a stock photo agency of your choice and browse hundreds of images. Plus, photography requires expensive equipment and years of experience. That’s why graphic designers prefer to use stock images that only cost a few cents each.

It’s well-known that quality stock photos improve the worth of your design, especially when used in advertising. Good graphic designers know how to choose and use stock photos, and those are the ones that get paid well above the average. But learning how to effectively use images in graphic design can take quite some time, so it’s important that you put in a lot of effort.

Where do graphic designers get stock images?

Graphic designers choose stock image websites based on their requirements and financial constraints. You should consider what features you need for your work and whether you need only stock images or an editor as well.

Majority of creatives promise by Adobe’s apps and features. Adobe is the most popular company among creatives because of its innovative apps. Photographers and designers love them for their simple but powerful tools and the freedom they offer. That’s why many new graphic designers start with the Adobe Stock free trial, which gives them 10 or 40 free images and a 30-day preview of the premium service. Likewise, they get a 7-day trial of Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop so they can experience what it’s like to have professional equipment.

When graphic designers are just starting out, they often have a limited budget that prevents them from buying premium applications. Here, they turn to Canva, a fantastic all-in-one solution. For $9.99 per month, you get full access to Canva’s drag-and-drop editor, which is limited compared to Illustrator, but easier to use. Plus, you can use any of the 100 million images in Canva’s library.

Others opt for free stock images. While this is a good option, they’re often held back because a reliable source of stock images is critical for graphic designers.

Which stock photo license?

Graphic designers deal with three types of licenses: creative commons, royalty-free licenses, and rights managed. They differ in use cases, number of reproductions, and price.

Creative Commons (CC) license is free and can be found on free stock photo repositories such as Unsplash, Pixabay and Pexels. CC licenses come with very few restrictions and only prohibit resale of the image, defamatory purposes, and assertion of property rights.

Royalty-free (RF) license is the most commonly used license for stock images. A RF -licensed photo can be used as many times as you want once you pay the onetime RF fee. There are some websites that prohibit the use of the image if unsubscribe from their plans, but I find these websites aren’t worth your money, so you won’t find them in my articles. Royalty free licenses are often limited to ~500,000 copies. To exceed that limit, you need an extended or enhanced license, which is like a RF license but allows unlimited copying. These licenses are also more expensive, around $50-$100 per image.

Rights Managed (RM) is an expensive license ($1,000+) that gives you exclusive rights to the image. It’s usually used in large and prestigious advertising campaigns, such as national commercials. You limit the use of the image to a specific place, time, and use. Unless you work for a global company, you probably won’t use a RM license.

What about free stock photos?

Free stock photos are great resources for designers because they are easy to find and can save you money. However, it’s important to understand how to use these images properly so you don’t end up with a copyright infringement problem down the road. The best way to avoid problems is to buy a license, like a royalty-free license.

But you can also get stock photos with one of the numerous free trials, which give you free royalty-free images that are completely safe to use.

Ratings Methodology

To identify the best stock photo sites for graphic designers, we took a holistic view of 31 stock photo agencies that incorporated image number, quality, variety, prices and pricing options, licensing terms, features, and customer support. The following scores were used to get the ratings of stock photo sites; however, they were ranked based on an additional emphasis on features useful to graphic designers.

Image quality & variety: 20% of the score. We browsed each stock photo site for over 50 search terms and analyzed the resulting image quality and their variety. Both were scored qualitatively based on our expertise and experience. The quality check comprised technical quality, including exposure, sharpness, grain, saturation, and color temperature, and their added value. The variety check was primarily focused on checking what percentage of images came from the same photo shoot.
Stock photo prices and pricing options: 20% of the score. Price is the crucial factor in choosing stock photos, and having a variety of options helps customers find the best plans. We checked whether the stock photo agency offers subscriptions, on-demand options, and which sizes. In addition, having a free trial is a bonus as it allows customers to get an insight into what they can expect. Finally, we took into account the minimum, median, and maximum price per image as well as the price per extended license image.
Licensing terms: 20% of the score. We read and took notes on every stock image license. We compared them based on how many copies, reprints, and impressions they allow, as well as the indemnity value.
Image number: 15% of the score. The number of images is an important factor when rating stock photo sites because when you need thousands of images, you can quickly run out of free photos. We checked each stock photo site’s database and took notes on the number of images.
Additional features: 15% of the score. Additional features are meant to simplify or enhance a customer’s workflow. We reviewed and tested all the additional features where possible. Since some are limited to enterprises or we couldn’t get in touch with the support team, we searched for customers who did have access to the additional features and asked for their opinion.
Customer support: 10% of the score. Crucially, when testing customer support, we didn’t tell them who we were, so we got treated like every other customer. We took notes of the response times, contact options (live chat, email, and telephone), and the usefulness and kindness of the support teams.

Best Stock Photo Sites for Graphic Designers FAQ

Can you modify stock images?

You’re allowed to modify all royalty-free stock photos from any site, except those marked with “Editorial use only” or if their license specifies otherwise. This applies to all major stock image sites, including Shutterstock and Adobe Stock.

Can I use stock images in a logo?

No, you’re not allowed to use stock images in a logo. The problem is that stock image licenses don’t allow copyrighting or trademarking any part of an image.

Can you use stock images in a portfolio?

You’re allowed to use stock images in a portfolio, but you may use the image in this manner, usually as a license. But I discourage you to cheat with stock images in your portfolios, since the portfolio represents your skills, and many employers and universities take it seriously.

Do graphic designers create their own images?

Yes, they do. They use vector graphics because it allows you to scale your work without losing quality. Vector graphics can be scaled infinitely without loss of quality, while raster graphics cannot.

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About your guide

Matic Broz profile image
Matic Broz

Matic Broz is a photographer, graphic designer, and stock photographer. For over ten years he's been helping photographers improve their photos and graphic designers find the best images for their designs. His work has been featured by Lifewire, Skylum, and PetaPixel. In his free time, he enjoys photography, hiking, and petting random dogs. Read more

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