Whether you’re working for a client or yourself, you shouldn’t skimp on photographs and other visual elements. Some of the best stock photo sites for designers can provide you with high-quality images at a reasonable price. Hiring a photographer might yield a better, bespoke image, but they are expensive and take long compared to stock images.
Downloading photos from free stock image sites may be more affordable, but it definitely isn’t a wise idea. You don’t get any insurance, and the images are often overused. That’s where stock image platforms specially tailored for designers come in. The best stock photo sites for graphic designers offer premium quality photos licensed under a royalty-free license (or rights-managed if needed) at a reasonable price and have several tools that make your life as a designer easier.
Top 4 best stock photo sites for designers
- Adobe Stock: Best overall stock photo site for designers
- Envato Elements: Budget pick (unlimited downloads)
- Shutterstock: The largest collection of royalty-free images
- Depositphotos: Best for up to 30 images per month
Photutorial tested the best stock photo sites for designers to help you find the top option for keeping yourself stocked up with beautiful visuals. Adobe Stock is our top choice for designers thanks to excellent Creative Cloud integration and a large collection of stock images. As a budget pick, you should consider the very affordable Envato Elements. Read on for the rest of our tested picks to find the best stock photo site for designers based on your needs.
Best stock photo sites for designers
Best overall stock photo site for designers
pros & cons
- Creative Cloud integration.
- AI image search.
- Diverse subscriptions and flexible credits.
- Great image variety.
- The largest free trial with up to 40 free images.
- 800K free assets.
- Expensive premium images.
- Poor music track variety.
- Extended licenses cannot be bought in bulk.
- Customer support could be better.
Number of royalty-free images: 326 million | Cost: $0.26–$14.50/image ($79 with Extended) | Copies/impressions: 500,000 (unlimited with Extended License) | Merchandise: Yes, with Extended License | Indemnity: $10,000/$10,000 | Coupons: None (Read more ») | Free trial: 30 days with 10, 25, or 40 images
Adobe Stock has secured its place as a top choice among the Adobe user base, consisting of both professionals and enthusiasts who regularly employ Adobe Creative Cloud apps like Illustrator, Photoshop, and Premiere Pro.
What truly differentiates Adobe Stock is its flawless integration with all Creative Cloud applications, providing an expansive selection of royalty-free images at your fingertips. This means you can access and download resources right inside your design software, maintaining an uninterrupted creative process. Shutterstock and some other royalty-free image providers offer similar capabilities through Creative Cloud plugins.
Though Adobe Stock’s pricing structure is slightly more expensive than Shutterstock, ranging from $0.26 to $9.99 per image, it compensates with the inclusion of premium images under the unique Enhanced License. The Enhanced License stands as a blend between the Standard and Extended licenses and comes with an approximate price tag of $100 per image.
Adobe Stock categorizes all its images under three distinct licensing options: Standard, Enhanced, and Extended. Adhering to the industry-standard RF license, each license includes a $10,000 indemnity. While the indemnity for the Extended license might seem a bit low, the Standard license covers most commercial uses adequately. The Extended license, however, offers expanded usage rights, including merchandise.
One downside to Adobe Stock, and Adobe as a whole, is their slightly unsatisfactory customer support, which, however, fares better than Getty Images. Despite having chat and email support options, live chat representatives frequently struggle with resolving issues and often pass on inquiries to other team members.
Adobe Stock sits at the top of our ranking for stock image free trials. With the 30-day free trial of any lower-tier subscriptions, you can access 10 to 40 royalty-free downloads at no cost. This free trial pairs perfectly with other Adobe product trials, such as Photoshop.
Best budget pick (unlimited downloads)
pros & cons
- Unlimited downloads with no daily limits.
- 12 free assets each month.
- Assets can be used commercially.
- Simple licensing.
- Plans for individuals, teams, and enterprises.
- One of the lowest indemnities in the industry.
- You can’t use creative assets for new projects after unsubscribing.
- A small collection of photos and videos compared to other stock agencies.
- No refunds after the first download.
Number of royalty-free images: 8.1 million | Cost: $11.50–$39.00/month (unlimited downloads) | Copies/impressions: Unlimited | Merchandise: No | Indemnity: 6 month’s subscription fees | Coupons: Up to 70% discount (Read more ») | Free trial: 12 files per month (Read more »)
Envato Elements is our top choice for budget-conscious designers seeking unlimited downloads. With a vast library of creative assets and one of the most competitive pricing structures in the industry, not to mention a free trial, Envato Elements provides an unmatched resource pool.
Our review and assessment of Envato Elements highlighted its exceptional value to creatives mindful of their expenses. Envato Elements emerges as the most economical subscription service for royalty-free stock photos, with prices starting as low as $16.50 a month or $11.50 for students. This minimal monthly charge unlocks unlimited access to over 13 million assets available on the platform.
Special deal: Photutorial readers get 70% off
Envato’s varied selection includes photos, videos, fonts, diverse templates (including video, presentation, CMS), plugins, graphic templates, WordPress themes, and more. The comprehensive range of resources and limitless downloads make Envato Elements particularly appealing to creatives who cater to several clients.
However, it’s essential to recognize some limitations of Envato Elements. The appealing $16.50 monthly fee is linked to a yearly commitment, with the cost rising to $39 for those opting for a month-to-month subscription. When considering team pricing, though, Envato fares better against its competitors, with costs decreasing as you add more team members.
All unlimited downloads come with a royalty-free license. But it’s crucial to remember that most services providing unlimited stock media asset downloads necessitate multiple licenses for varied uses of the same asset. Thus, once your subscription ends, you can’t use a previously downloaded asset for new projects, though its use in existing projects can continue. Another restriction is the prohibition of using assets for merchandise, despite other commercial uses being allowed.
In conclusion, for designers, developers, and video creators who require a multitude of assets on a budget, Envato Elements is an ideal choice. The unlimited plan offers significant savings compared to pay-per-download options. For those needing more flexibility and broader rights, traditional stock sites might be a better fit. However, for overall value, Envato Elements proves to be an impressive contender.
The largest collection of royalty-free images
pros & cons
- The largest collection of stock images (434 million)
- 30-day free trial with 10 images worth $49
- Wide variety of buying options.
- Big discounts with the annual prepaid plans.
- Content packs need to be bought for each content type separately
- Editorial images are expensive ($99.50–$199)
- Enhanced License affordable only when bought in bulk
Shutterstock features: Images: 434 million | Cost: $0.22–$14.50/image ($67.96–$99.50 with Enhanced License) | Copies/impressions: 500,000 (unlimited with Enhanced License) | Merchandise: Yes, with Enhanced License | Indemnity: $10,000/$250,000 | Coupons: 15% | Free trial: 30 days with 10 images
Shutterstock is my top choice for the best royalty-free image site. It’s one of the most popular stock photography sites out there, offering the largest collection of royalty-free images, and it’s a well-regarded, trusted platform.
Your buying options include the more affordable subscriptions ($0.22–$4.90/image) or the more flexible on-demand packs ($9.16–$14.50/image). You can also get images as a single purchase, but these are more expensive and cost almost as much as editorial images ($99 or $199). If you’re not ready to take a dip, you can taste the waters with the 30-day free trial.
Shutterstock has two forms of an industry-leading royalty-free license: the Standard and the Enhanced licenses. The Standard license is ideal for blogs and social media, granting you 500K copies and a $10,000 indemnity. The Enhanced license is more costly at $67.96 to $99.50 but lets you use the image for merchandise, and you get a $250,000 indemnity instead.
Ultimately, you cannot go wrong with Shutterstock. It also has very high customer satisfaction thanks to excellent customer support and additional features, like reverse image search, image editor (like Canva), and plugins. Recently, Shutterstock also implemented an AI image generator (by DALL·E 2), so you can create anything you wish.
Best for up to 30 images per month
pros & cons
- Great customer support (phone, live chat, and email)
- A collection of free images
- No custom packs (only available for enterprises).
- Limited flexibility of on-demand options.
Number of royalty-free images: 255 million | Cost: $0.22–$14.00/image ($63.96–$89.90 with Extended) | Copies/impressions: 500,000 (unlimited with Extended License) | Merchandise: Yes, with Extended License | Indemnity: $5,000/$5,000 | Coupons: 15% | Free trial: 7 days with 10 images
With a collection of over 255 million images, Depositphotos carves out a niche for itself in the stock image world, particularly for bloggers. Its selling point? Affordability. Subscription prices dip as low as $1.44 per image, even for the smallest plans, making it a pocket-friendly alternative to Shutterstock’s $4.90 and Adobe Stock’s $9.99 per image.
When it comes to image quality and variety, Depositphotos holds its own, albeit falling slightly short of the diversity offered by Adobe Stock and Shutterstock, especially for fresh or trending topics. Subscriptions start at $24.92 per month for 30 images, going up to $166.58 for 750 images, translating to $1.44 to $0.22 per image. On-demand image packs, however, cost more, running from $2.99 to $14.00 per image. The Extended Licenses come with a higher price tag, ranging from $63.96 to $89.00 per image.
The licensing structure mirrors that of Shutterstock with Standard and Extended royalty-free licenses, although the indemnity offered by Depositphotos is significantly lower at $5,000 for both.
Where Depositphotos shines is its customer support. Regarded as one of the best among stock photo sites, it boasts quick responses via live chat and email responses within one to three business days. Depositphotos takes user experience up a notch with features such as integration with the VistaCreate editor and additional tools like a free background remover, an image upscaler, and an API. If you’re unsure, the 7-day free trial lets you take 10 royalty-free images for a spin.
Depositphotos also rolls out an array of discounts. Expect a 16% cut on yearly subscriptions compared to monthly plans, up to 78.6% discount on bulk purchases, and even a 33% markdown on bulk purchases of Extended licenses for videos.
What is the best stock image site for designers?
The best stock image site for graphic designers is Adobe Stock, thanks to its wide image selection, great licensing terms, affordable pricing, and responsive customer support.
However, there are many great sites for graphic designers on the market that are worth your time—and, potentially, your dollar, should you choose to trust them. When you consider which stock photo site to choose, keep in mind that the longer subscription you choose, the cheaper the photos will be.
|Adobe Stock||326 million||$0.26–$14.50/image||$10,000/$10,000|
|Envato Elements||8.1 million||$11.50–$39.00/month||6 month’s subscription fees|
How did we test the best stock photos for designers?
While we always pick stock photo sites based on the same 5 crucial metrics, we adjust weights according to the category. When looking for the best images for graphic designers, we gave extra weight to unique and technically perfect images and high indemnity, which is important for designers working for corporations. We also granted extra points for various plugins, add-ons, and tools that make your life as a designer easier.
Therefore, it’s no coincidence we picked Adobe Stock with Creative Cloud integration, Shutterstock with an image editor, plugins, and Creative Cloud add-ons, and Depositphotos with its own editor. On the other hand, we included Envato Elements due to the breadth of content combined with unlimited downloads at a low fixed fee, making it a great budget option.
Over the course of several years, we have closely monitored, used, and reviewed in-depth more than 30 royalty-free stock image sites. We tested and analyzed the best stock images sites for designers of 2023 using the following criteria to help you make an informed decision:
- Image quality and variety (30%): As a designer, your number one priority should be the quality of the images you get. They should be professionally shot, edited, and uploaded with the highest possible resolution. Therefore, we immediately dropped stock image sites whose images didn’t meet these basic standards. We also assessed the diversity of the image database, including different styles, subjects, and themes. Good variety helps you when you have to cover the same topic repeatedly or when you have clients in diverse niches.
- Pricing (30%): Designers are usually tied to some budget they need to adhere to, otherwise their pay can get cut. Evaluating pricing encompasses considering the lowest, highest, and average price of a stock image in relation to its licensing terms. Photutorial team also considers the variety of buying options, such as subscriptions, image packs, and single purchases. Finally, we consider special offers, like bulk and annual discounts, free trials, and coupons. Overall, we consider how affordable the platform is for different types of users, from occasional bloggers to full-time graphic designers. We also consider your payment options, safety and encryption, refund policy, and processing duration.
- Licensing (25%): Licensing doesn’t differ much among royalty-free stock photo sites, but even minor differences can be game-changing. Thus, we check for the number of allowed impressions and copies, indemnity amount, extended licensing terms, and how much more expensive it is than the standard RF license.
- Customer support and user experience (15%): Having a reliable customer support team is a nice bonus if you run into payment trouble or need help picking a license. There are many royalty-free stock image sites whose customer support teams do not respond at all (I’m looking at you, Getty Images). Good user experience also relies on website speed, having various search filters and tools at your disposal, being able to save your favorite images, and more. Here, we also consider the overall customer experience based on the reviews customers leave on other websites and forums.
- Expert bonus (+/- 10 points): One might argue that a personal opinion has no place in analytical reviews, but that’s not what this is. This buying guide is a mix of facts such as the number of images, pricing, licensing terms, and personal opinions and experience. After being active in this industry for over a decade, I know all stock image websites inside out. On top of that, this category encompasses features that are not absolutely necessary for stock photo sites but can be a nice bonus, such as Adobe Stocks’ integrations into Creative Cloud, Shutterstock’s plugin for WordPress, and their free image editor similar to Canva, or iStock stock photo insights.
Each stock photo site we review is not only rated and tested but is also used daily to ensure we get a well-rounded understanding of its offerings. Our resident stock photo expert, Matic Broz, conducts these examinations personally.
Which is the right stock image site for you?
We have written about how stock photos work and how to find the best stock photo site for you.
|Choose this stock photo site…||If you want…|
|Adobe Stock||Images and other assets directly in your Adobe apps. Most professional designers use industry-standard software like Illustrator and Photoshop. Thanks to the integration of Adobe Stock, you can access all of its assets from apps without disrupting your workflow by going to the browser, downloading, and then importing. The best of all, integration is there natively, so you don’t have to download any 3rd party plugins.|
|Envato Elements||Unlimited downloads at a low cost. If you’re on a tight budget or you need lots of downloads, Envato Elements’ unlimited downloads subscription is a good solution. Although the selection of photos is smaller, you get more diverse assets, from photos and videos to graphics, fonts, templates, and more.|
|Shutterstock||Best value for your money. Shutterstock has the largest collection of royalty-free stock images at some of the lowest prices, so you cannot argue against its value for money. Beginner designers can use Shutterstock’s Creative Flow editor, while pros can use its plugin for Creative Cloud.|
|Depositphotos||Budget pick. Depositphotos is worse than other picks in this list, mainly due to lower indemnity. But it’s smallest subscription plan of 30 monthly downloads costs about the same as the 10 monthly downloads at competitors. Hence, it’s ideal for those on a low budget who need around 20 to 30 images monthly.|
What is a stock photo in graphic design?
A stock photo is a professionally taken photograph that is licensed for specific uses. These photos are created by photographers and uploaded to a stock photo agency or platform, like Shutterstock or Getty Images, which then sell the rights to use these images to individuals or companies.
The key point of stock photos is that they are ready-made, which allows designers to use them immediately in their projects without the need to arrange a photoshoot, thereby saving time and money. These photos cover a broad range of subjects such as landscapes, people, events, and concepts, among others.
In graphic design, stock photos can be used as backgrounds, to complement text, to set a mood or theme, or even to convey complex ideas. They can be modified or edited to better fit the specific needs of a project, such as being cropped, having their colors altered, or being combined with other images or graphical elements.
However, it’s essential to understand that most stock photos come with licensing agreements. These determine how the image can be used, for example, whether it can be used commercially or only for personal projects, how many times it can be reproduced, etc. Designers must respect these licensing agreements to avoid legal issues.
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 source their images from a variety of locations, each offering unique options to enhance their designs. If you’re curious about where graphic designers find their visual elements, then you’re in for an enlightening journey.
One of the main resources for graphic designers is stock photo websites, like Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, or Getty Images. These platforms provide millions of high-quality images, vectors, and illustrations that can be used in designs. By purchasing licenses for these images, designers ensure they are using them legally and ethically, adhering to the terms set by the image’s creator or rights holder.
Another popular option is free image websites like Unsplash, Pexels, and Pixabay, where you can find images that are free for commercial use under Creative Commons licenses. However, as these are open to anyone, the images may not be as unique as those from paid platforms.
Many designers also create their own images or graphics, using software like Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, or Procreate. This gives them complete control over the look and feel of the image and allows for complete customization, ensuring their designs are truly unique.
Graphic designers may also work with photographers or illustrators directly, commissioning them to create bespoke images for their projects. This usually results in unique, tailor-made visuals that perfectly match the designer’s vision.
Where do designers get free images?
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.
Best stock photo sites for designers: FAQ
What is the best stock photo site for designers?
Currently, we rate Shutterstock as the best stock photo site for designers. The enormous collection of images with over 100,000 new photos added weekly is an absolute dream for designers and marketing teams. It’s good a proven record of legitimate stock images licensed by the best photographers in the industry, while also giving designers all the freedom they need with broad licensing terms.
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.
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 is high-quality images—that is non-negotiable. And the cheapest and most convenient way for designers to get images is through stock photo agencies like Adobe Stock, Shutterstock, and Canva.