iStock review (2023): 30+ million exclusive assets

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Photutorial’s take

iStock offers a highly curated selection of photos and videos, with fewer images than competitors but at affordable prices. Subscriptions range from $29–$399/month. While iStock provides high-quality premium images and a robust royalty-free license, variety is not the best. Photutorial readers can get a 20% discount on iStock on all purchases using PHOTUTORIAL20.

iStock has a rating of 4.8 out of 5.0, indicating that most customers are satisfied with their purchases. Consumers satisfied with iStock mention affordable subscriptions, premium images, and the free trial. iStock ranks 3rd among the best stock photo sites.


  • Two main image collections – Standard (Essential) and Premium (Signature).
  • Offers 10 free images with the free trial.
  • Seamless integration with platforms like Adobe CC and Dropbox.
  • Offers a generous license, allowing perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive, and unlimited usage scope.


  • Customer support can be slow, and there’s no option for live chat.
  • The free trial isn’t available in all locations.
  • Some users find it challenging to locate unique images due to mediocre navigation and search functionalities.
  • There are complaints of seeing almost identical images from the same photoshoot, which may limit variety.
iStock logo
Photutorial Score
We score stock media sites based on objective testing data and subjective expert analysis. Our 5 scoring factors are weighted based on importance and designed to showcase the best stock media sites. For more information see our testing and scoring system explanation here.

iStock offers a highly curated selection of photos and videos, with fewer images than competitors but at affordable prices. Subscriptions range from $29–$399/month. While iStock provides high-quality premium images and a robust royalty-free license, variety is not the best.

The photo agency features two main image collections – Standard (Essential) and Premium (Signature). iStock provides 10 free images with a free trial and seamless integration with platforms like Adobe CC and Dropbox. The generous license allows perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive, and unlimited usage scope.

However, customer support can be slow, and there’s no option for live chat. The free trial isn’t available in all locations either. Some users find it challenging to locate unique images due to mediocre navigation and search functionalities. There are also complaints of seeing almost identical images from the same photoshoot, which may limit variety.

With an extensive 4.8 out of 5.0 rating, it’s evident that the majority of iStock’s users are pleased with its offerings. The photo agency offers high-quality stock images with a royalty-free license. It also serves as a good Adobe Stock alternative since it has similar integration but with fewer images.

Photutorial iStock review ratings

Quality & variety4.5/5.0iStock offers a curated selection of images with fewer photos than competitors but high-quality content. Some users find navigating the collection challenging, with occasional inconsistencies in image categories and a perceived lack of depth in specific image types.
Pricing4.8/5.0iStock has multiple subscription options ranging from $29–$399/month. They provide competitive pricing, especially when applying newcomer discounts. They offer both Essential and Premium images, and also have credit packs for sporadic needs. Their pricing is comparable to major competitors like Shutterstock and Adobe Stock.
Licensing5.0/5.0iStock’s licensing terms impress, adhering to industry norms while providing some of the most generous indemnities available. The standard license offers perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive usage with generous allowances. The extended license provides more benefits like unlimited prints and users but costs extra. Some limitations exist like using images for logos or explicit content.
Customer support4.5/5.0iStock stands out with its industry-standard royalty-free license, allowing unlimited usage across media. They also offer an extended license at an additional cost, which provides more benefits, including unlimited prints and users. Their licensing terms prohibit certain uses, like logos or illicit activities.
Features4.5/5.0iStock’s customer support has garnered mixed reviews. Some users have experienced slow response times and challenges when dealing with technical issues. The review methodology included anonymous testing of response times and the effectiveness of the support team.

How much does iStock cost?

iStock operates on a tiered subscription model, complemented by credits for those who want more flexibility. Offering three subscription types—Basic, Premium, and Premium + Video—you have options. And each subscription type has three or four unique tiers, contingent on your monthly download needs and budget. iStock sweetens the deal for those willing to commit long-term: opting for a 12-month commitment grants a decent 20–30% price reduction compared to the one-month option.

iStock subscription pricing
iStock subscription pricing

Diving into the subscriptions, we start with the Basic plan, priced between $29 and $199 per month. This tier caters to those after Essential images – your everyday, standard stock photos. Then there’s the Premium plan, ranging from $70 to $399 monthly. It gives you the best of both worlds: access to Essential and the pricier Signature images. What makes Signature images worth the added cost? Their superior professional quality. I often recommend them for blog post thumbnails or advertising campaigns, reserving the Essential images for social media graphics.

For those wanting a visual edge, the Premium + Video subscription beckons. Priced between $99 and $349, it not only offers Essential and Signature images but also video footage. Considering that video clips are priced starting at $5.30 each, it’s a compelling stock footage subscription.

But what if you’re not in the market for a monthly commitment? Enter iStock’s credit packs – perfect for those sporadic image or video needs. They’re a match if, say, you find yourself needing fewer than ten images monthly. These credit packs range from 1 to 300 credits, costing anywhere from $12 to a whopping $2,400. It’s a volume game here: buying in bulk rewards you with discounts, pushing up to a generous 33% off.

iStock credit pack pricing
A screenshot of iStock credit pack pricing.

Credits are versatile. Spend them on Essential images (1 credit), Signature images (3 credits), Essential videos (6 credits), or high-end Signature videos (18 credits). For those eyeing extended licenses, prepare to shell out 18 credits for images and a total of 21 for videos – this is atop the credits you’d pay for the standard license.

Still on the fence about iStock? They offer a tempting 30-day free trial to let you dip your toes in. Exclusive to the annual Premium plan priced at $70, this stock photo trial grants you 10 monthly downloads. Whether you fancy Essential or Signature images, you can grab and retain up to 10 of them within the trial period. A word to the wise: after those 30 days, iStock will assume you’re all in and will charge you for the full year. Make sure you decide in time to avoid any unexpected charges.

So, how does iStock’s pricing stack up? Drawing direct price comparisons between stock photo platforms can be as tricky as comparing apples with oranges. Beyond mere dollars and cents, you should weigh in on licensing terms, the caliber and diversity of media offerings, customer service quality, and any other factors that resonate with your needs. Overall, iStock is priced similarly to Shutterstock, and Adobe Stock, its closest competitors, is more expensive than Depositphotos but cheaper than the parent company, Getty Images.

iStock pricing summary

Basic subscriptionsPremium subscriptionsPremium + Video subscriptionsCredit packs
Full image library
Video clips
Music and sound effects
Lowest prices on images
Lowest prices on videos
Standard license
Extended license
Boards to organize and share files
Access to iStock Editor
Support for plugins
Comparison of subscriptions and credit packs

Industry-standard royalty-free license

iStock stands out with its industry-standard royalty-free license—a license that echoes the comprehensiveness of Shutterstock’s own. But what does this really mean for users?

At its core, iStock’s license offers a perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive, and unlimited usage scope. This means once you’ve procured an asset, you’re free to integrate it into unlimited projects across any media. But this freedom isn’t without limitations. For starters, the content can’t be leveraged for illicit activities, including defamatory or pornographic use. Plus, anything marked as “Editorial Use Only” is off-limits for commercial endeavors. Using the content for logos or publishing the files as standalone pieces is also a no-go. (This information is true for most royalty-free licenses.)

The extended license’s price may deter some users.

Now, when you make a purchase with subscriptions or credits, the standard license automatically comes into play. For those with grander ambitions, there’s the extended license, which offers more benefits—at an additional fee, of course. The standard license restricts you from reselling content and limits prints to 500,000 copies. You’re also bound by a one-user restriction. In contrast, the extended license permits up to 100,000 postcards, 10,000 posters, 2,000 t-shirts, and an unrestricted number of print runs. Plus, it welcomes unlimited users under the same legal entity. The legal guarantee differs, too, with the standard license assuring $10,000 and the extended one ramping up to $250,000.

iStock’s licensing impresses. It sticks to the industry norm while offering some of the most generous indemnities out there. That said, the price tag on the extended license might give some users pause. If extended rights are your primary need, you might want to explore other options.

Lastly, if you’re pondering over iStock’s watermarked content, here’s the deal: you can use them, but only for test or sample layouts. Remember, these watermarked assets shouldn’t appear in final or public materials. Plus, this courtesy is limited to 30 days post-download.

Summary of iStock licensing

Cost$0.27–$36• Images: $144–$216
• Videos: $168–$252
Resale• 100,000 postcards, greeting cards, stationery, stickers, and paper products;
• 10,000 posters, calendars;
• 2,000 t-shirts, sweatshirts;
• Unlimited for electronic products
Print run500,000Unlimited
Users1 at a timeUnlimited within the same legal entity
Indemnity$10,000 per file$250,000 per file
Adapted after iStock’s license agreement. The full iStock license agreement is much more complex and longer than my summary, so I encourage you to read it yourself. 

Essential vs. Signature

The recurring theme throughout this iStock review is the difference between the Essential and Signature collections. A quick peak at both collections for several queries reveals that the Signature collection may be well-worth your money if you need quality, exclusive images (think marketing, social media).

iStock sprinkles terms like “premium”, “handpicked”, exclusive (=”only from us”), and “best quality” to characterize the Signature collection. Curious about the nuances, I reached out to an iStock rep to get the inside scoop. Here’s the lowdown:

The only difference [between Essential and Signature collections] is in the level of creativity in the shot: it may be a particularly rare photograph, or there may have been extra editing or staging during the creation of the image.

From my standpoint, there’s truth in that. Two main points stand out. Firstly, Signature shots are, without a doubt, of a higher caliber – both technically and in terms of artistic merit, from sharper images to more convincing model performances. Secondly, their exclusivity to iStock means they’re less widespread online, offering a distinct edge in today’s crowded digital landscape.

A note on quality & variety

Diving into the vast sea of stock media assets, iStock stands out with a noticeable mark of quality, reminiscent of its parent company, Getty Images. Boasting a commendable library of approximately 167 million images and 11 million videos, it might not rival the sheer volume of Shutterstock’s 434 million images, but it certainly shines when it comes to meticulous curation. This adherence to quality standards translates into a collection of notable caliber but at the expense of sheer diversity.

I can attest to this elevated quality firsthand. Yet, this distinction of high quality paired with limited variety can be both a boon and a bane. On the one hand, pinpointing an impeccable image or video to fit your needs becomes easier. On the flip side, if you’re constantly seeking new assets from a specific category, it won’t be long before you encounter a sense of déjà vu.

iStock example of Signature collection repetitiveness
A quick search of “home office”, followed by selecting an image and continuing with Similar images, reveals a collection of almost identical files. Image: iStock

Digging deeper, the repetitive pattern in iStock’s offerings, especially in their Signature collection, is hard to ignore. You’ll often stumble upon multiple images stemming from the same photoshoot. While this could be a godsend if the photoshoot vibes with your vision, it undeniably narrows down the diversity, more so when you consider that the Signature collection only makes up roughly 20% of iStock’s entire portfolio.

Does this paint iStock as an inferior choice in the stock media realm? Certainly not. But it underscores an area of potential growth and enhancement, particularly if it aspires to go toe-to-toe with industry titans like Adobe Stock and Shutterstock.

Customer support

A few years back, iStock’s customer support left much to be desired, seemingly taking a page out of their parent company, Getty’s book (which, by the way, still struggles with customer service in the stock image world). However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that iStock has made significant strides in this department recently.

Now, if you’re seeking assistance, you have a couple of options: dial 420-246-031-860 (note: this line is operational only during standard business hours) or shoot them a query using their online form. And here’s a pleasant shocker – during my last interaction, I got a response to an email in a mere 30 minutes. And that was on a Saturday! Kudos to the team for such a commendable uplift in their customer service game.

Although customer support through email is quick, I still miss the option to get in touch via live chat, which often makes it easier to explain your trouble, especially if it’s on the intricate side.

Integrations, plugins, & more

To make browsing and finding the right files easier, iStock offers two plugins and a few tools. The most popular among creators is the iStock Plugin for Adobe Creative Cloud. Straight off the bat, it’s apparent that iStock by Getty Images has invested significant resources into making its vast library of high-quality content more accessible.

iStock plugin for Adobe CC in Photoshop
iStock’s Adobe® Creative Cloud® plugin being used in Photoshop. Credit: Getty Images YouTube channel

The convenience of sifting through millions of royalty-free photos, illustrations, and vectors without toggling between a browser and Adobe software cannot be overstated. And the fact that you can dive into this extensive collection without logging in? A surprising yet welcome touch. But it’s not exactly groundbreaking—I’ve found similar plugins from Shutterstock, as well as Adobe Stock’s native integration, and a few others.

What particularly caught my attention was the seamless integration with Adobe’s suite. You can drag and drop comps directly into Creative Cloud applications, and any edits you’ve made carry over once you license an image. The plugin promises to bridge the gap between ideation and creation, and in this aspect, it largely delivers. The “boards” feature, a tool for curating and managing your selections, is a thoughtful addition and makes the process of collaboration smoother. But again, it’s nothing I haven’t seen elsewhere.

iStock’s video on how to use the Adobe Creative Cloud integration

But it’s not without its hitches. While the plugin purports to offer an “easy, convenient, and expedient experience,” there were moments of slight lag that reminded me I was using an external plugin and not a native Adobe feature. And when it comes to its competitors, Shutterstock’s plugin comes to mind. Though Shutterstock doesn’t boast the same exclusive library as iStock, its plugin felt a tad more responsive in my use.

iStock doesn’t work only with Creative Cloud but also with everyone’s favorite file hosting service–Dropbox. You can connect your iStock account to access and share your content across all devices and even with other users.

Rising and falling trends in iStock VisualGPS Insights
Rising and falling trends displayed by VisualGPS Insights.

Another feature introduced by iStock and Getty Images is VisualGPS Insights, which you can find under the menu option called Search Trends. On the positive side, the tool offers a comprehensive approach to understanding visual search trends, an arena often overlooked by many stock websites. The interactive search trend data, offering insights on everything from “Halloween” to “AI,” is especially helpful for marketers and content creators aiming to align their visuals with trending topics. Its regional and industry-specific breakdowns provide a granular look that can be invaluable for niche campaigns. The “rising and falling trends” feature, which displays terms experiencing dramatic changes in popularity, showcases the tool’s pulse on real-time shifts in visual interest

What other customers think

Well, here’s the thing – while I’ve been neck-deep in the tech world for a decade when it comes to reviews, I’m a firm believer that my perspective is not the whole story. I mean, what tickles my fancy might just rub someone else the wrong way. So, I decided to play detective. I reached out to our Photutorial readers and scoured the interwebs (think G2, Trustpilot, Reddit, and the like) to grab a more wholesome view of iStock.

It has a huge library with quality content available at very affordable prices

Overall, the reviews of iStock are favorable, with users praising the vast media library containing millions of high-resolution photos and 4K video options. This extensive selection provides significant value, especially for infrequent users who may not need to download media frequently. The platform’s interface makes navigating the vast catalog relatively easy through robust search filters that allow users to drill down their selections by image type, orientation, number of people, ethnicity, and more. Additionally, users appreciate the simple licensing process and effortless downloads.

However, heavy users take issue with the expensive subscription costs and limits on monthly downloads. The inability to roll over unused downloads each month frustrated some, which surprised me, considering iStock allows up to 250 downloads to roll over every month on all tiers (weird). Some also complain about the inconsistent quality found in some image categories. To quote Gregg D., a small business owner from G2:

The depth of images is lacking. You can find an image similiar to what you are looking for, but seeing similiar images grouped together is a hit and miss. Which brings us to the search feature. It’s not bad, but it pulls in random images that have no corrolation to the search terms. Like an image of a wheelbarrow with pots when you search for a sprinkler.

While the library is massive, some find it difficult to locate truly unique, specific images due to mediocre navigation and search functionality. The stock also caters more toward general consumer applications rather than specialized business uses. Finally, some customers faced lackluster customer support when dealing with technical problems.

iStock alternatives

iStock alternative summarized

iStockShutterstockAdobe StockDepositphotos
Best forCurated selectionOverallGraphic designersBloggers
Images167 million434 million326 million255 million
Extended license$144–$216$67.96–$99.50$79.99$63.96–$89.00
Free trialYes (10 images)Yes (10 images)Yes (10, 25, or 40 images)Yes (10 images)
Review(current article)Shutterstock reviewAdobe Stock reviewDepositphotos review
See itSee itSee itSee it

Frequently asked questions

Does iStock have a free trial?

Yes, iStock recently introduced a 30-day free trial. As a new customer, you can download 10 royalty-free and high-quality stock images from iStock’s Essentials collection for free. The Essentials collection includes standard stock photos, vectors, and templates.

Can you use iStock images for free?

No, all iStock images are royalty-free, meaning you may use them forever after paying a one-time fee. The only way to use iStock images for free is to sign up for the free trial, which lets you download up to 10 stock images for free.

Is iStock free to use?

You can get up to 10 free images with the 30-day free trial, but iStock is not free. To use iStock’s stock images, videos, and music, you must pay for a royalty-free license, which costs $0.22.

Is iStock legitimate?

Yes, iStock is legit. It’s one of the most reputable stock photo agencies. In addition, it’s owned by GettyImages, a popular choice even among the largest brands in the world.

Is iStock royalty-free?

Yes, all iStock content is royalty-free, meaning you may use the image forever after paying the one-time fee. When you need an unlimited reprint license or a larger indemnification, you can get an Extended license, a broader version of the royalty-free license.

Is iStock good for commercial use?

iStock is one of the best stock photo sites for commercial use due to the combination of low prices, good variety, broad licensing terms, and high-quality images. For that reason, iStock scored 4.9/5.0 and ranked 2nd on the Photutorial scale of stock photo sites.

How to download iStock images without a watermark?

To download images without a watermark, you must purchase the said images under a Standard or Extended license. Doing otherwise is not only impossible but would also be forbidden as it is categorized as stealing.

Which is better, Getty Images or iStock?

The main difference between Getty Images and iStock is in the pricing and image usage rights. iStock image pricing starts at $0.22/image, while GettyImages costs from $150/image. However, GettyImages allows unlimited reproduction for every image, while iStock requires you to buy an extended license.

How much does iStock extended license cost?

iStock’s extended license costs $144–$216 (18 credits) in addition to the standard license, which costs $8–$36. The exact price depends on the size of the credit pack you purchase, which costs $8–$12/credit. The bottom line is that you will pay at least $152 to use iStock’s extended license (up to $252).

Why you should trust us

We have been testing stock photo sites for years, while also being photographers ourselves, thus being able to tell a good image from a bad image that is not worth your money. We have tested, studied, and compared iStock in every possible way multiple times, which included creating several accounts and testing customer service, free trial, and the process of buying a subscription–whether it’s legit and safe or not.

In addition, this iStock review was not endorsed by iStock, which shows in that we mention both pros and cons of this stock agency, and even provide alternatives. The review was written with our editorial integrity in mind, thus throwing away all biases and presenting you with the facts only. Finally, we talked to iStock customers and read hundreds of customer reviews to find out what others think about iStock, and whether or not we missed something. Thanks to dozens of hours spent testing, researching, and writing, you’re able to write this most thorough and unbiased iStock review.

How we tested and rated

To review iStock accurately, 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.

  • 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 variety. Both were scored qualitatively based on our expertise and experience. The quality check comprised technical quality, including exposure, sharpness, grain, saturation, color temperature, and 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 crucial in choosing stock photos, and having various 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 considered the minimum, median, and maximum price per image and 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, impressions they allow, and indemnity value.
  • Image number: 15% of the score. The number of images is essential when rating stock photo sites because you can quickly run out of free photos when you need thousands of images. 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 with 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.

Within each category, we also considered several characteristics, the number of images per most popular searches, technical quality, and added value. We also looked at the variety of pricing plans, minimum, median, and maximum image prices, and free trial terms. Finally, we evaluated iStock’s customer support, licensing, and additional features that would enhance customers’ workflow.


  1. iStock pricing page, iStock. Retrieved July 17, 2022.
  2. Kim Peterson, Microstock photography represents a new business model, The Seattle Times, Updated May 28, 2007. Retrieved July 17, 2022.
  3. Donna Bogatin, iStockphoto CEO on Getty Images acquisition: Exclusive interview on one year anniversary, ZDNet, February 19, 2007. Retrieved July 17, 2022.
  4. Ben Woods, iStockphoto rebrands as iStock, and introduces a new logo featuring ‘Getty’, TNW, September 17, 203. Retrieved July 17, 2022.
  5. iStock plugins, iStock. Retrieved July 17, 2022.


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