What is Shutterstock editorial license?

There are two ways to get Editorial images at Shutterstock
By Matic Broz, editor-in-chief of Photutorial covering stock media, Adobe, and design. He founded Photutorial while finishing his PhD in computational biosciences.
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Shutterstock editorial thumbnail

In today’s digital content landscape, using the right images can make or break a story. Enter the world of Shutterstock, known for its vast image repository. However, a particular license has become the talk of the town: the “Shutterstock Editorial License.”

Unlike standard stock photos, Shutterstock’s editorial collection captures real-time events and candid celebrity moments. These aren’t posed; they tell genuine stories. But with authenticity comes responsibility. The Editorial License has its set of rules, and any misstep can lead to legal repercussions. Whether you’re a journalist, blogger, or content creator, understanding this license is essential. Here’s what you need to know about Shutterstock “Editorial Use Only”, how to get it, and how to avoid getting sued.

What is Shutterstock “Editorial Use Only”?

Images labeled “Editorial Use Only” may only be used to portray current events and news. You may not use editorial images for advertising or promoting a product or service because the people, places, or objects in the photos have not been released.

So, when you need stock images for commercial use, exclude editorial images from the search with filters so you don’t accidentally download an editorial image.

The following is an example of an editorial image portraying the Empire State Building, a recognizable object. If you wanted to use it commercially, you would need to get a signed property release from its owner.

Empire State Building
An example of an editorial image displaying the Empire State Building (Credit: Unsplash)

What is a legal release?

In stock photography, a release is a contract that terminates any legal liability between the photographer and the person/entity in the picture who signs the release. A release is necessary when a recognizable brand, person, or landmark is photographed, for example, a celebrity or a brand like Coca-Cola.

Shutterstock provides three release forms, each translated to 20 major languages. The forms include:

  • Model release: for adult models who are 18 or older.
  • Minor release: for models who are under 18.
  • Property release: for copyrighted and restricted properties.

The following is an example of Shutterstock’s model release for adults. For the release to be valid, it must be signed by the contributor and the model, and the model’s headshot should be attached.

An example of Shutterstock's model release
An example of Shutterstock’s model release (Credit: Shutterstock)

Shutterstock Editorial License

Some Shutterstock images are licensed under an Editorial License, which you may only use for informational purposes and never for commercial use. Here are the terms:

  • The license allows use in print and digital.
  • Print run up to 500,000.
  • Each license is for single-use in context only.

You can buy Shutterstock editorial images with two options: Single image for $199 or a pack of 25 images for $99/image ($2,479 pack price). By buying editorial content, you get access to over 50 million news, sports, entertainment, and archival photos.

You buy the editorial images by going to Shutterstock.com, choosing “Pricing” in the top right corner, and clicking “Editorial” in the dropdown menu. If you need even more editorial images, get the Shutterstock Premier License available with the Enterprise Platform.

What is Shutterstock Premier License?

The Shutterstock Premier License is Shutterstock’s premium license, which offers many benefits not available with Standard and Enhanced Licenses. For example, it includes sensitive usage rights, unlimited indemnification, high-resolution comps without watermarks, and transferability rights. It also allows use in merchandise templates.

Shutterstock Editorial vs. commercial content

The main difference between Shutterstock’s editorial and commercial content is how you may use the content. You may use the content licensed for commercial use to promote a product or service because the people, places, or objects in the images have been released. You may only use the editorial content for news or educational purposes, but never commercially.

The following table compares the editorial and commercial uses:

Use caseEditorialCommercial
Used toIllustrate a story, event, or news, and educate.Monetize, sell, promote, commercialize, and advertise a product, service, or business.
Used onNews outlets, educational content.Billboards, websites, blogs, brochures, social media ads, and TV commercials.
Requires a model releaseNoYes
Requires a property releaseNoYes
Allowed visible trademarks (logos)YesNo
Allowed intellectual property infringementYesNo
Location, object, or event must not be restrictedNoYes
Can be significantly alteredNoYes
Proper editorial caption (location, date, description)YesNo
The comparison of editorial and commercial licensing at Shutterstock

More: Shutterstock’s explanation

Editorial images that don’t require a Shutterstock Editorial License

As confusing as it may sound, Shutterstock also offers editorial photos that you can license with the Standard and Enhanced Licenses. You can get these with the standard subscriptions and image packs that cost as little as $0.22/image or $0.165/image with a coupon code.

You can find these images by navigating to Shutterstock’s image browsers, and in the left panel, select “Only editorial” under the “Usage” filter. Conversely, if you want to browse commercial images only, select “Non editorial”.

Shutterstock filter editorial
Shutterstock’s “Only editorial” vs. “Non editorial” filter for image search (Credit: Shutterstock)

Shutterstock editorial caption

All editorial photos uploaded to Shutterstock need a factual description that must contain the following:

  • Location – City and state/country where the photo was taken.
  • Date – Exact or approximate date when the photo was taken.
  • Description – A factual sentence that describes what the photo portrays.

If your upload doesn’t comply with that, you’ll receive a rejection note that reads, “Caption is not accurately describing the subject matter or is missing required information such as the shoot date, location, or relevant description. Captions must be in English and cannot contain special characters, spelling/grammar errors, or repeat words/phrases in excess.

A recommended caption looks like this:

  • CITY, STATE/COUNTRY – MONTH DAY, YEAR: Factual description of the content, including who and what the content portrays.
  • Example: London, UK – May 8, 2022: Tom Hardy walking through the streets of London after a movie set.

Asset Assurance™

Shutterstock has now rolled out something called Asset Assurance™. In simpler words, it’s a guarantee that lets you use those editorial photos and clips for your commercials or creative works. Imagine the incredible photos taken by some world-renowned photographers now being a part of your brand story! Cool, right?

So, how does this Asset Assurance™ thing actually work? Let’s say you run a business and want to use a catchy editorial image from Shutterstock for a new ad campaign. You choose your image, get it licensed, and Shutterstock tosses in an extra layer of protection with it. This is their way of saying, “Hey, we’ve got your back!” They ensure that you won’t face any unexpected legal hiccups from using that image or footage.

Shutterstock Asset AssuranceTM
Shutterstock Asset Assurance™ (Credit: Shutterstock/Photutorial)

A quick example to paint the picture: If you have a travel agency and want to feature the sparkling Seattle skyline at night in your ad, you can! Or perhaps you’re in healthcare and want to spotlight those diligent workers sanitizing streets during the peak of the pandemic. In both cases, Asset AssuranceTM steps in, letting you use these photos with peace of mind.

In a nutshell? Shutterstock’s new offering is a game-changer. For all the marketers out there, this means more unique, current, and impactful campaigns. If you’re curious and want to dive deeper, just hit up Shutterstock. They’ll give you the full scoop on using editorial content without a hitch.


Shutterstock Editorial refers to any photo in the Shutterstock library that doesn’t have a proper model or property releases and therefore cannot be used commercially. The Shutterstock Editorial License is available with editorial image packages that cost $99 or $199 per image, depending on the size of the package. But you cannot get editorial images with the Shutterstock free trial.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Shutterstock editorial free?

No, Shutterstock editorial images are not free. You can buy a single image for $199 or a 25-image pack for $99/image ($2,479 per pack). Specific editorial images can also be downloaded with the Standard and Enhanced licenses, costing $0.22-14.50/image and $67.96-99.50/image, respectively.

Can I use Shutterstock images for commercial use?

Yes, images licensed under the Standard License and Enhanced Licenses may be used for commercial purposes. The main difference between the two licenses is that the Enhanced License allows you to use the images for goods where the image plays an important role. The Enhanced License also allows over 500,000 reprints and copies, which isn’t the case with the Standard License.


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