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Shutterstock Licenses Explained

Matic Broz profile picture By Matic Broz Updated August 20, 2022
Shutterstock Licenses Explained thumbnail

When shopping for stock images (or any other creative asset), it is easy to get lost in all the license types: Standard, Enhanced, Editorial—what does it all mean?

These are all names for the Shutterstock licenses. With every image you buy, you get certain rights to that image via an agreement called a “license”. By paying for the license, you may use the image according to those rights. And which license you should choose depends on your requirements.

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Shutterstock License Types

Shutterstock offers four licenses:

  • Standard License
  • Enhanced License
  • Editorial License
  • Premier License

In the following table, we compare all four license types.

LicenseStandardEnhancedEditorialPremier
Price$0.22–14.50/image$67.96–99.50/image$99–$199/imageCustom
Get it withAll subscriptions plans, standard license image packsEnhanced license image packsEditorial image packsContact Shutterstock customer service
Web distributionUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
Print500K copiesUnlimited500K copiesUnlimited
Package500K copiesUnlimitedUnlimited
Out of home advertising500K impressionsUnlimitedUnlimited
Video production$10K budgetUnlimitedUnlimited
DecorationPersonalPersonal, commercialUnlimited
Indemnification$10K$250K$25KUnlimited
Seats111Unlimited

Shutterstock Standard License

The Shutterstock Standard License is the most basic Shutterstock royalty-free license that covers 95% of all use-cases. It is included with images purchased through subscriptions and standard image packs and allows you to use them for commercial purposes, but limits you to 500,000 copies and a $10,000 indemnity. Each Standard License image costs between $0.22 and $14.50.

You can also get Standard License images for free with the Shutterstock free trial and even if you cancel the trial, you get to keep using them as if you bought them.

Price

Depending on the buying option, the Shutterstock Standard License costs between $0.22 and $14.50. It costs $0.22-$4.90 with subscriptions based on the plan size and duration or $9.16-$14.50 with image packs based on the pack size.

Best for

The Standard License is the best for individuals and small teams when used for commercial and non-commercial purposes. It’s best used for blogs, social media, and small advertising campaigns, as well as decorations, interior design, presentations, and birthday cards.

Terms

  • Permitted for digital reproduction, including websites, online advertising, social media, mobile advertising, mobile “apps,” software, e-cards, e-publications (e-books, e-magazines, blogs, etc.), email marketing, and online media (including video sharing services such as YouTube, Dailymotion, and Vimeo;
  • Printed in hard copy as part of product packaging and labels, stationery and business cards, point-of-sale advertising, CD and DVD covers, or in the advertising and text of non-fiction media such as magazines, newspapers, and books, as long as no image is used more than 500,000 times in total;
  • As part of an “out-of-home” advertising campaign, e.g., on billboards, street furniture, etc., as long as the gross impressions of the campaign are less than 500,000;
  • In a film, video, TV show, commercial, or other audiovisual production for distribution in a known or future medium, regardless of audience size, as long as the budget for the production doesn’t exceed $10,000;
  • For use for personal, non-business purposes (not for resale, download, distribution, or commercial use of any kind).

(Adapted after Shutterstock license)

How to buy the Standard License?

  1. Go to Shutterstock.com
  2. Click Pricing in the top right corner.
  3. Make sure you have Image selected in the top menu.
  4. Pick one of the listed options.
Shutterstock Image Pricing Page
Shutterstock Image Pricing Page (Credit: Shutterstock)

Shutterstock Enhanced License

The Shutterstock Enhanced License is an upgraded version of the Standard License. It has everything the Standard License has plus unlimited physical print runs, the rights for merchandise and resale, no restrictions in the budget, unlimited impressions, and legal indemnification of up to $250,000.

The Enhanced License is equivalent to the Extended License at other stock photo sites—it means the same thing, but the name is different.

Best for

Due to the enhanced rights and bigger legal coverage, the Enhanced license is the best for larger projects for web or print.

Terms

An Enhanced image license grants you the right to use images in every way at the Standard License, plus the following:

  • In any way permitted by a Standard Image License, without regard to the number of reproductions, prints, or budget;
  • Included in promotional items sold or given away (“merchandise”). Textiles, artwork, magnets, wall murals, calendars, toys, stationery, greeting cards, and any other physical item sold or given away are allowed as long as the image isn’t the only creative or useful part of the item.
  • Wall art (and without requiring further creative or functional elements) for decorative purposes in a commercial space owned by you or your client, and not for sale.
  • Incorporated as elements of digital templates for sale or distribution.

Price

You can buy the Shutterstock Enhanced License for images and videos with packs of 2, 5, or 25 images or videos. It costs $67.96-$99.50/image and $91.96-$119.80/video. The larger image or video pack you buy, the cheaper the Enhanced license. So it’s always best to buy the largest pack that you’re going to use wholly.

How to buy the Standard License?

  1. Go to Shutterstock.com
  2. Click Pricing in the top right corner.
  3. Make sure you have Image selected in the top menu.
  4. In the On-Demand panel, choose Enhanced license from the dropdown menu.
Shutterstock Image Enhanced Pricing
Shutterstock Image Enhanced Pricing (Credit: Shutterstock)

Shutterstock Editorial License

We have already explained Shutterstock’s Editorial License in detail, so we’ll give you just the summary here.

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.

Terms

  • The Editorial License gives you the right to use editorial content for a single editorial purpose, and that single-use can be distributed throughout the world forever. “One-time use” means that you may use editorial content only once in a single context (for example, in a news story, blog post, or publication page), as long as you have the right to distribute that use in context across an unlimited number of media and channels. For example, editorial content used to illustrate a printed article can be reused on a blog, social media, etc., as long as it makes sense in the context of the original printed article. Any use that’s not consistent with the printed article requires a separate license.
  • An “editorial use” is use that describes something in a way that’s newsworthy or of human interest. Commercial uses such as advertising or selling things aren’t allowed.
  • It may not be used on magazine titles or in print runs of more than 500,000 copies) and any “special restrictions” (e.g., geographic or industry use restrictions) listed on the image detail page and/or in the metadata of editorial content.

Price

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.

How to buy editorial images?

  1. Go to Shutterstock.com
  2. Click Pricing in the top right corner.
  3. Make sure you have selected Editorial in the top menu.
  4. Pick one of the two available plans.

Shutterstock Editorial License Pricing
Shutterstock Editorial License Pricing Page (Credit: Shutterstock)

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.

You can get Shutterstock Premier by requesting a demo.

We won’t discuss the licensing terms of the Premier License since it’s bespoke to every business and thus can’t be generalized.

Which Shutterstock License is the Best?

There is no single best Shutterstock License. Each has its pros and cons, and the right license depends on what you need the image (or video or music) for.

Comparing and contrasting the various types of Shutterstock license can give you a better sense of which terms and prices make the most sense for you.

Standard vs Enhanced

  • The Standard License is much cheaper ($0.22–$14.50) than the Enhanced License ($67.96–99.50/image).
  • The Enhanced License provides higher indemnification ($250K) than the Standard ($10).
  • The Enhanced License allows unlimited prints, copies, packaging, and video reproduction, while the Standard License permits up to 500K copies, prints, and impressions, and only a $10K video production budget.
  • The Enhanced License permits the use in merchandise, such as T-shirt prints, mugs, wallpapers, etc., while the Standard doesn’t.

Standard vs Editorial

  • The Standard License is much cheaper ($0.22–$14.50) than the Editorial License ($99–$199/image).
  • The Editorial License may only be used for educational purposes, while the Standard License may be used commercially.
  • The Editorial License provides higher indemnification ($25K) than the Standard ($10).
  • You can get the Editorial License only with image packs, while the Standard License is also available with subscriptions.

Conclusion

Shutterstock operates based on a royalty-free agreement, meaning you pay for the right to use images, videos, or music tracks only once. Once you have the license, you won’t have to pay any additional royalties, regardless of how many times you use it. Your only obligation is not to break the licensing terms.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does Shutterstock Licencing work?

A photographer uploads an image to Shutterstock and by paying for it, you get the right to use it within certain limits. The agreement between you and the photographer is called a license. You pay the photographer a small royalty for the rights to use his photo for your projects.

Can Shutterstock images be used commercially?

Yes, Shutterstock images can be used commercially. The Standard License permits the use in advertising and the web, but you may not use it for resale. If you want to use the image for merchandise or make more than 500,000 copies, you need to get the Enhanced License. However, you may not use Editorial images for any commercial purpose.

Is Shutterstock royalty-free?

Yes, all Shutterstock licenses are royalty-free. This means that after you pay the initial fee, you may use the content (image, video, music) forever without having to pay. For that reason, the Shutterstock licenses are perpetual.

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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