Shutterstock Review (2022)

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Review Summary

The bottom line

Shutterstock is worth a try if you’re looking for a large collection of stock images, videos, music, and editorial content. Subscriptions are the cheapest way to get royalty-free images, while image packs offer the most flexibility. You can also test it for 30 days using the free trial.

Best for

All buyers, especially individuals, businesses, entrepreneurs, and designers.

Ratings

100

out of 100

Quality & Variety

Shutterstock has the largest online collection of images, all of which are high-quality and offer an excellent variety. You can also get videos, music, and more.

90

out of 100

Pricing

Shutterstock offers a great selection of buying plans at reasonable prices and a 30-day free trial, but on-demand option could be more versatile.

95

out of 100

Customer Support

Email customer support reasponds within 24 hours, while the live chat enables you to get help within 2 to 5 minutes, depending on the business.

85

out of 100

Additional Features

Shutterstock has implemented several useful features, like API, numerous plugins, and even AI, but it stil lags behind Adobe Stock.

Pros

  • The largest collection of stock images (398 million)
  • 30-day free trial with 10 images worth $29
  • Wide variety of buying options.
  • Big discounts by prepaying for the annual plans.

Cons

  • 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 logo
5.0

Shutterstock specs

Websiteshutterstock.com
Images405 million
Pricing$0.22–$14.50/image
Extended license$67.96–$99.50
Free trialYes (10 images)
LicensesRoyalty-free
Founded2003; 19 years ago

About Shutterstock

Shutterstock is a New York-based American provider of stock photos, stock footage, stock music, and editing tools. Founded in 2003 by programmer and photographer Jon Oringer, Shutterstock manages a library of approximately 200 million royalty-free images, vector graphics, and illustrations, as well as approximately 10 million video clips and music files available for licensing. Shutterstock began as a subscription-only site before expanding into a la carte pricing in 2008. The company has been openly traded on the New York Stock Exchange since 2012. Wikipedia

Introduction

If you are tired of not finding the images you need on other stock photo sites and want peace of mind regarding the licensing, Shutterstock could be for you. Despite fierce competition, it remains the most popular stock agency among designers, bloggers, companies, and even individuals.

We like it because it has the largest collection of images (400 million), very affordable subscriptions, various integrations that help with your workflow, and a free trial. Yet, its on-demand options are relatively inflexible because they severely limit what you can buy, since you need to buy a pack for every type of content separately instead of having credits that can buy any asset.

If you have never used stock photo sites before and are unsure whether it’s a good fit, Shutterstock might be an excellent place to start. Most of its customers are regulars, indicating that people are generally satisfied with their purchases. In fact, we found that Shutterstock has around 350K subscribers at any given moment and had almost 2 million customers in 2018 alone.

Shutterstock is still growing and will continue to attract customers (and new photographers, who contribute the images). It’s worth remembering that even if you stop using Shutterstock, you may continue using the images or other stock content you downloaded.

At a Glance

  • The largest and most popular stock photo site
  • Excellent image quality and diversity with many more added daily
  • For new customers only: a 30-day free trial that lets you 10 premium royalty-free images
  • Diverse and affordable subscriptions with one of the lowest prices, relatively expensive and inflexible on-demand image packs, and reasonably priced videos, music tracks, and editorial images
  • Relatively good legal coverage ($10,000–$250,000) with Standard and Enhanced Licenses
  • Great customer support
  • Shutterstock has an average rating of 1.77 from a total of 2918 reviews, indicating that most customers are generally dissatisfied with their purchases. Shutterstock received 1.31/5.0 from Sitejabber (461 reviews), 1.2/5.0 from Trustpilot (1,951 reviews), and 4.4 from G2 (506 reviews).

How Much Does Shutterstock Cost?

Shutterstock offers subscriptions and packs for images, videos, music, and editorial content. Royalty-free images cost $0.22–$14.50, while the Enhanced License for images costs $67.96–$99.50. Videos cost $8.35–$37.80 with subscriptions and $51.96–$119.80 with packs. You can get unlimited music downloads for $16.60 per month. Editorial images cost $99–$199. Here’s a quick summary:

Shutterstock pricing summary

  • Image subscriptions: $25–$249/month ($0.22–$4.90/image)
  • Image packs: $29–$299 ($9.16–$14.50/image)
  • Extended License: $199–$1,699 ($67.96–$99.50/image)
  • Video subscriptions: $79–$669 ($8.35–$37.80/video)
  • Video packs: $299–$2,299 ($51.96–$119.80/video)
  • FLEX25: $42–$69 ($1.68–$2.76/image; $13.44–$22.08/video; $6.72–$11.04/music)
  • Music: $16.60/month for unlimited downloads
  • Editorial images: $199–$2,479 ($99–$199/image)

The main difference between subscriptions and on-demand is how you get the stock assets. Subscriptions give you a certain number of downloads every month, whereas packs give you a certain number of downloads that you can use whenever you want. They also differ in a few other features:

FeaturesSubscriptionsImage/video packs
Standard license
Enhanced license
Coverage for 1 user
Auto-renewal (optional)
Editor Pro
Free trial
Shutterstock subscriptions vs. packs

Image subscriptions ($0.22–$4.90/image)

Subscriptions come in four sizes (10, 50, 350, and 750 images per month) and cost $25–249/month ($0.22–$4.90/image). You can get them for three different durations (monthly, annual, and annual prepaid), which also affect the price—if you subscribe for longer, you pay less.

Monthly downloadsMonthlyAnnualAnnual prepaid
10 images$49 ($4.90/image)$29 ($2.90/image)$25 ($2.50/image)
50 images$125 ($2.50/image)$99 ($1.98/image)$82 ($1.64/image)
350 images$199 ($0.57/image)$169 ($0.48/image)$137 ($0.39/image)
750 images$249 ($0.33/image)$199 ($0.27/image)$167 ($0.22/image)
Shutterstock’s subscription prices

There’s no limit on image size or daily download limit with all subscriptions, but the unused downloads aren’t carried over to the next month. However, if you run out of downloads before the end of the month, you can wait until the next month, upgrade your subscription, or purchase on-demand packages.

  • Best for: Subscriptions are the best option when you need stock images regularly because you get the lowest possible prices.
  • Best prices: If you want the best Shutterstock prices, you need to choose the annual prepaid plan, which binds you to a 12-month contract for which you pay in advance. It’s 20% cheaper than the standard annual plan and 33% cheaper than the monthly plan.
  • Teams of up to 10 members can get a special subscription plan with 750 monthly downloads for $479/month, including tools for team planning and collaboration.

Image packs ($9.16–$14.50/image)

Image packs come in three sizes (2, 5, and 25 downloads) and cost $29–$229 ($9.16–$14.50/image) for the Standard License and $199–$1,699 ($67.96–$99.50/image) for the Enhanced License. They are your best choice if you don’t need stock photos regularly, as they don’t tie you to a contract as subscriptions do. Yet, image packs cost more than subscriptions.

Pack sizeStandardEnhanced
2 images$29 ($14.50/image)$199 ($99.50/image)
5 images$49 ($9.80/image)$449 ($89.80/image)
25 images$229 ($9.16/image)$1,699 ($67.96/image)
Shutterstock’s image pack prices

Like a subscription, image packs are automatically renewed when you run out of downloads or when they expire. You can cancel this function on the order summary page or in your account settings after purchase.

  • Best for: Since image packs are more expensive than subscriptions, you should choose them only when a subscription makes absolutely no sense. Therefore, image packs are the best option if you need images only occasionally. They are also the only way to get Enhanced License images, which are needed for merchandise or larger campaigns (over 500K prints).
  • We don’t like: Shutterstock’s image packs are a lot less flexible than iStock’s and Adobe Stock’s credits. At Shutterstock, you need to buy an image pack for each content type, while at iStock and Adobe Stock, you can use credits to buy any content.

Editorial image packs

Editorial image packs are the only way to buy editorial images at Shutterstock. They come in sizes of 1 or 25 images and cost $199 and $2,479/pack or ($99 and $199/image). Editorial image packs give you access to over 50 million sports, news, entertainment, and archival stock photos. You can get them by clicking “Pricing” in the top right corner and choosing “Editorial“.

Pack sizePrice
1 image$199 ($199/image)
25 images$2,479 ($99/image)
Shutterstock’s editorial image packs prices

Editorial images are a special type of stock content that you may not use for commercial purposes but only for educational purposes, such as news and documentaries. You can get even more editorial images with the Shutterstock Premiere License, which is available with the Enterprise Platform.

Shutterstock has one of the cheapest buying options for editorial content. Similar options are found at Getty Images, where they cost $50–$499/image.

Video subscriptions ($8.35–$37.80/video)

Video subscriptions come in three sizes (5, 10, or 20 videos/month) and cost $79–669/month ($8.35–$37.80/video). They are available in three durations (monthly, annual, and annual prepaid), which differ in cost. Annual prepaid is the cheapest and costs 16% less than the annual and 75% less than the monthly plan.

Therefore, if you need videos for a long time, you should definitely get the annual prepaid plan, which gives you a huge discount.

ClipsMonthlyAnnualAnnual prepaid
5 videos$189 ($37.80/video)$99 ($19.80/video)$79 ($15.80/video)
10 videos$359 ($35.90/video)$159 ($15.90/video)$133 ($13.30/video)
20 videos$669 ($33.45/video)$199 ($9.95/video)$167 ($8.35/video)
FLEX25$69 ($23.00/video)$49 ($16.33/video)$42 ($14.00/video)
Shutterstock’s stock footage subscription prices

There’s no limit on image size or daily download limit with all subscriptions, but the unused downloads aren’t carried over to the next month. If you run out of downloads before the end of the month, you can wait until the next month, upgrade your subscription, or purchase on-demand packages.

Shutterstock’s video subscriptions are quite good, but if you need loads of downloads and you’re on a tight budget, unlimited video downloads are far cheaper. For those, we recommend Artgrid or Videvo.

Video packs ($51.96–$119.80/video)

Video packs are your best choice if you don’t need stock photos regularly, as they don’t tie you to a contract. You can get them in three resolutions (SD, HD, and 4K) and three sizes (5, 10, and 25 videos), for $51.96–$119.80/video. The cheapest video pack costs $229 ($51.96/video) for 5 SD videos, while the most cost-efficient option is 25 SD videos for $1,299 ($51.96/video).

SDHD4K
5 videos$299 ($59.80/video)$359 ($71.80/video)$599 ($119.80/video)
10 videos$549 ($54.90/video)$669 ($66.90/video)$999 ($99.90/video)
25 videos$1,299 ($51.96/video)$1,579 ($63.16/video)$2,299 ($91.96/video)
Shutterstock’s stock footage packs prices

FLEX25 subscriptions

FLEX25 subscription, also called “Mix and Match”, is Shutterstock’s subscription plan that lets you download images, music tracks, and video clips all at the same time. You get 25 credits per month that you may use in any way you want. You can get 25 images, 6 music tracks, 3 video clips, or any combination of those.

PriceMonthlyAnnualAnnual (prepaid)
Price per month$69$49 $42
Price per image$2.76/image$1.96/image$1.68/image
Price per track$11.04/track$7.84/track$6.72/track
Price per clip$22.08/clip$15.68/clip$13.44/clip
Shutterstock’s stock footage subscription prices

Here’s how much credits each content type costs:

  • 1 image = 1 credit
  • 1 video clip = 8 credits
  • 1 music track = 4 credits

On its website, Shutterstock also offers a FLEX Subscription for teams and the Premium version, but they don’t disclose the price. So, we got in touch with customer support, and here’s what we found:

FLEX150

Businesses can get a 6-times larger FLEX subscription, which gives you 150 credits and costs $3,999 when paid upfront. Each Standard license image and music track cost 1 credit, while video clips cost 15 credits. This plan allows up to 10 seats/users.

FLEX Premium

For $5,000 per year, you get 1,000 credits that may be shared among unlimited users and 200 unwatermarked comps. Images, footage, and editorial images cost 5 credits, while music costs 20 credits. Each asset comes with rights similar to the Standard license.

The reason for the price jump is directly related to the licensing aspect of the agreement. It’s the switch from one natural person (sole proprietor, individual contractor) to a business with more than 1 employee.

Music

Music is available in a Flex25 plan (4 credits) or with an Unlimited music plan for $16.60/month. Alternatively, you can buy tracks individually for $49 a piece or $419 for the enhanced license.

How Does Shutterstock Compare?

At $0.22–$14.50 per image, Shutterstock is affordably priced, considering what you get from this stock agency. Arguably, subscriptions are fairly priced, while image packs are on the expensive side.

Adobe Stock vs. Shutterstock

Adobe Stock is a good point of reference. It charges slightly more for subscriptions ($.026-$9.99/image) than Shutterstock ($0.22-$4.90/image), but it is significantly less expensive for on-demand purchases ($8.00-$9.99/image) than Shutterstock ($9.16-$14.50/image). Adobe Stock subscriptions are also more versatile than Shutterstock’s because they allow you to download any standard asset, such as standard photos, vectors, illustrations, music, 3D, and templates. Shutterstock, on the other hand, requires you to purchase subscriptions for each type of content separately. As a result, Adobe Stock is better for creatives, particularly those who require a variety of content, such as videos, photos, and music tracks. In addition, we discovered that Adobe Stock’s free trial is more generous, as you can get up to 40 free images, whereas Shutterstock only gives you “only” 10.

Both agencies integrate with Adobe Creative Cloud, though Adobe Stock’s integration supports more apps than Shutterstock’s. Another difference is that Adobe Stock sells premium images with credits (more expensive, higher quality, and better license), whereas Shutterstock does not. Premium images from Shutterstock must be purchased separately from their parent company, Offset.

iStock vs. Shutterstock

Another stock agency, iStock, costs roughly the same as Shutterstock, but its on-demand buying is also more versatile (though it costs the same). iStock is especially good for premium images, which it sells uniquely with subscriptions, lowering the price to $0.44/image. However, whether the quality is comparable to that of Adobe Stock and Shutterstock, which sell them for $100 or more, is debatable. In addition, the license is not as broad.

Depositphotos vs. Shutterstock

Depositphotos is cheaper at smaller plans than others, so it’s better for individuals, small teams, and other customers who don’t need more than 30 images per month. However, Depositphotos offers one of the smallest indemnities in the industry ($5,000), which we argue signifies possible questionable image acquisition.

Canva vs. Envato Elements vs. Shutterstock

Finally, we recommend looking into the most affordable option of all: unlimited downloads. We recommend Canva ($9.99-$12.99/month) and Envato Elements ($16.50-$39.00/month) in this category. For a small monthly fee, you can access their entire collection of images, videos, and other creative assets. The main difference is that Canva has far more images (110 million) than Envato Elements (6 million), but you must use Canva’s images in designs, whereas Envato lets you directly download the images.

Licensing

Shutterstock offers four licenses: the Standard, Enhanced, Editorial, and Premier licenses. To explain, licenses are legal agreements by which the creator (or Shutterstock on behalf of the creator) grants you the right to use creative assets, such as photos and videos, under certain pre-agreed terms. So when you buy images, for example, you do not have to buy a separate license. Instead, they are purchased together. The only thing you need to do before buying is to decide which image and which license you want to use.

  • The Standard Shutterstock License is a royalty-free license that allows you to use stock images anywhere in the world forever. It limits you to 500K copies or impressions. You get the Standard License whenever you download images with a subscription plan or a standard image pack. It’s the most common and represents over 95% of all licenses bought, as it covers a wide variety of uses, including commercials.
  • The Enhanced Shutterstock License is also a type of royalty-free license, similar to the Standard License but with unlimited distribution rights. It also comes with higher legal coverage ($250K) than the Standard License ($10K). You can get an Enhanced License by buying an Enhanced License image pack.
  • The Editorial license is not royalty-free because you may only use the license once. If you want to use the same image again, you must buy another license. Editorial content generally can’t be used for commercial purposes but only for news articles and documentaries. This content usually represents brands, such as logos or slogans. Shutterstock’s collection of editorial content contains over 40 million images.
  • The Premier Shutterstock License has several benefits that are not available with the Standard and Enhanced Licenses. You get sensitive use rights, unlimited legal coverage, use in merchandise and templates, high-res unwatermarked comps, and third-party right transferability. You can only get the Premier License by contacting Shutterstock’s customer service, which gives you access to Shutterstock’s Enterprise Platform. It’s mostly used by companies and is rarely appropriate for individuals or small companies.
Image usageStandardEnhancedEditorialPremier
Price$0.22–14.50/image$67.96–99.50/image$99-$199/imageCustom
You can get it withSubscriptions, 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
Legal coverage$10K$250K$25KUnlimited
Seats111Unlimited
The comparison of the Standard, Enhanced, Editorial, and Premier Shutterstock Licenses

Related: What does royalty-free mean?

You may not use images for

You may not use Shutterstock licenses for logos, trademarks, sensitive materials, or resell without significant modifications. You must get a custom license by contacting Shutterstock support to do any of those.

How to choose the right license?

The Shutterstock Standard License is sufficient for most of your content needs, as you may use it indefinitely on the web and with up to 500,000 copies for printing and advertising. The Enhanced License allows for larger reproductions and reprints, making it a better choice for high-volume customers and organizations. It’s also more suitable when you need higher legal backing, as it comes with $250,000 in legal coverage.

Can I transfer licenses?

The basic standard and enhanced licenses are not transferable between different individuals. If your client needs a new design or a product, they must license the content independently or ask you to do the whole design. A far better option is the Shutterstock Enterprise License, which allows for content transfer. It is also called the Premier License.

How to use Shutterstock?

There are two ways of getting started with Shutterstock and both are valid. You can either first find the content you want and then select a buying option or you can find select the buying option and then go searching for content. Based on our experience, the latter (buy first, search later) is much better.

We think it’s better because when you’re buying stock content (images, videos, music, etc.), it’s always beneficial to create a clear plan of how much you need and how much you can spend. This is also why we structured this Shutterstock review in with pricing first, licensing second, and the guide on how to use it (the one you’re reading right now) last.

Step 1: Open the Shutterstock pricing page.

To get started, first go to the Shutterstock pricing page to select a plan for your content needs. You can find it by going to the Shutterstock homepage first and then clicking Pricing in the top right corner.

Step 2: Select a buying option

Based on what kind of content you need, select a plan that best fits your needs and costs the least amount of money. If you need help with that you can refer to the previous chapter about pricing or contact us and we’ll gladly help you for free.

Step 3: Complete the checkout.

After you select your buying option (you can pick several), go to the checkout (create a free account first if you don’t have one yet), fill in your payment details, and confirm. You’ll receive a payment confirmation to your email address within seconds and you may start downloading content.

Step 4: Find the content you want.

Use Shutterstock’s menu at the top of the site to quickly navigate to the type of content you need. The faster way to find it is by entering a keyword (i.e., “lake”) in the search bar. Then, you can use several AI filters to narrow down the selection to find what you’re looking for. You can filter by color, orientation, whether or not there are people in the photo/video, and even search by the creator.

Step 5: Download.

When you find the asset you want, click on it and press download. This will consume one download from your subscription or image/video pack.

Estimated Cost: 25 USD

How to buy Shutterstock images?

  1. Go to Shutterstock.com.
  2. Click Pricing in the top right corner.
  3. Click on the Buy now or Buy pack button.
  4. Sign in with your Shutterstock account
  5. Fill in your billing address and payment method
  6. Double-check the order summary
  7. Click Complete checkout.

Shutterstock coupons

You can get up to a 25% discount with Shutterstock coupons, thus reducing the price per image to $0.165. Also, Shutterstock offers various discounts around holidays. Both options also grant you access to over 1.7 million new pictures, videos, and music tracks uploaded weekly and licensed, which keeps you legally protected and free from copyright issues.

Free

30-day free trial

Get 10 images free during the first 30 days in the worth of $29.

Shutterstock free trial

Shutterstock offers a 30-day free trial that lets you download 10 stock images. The trial period is non-binding, and you won’t be charged until two days before the trial expires. But if you don’t cancel within the specified period, you’ll be charged a monthly fee.

How to Get the Shutterstock Free Trial?

Step 1: Go to Shutterstock

You can click here for a safe redirect to Shutterstock’s free trial page.

Step 2: Click on Start your free trial.

You can generally find the button at the top of the page above the menu.

Step 3: Create an account

Enter your email address and password. Alternatively, you can sign in with Google or Facebook.

Step 4: Fill out your details.

Now that you’re at the checkout page, you need to enter your payment information before you can activate the free trial. But don’t worry because you won’t be charged until the end of the trial.

Step 5: Click on Complete checkout.

If you didn’t get the free trial, enter code PICK10FREE in the “Modify your coupon code.”

Related: Best stock photo free trials

Who is Shutterstock Best for?

Shutterstock is the best option for users who need a great variety of stock images at affordable prices. Because of the wide array of pricing options, everyone can find the right plan for their needs. Shutterstock is especially good for:

  • Individuals. Shutterstock sells stock images at very reasonable prices so that individuals can buy them too. You can always use a coupon code to lower the cost, or you can even get 10 images for free with the free trial. But if you need more than 10 images per month, Depositphotos is the better choice because the subscriptions with 25–75 images per month are much cheaper.
  • Best for medium-to-large businesses: At 350–750 images per month, Shutterstock is priced the same as all its competitors, but because of its enormous image selection, you’ll never run out of fresh content.
  • Best for (several) enhanced licenses: Enhanced (or Extended) licenses are cheap at Shutterstock, starting at $67.96. But Shutterstock’s enhanced licenses are affordable only if you buy in bulk (5 or 25). But if you buy a single enhanced license, it’s more expensive than elsewhere.

Related: Best stock photo sites

Image quality

Images on Shutterstock are available in three sizes-Small, Medium, and Large. All sizes come in 300 DPI (dots per inch). The Large image is always the original size, submitted by the contributor, and is the best quality available.

  • Small (S) has the shortest download time and is suitable for digital use.
  • Medium (M) is suitable for small prints and digital use.
  • Large (L) is the original file provided by the contributor. Suitable for large prints and digital use.

How does Shutterstock work? (Buying guide)

Our readers often ask us how they can use Shutterstock and which purchase option is best for their situation. In this section, we address the most common questions.

➥ Click here to start your 30-day free trial (credit card required).

Question #1: I need photos for my website/blog. What do I choose?

Websites usually need images regularly, so an annual subscription is the best option. Depending on how many images you need, you can choose between 10, 50, 350, and 750 monthly downloads. In our experience, most website owners opt for 50 or 350 monthly downloads. If you need around 100 to 200, choose the larger subscription (350 images/month), as it costs only slightly more than the 50 downloads subscription. In addition, the Shutterstock Standard license you get with subscriptions is enough for your website if you don’t plan to use images for resale.

Question #2: I run a media agency, and we need many images.

The largest pre-made subscription you can get is 750 monthly downloads, which for teams of 10 members costs $479/month. If you’re part of a larger plan, get an enterprise plan by contacting Shutterstock.

Question #3: When do I need an enterprise plan?

An enterprise plan is necessary when you share images with other team members (teams of 10+ members) or when you need a custom solution, such as over 750 monthly downloads, API, VIP customer service, and more.

Question #4: I want to use an image for resale (print T-shirts, mugs, etc.). Which license should I get?

You need an extended license when you use a standalone file for resale, such as printing the image on anything and then selling this item. “Standalone file” means an unchanged file or a file that wasn’t incorporated into a bigger design.

Question #5: Can I upload the downloaded image to another stock photo site?

No, you may not resell the image anywhere or claim its ownership unless you get explicit permission from the author.

Question #6: I’m working on a project for a client.

If you don’t give images directly to the client, you may use the standard license, which is included in subscriptions and image packs. For example, a graphic designer creating graphics for a client may use the images they get from subscriptions or image packs.

Question #7: Which subscriptions to choose?

Stock image subscriptions are your best option when you need regular image downloads. Pick monthly plans when you need them for fewer than 8 months, annual when you need them for more than 8 months, and annual prepaid when you can afford to pay in advance.

What we like about Shutterstock

1. The number, quality, & variety of images

Shutterstock number of photos
Almost 398 million royalty-free stock photos, vectors, and illustrations are in Shutterstock’s database.

At the same time, Shutterstock has the largest collection of stock images (395 million) while also maintaining superb quality thanks to rigorous checks by the quality-check team. Also, Shutterstock adds approximately 200,000 more stock images to its library daily. This seemingly unending variety and supply of fresh content, ensure you can find any visual you need, regardless of how niche it is. This keeps true even for the largest subscriptions of 750 monthly downloads.

In addition to the massive image library, Shutterstock has a pretty large collection of stock videos (25.2 million) shots in up to 4K resolution and 60 FPS. You can also find 28K music tracks on Shutterstock and an additional 25K on PremiumBeat, which Shutterstock acquired in 2015.

What Shutterstock is far less popular for but still very powerful at are editorial images and videos, costing from $99.50 up to $199 for images and much more for videos (you must get in touch with customer support). Lastly, you can browse sound effects (10.6K), available in stereo, 5.1, and ambisonic, templates, and 3D models, which are available at Turbosquid, another agency Shutterstock acquired.

2. Great subscriptions

Shutterstock pricing page

Having introduced subscriptions to microstock photography, Shutterstock’s subscriptions remain one of the best in the business because of their great versatility and low prices. To start with, you can choose between four subscription types based on the content you need: images, videos, images + videos, and music. Each subscription comes in three or four sizes, with the “size” meaning the number of monthly downloads. As the number of downloads increases, the price per download decreases, resulting in the large plans being more cost-efficient.

You can subscribe for three different durations: monthly, annual, and annual prepaid. The latter is almost unique to Shutterstock and is the main reason why its subscriptions are one of the cheapest among stock photo sites. It’s worth mentioning that you should pick annual subscriptions even if you don’t need the downloads for 12 months because of price reduction. Therefore, we recommend monthly subscriptions only if you need the images (or videos) for fewer than 8 months.

The recently-introduced FLEX25 subscription plan is ideal for creative designers who don’t need only images but also videos. This plan lets you download either 25 images or 3 videos per month or any combination of both (1 video download is worth 8 image downloads).

3. Free images

Shutterstock free image collection

In addition to being already quite affordable, Shutterstock gives you three options of downloading images for free and without watermarks.

Free collections: The first and the easiest way is to download images from the free stock image collections. These are the packs of free stock images Shutterstock is giving away for free. They come with the Standard license that gives unlimited digital reproduction rights and up to 500,000 physical reproductions.

Email newsletter: create a free Shutterstock account using only your email address, to which you’ll receive one stock photo and one stock vector weekly. Best of all, they are licensed with a royalty-free license, making them equivalent to images you’d buy with actual money.

Free trial: During the 30-day trial, you can download Shutterstock images of your choice that come with the Standard license. The free trial works on the small image subscriptions (10 downloads per month) only, so it saves you $49 in the first month. You can also cancel it risk-free anytime during the first month and pay nothing.

4. Good customer support

Along with the guidelines on how we test customer support, we contacted Shutterstock’s support team many times through each available option: live chat, email, and phone call.

We have found that Shutterstock’s customer support is very good, especially the live chat option. You can very easily start a conversation from the help page, from which you choose one of the three options.

The wait time to receive an agent is usually very short, in our experiments, 2-3 minutes on average. The assistants are kind, knowledgable, and very quick to forward your information to other team members if the topic is outside their expertise or jurisdiction. Getting a reply to an email took, on average, 6 to 12 hours for us, but it can take up to 24 hours based on when you submit the ticket.

5. Shutterstock Editor

Shutterstock Editor using a template

Shutterstock’s Editor is a simplified version of any photo editing software. When you open the editor, it first prompts you to select the design dimensions with several presets for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms.

You can browse all Shutterstock’s images from the editor, helping you find the right image without downloading it. You can browse many free templates if you don’t want to start from scratch. Finally, you can add text and elements, like shapes, stickers, and symbols.

Shutterstock promotes its Collage Maker as a separate tool, but it’s part of the Editor, where instead of freely choosing the setup, Shutterstock automatically recommends a collage-like template.

6. Mobile Apps

Shutterstock developed an app for Android and Apple devices, available at Google Play and App Store, respectively. The app allows you to browse, save, share, and download all Shutterstock content. Although most creatives work from PCs, some find inspiration while on the go, and having the apps on their phone allows them to do their work whenever the motivation kicks in.

7. Integrations

An invaluable feature of stock image sites is integrations. Instead of downloading photos from Shutterstock and then uploading them to their favorite applications, Shutterstock users can use plugins to browse the images. Shutterstock supports WordPress integration, Final Cut Pro, Adobe Creative Cloud applications, Google Slides, Sketch, and Microsoft PowerPoint. Shutterstock’s Chrome extension, called Shutterstock Reveal, helps you find Shutterstock’s images by scanning any online image you want to use.

Image Resizer & File Converter

Shutterstock Image Resizer
Using Shutterstock’s Image Resizer

In addition to every other tool we’ve discussed so far, Shutterstock also offers a set of free tools that anyone can use. While they are not flashy or game-changing, these tools can help with your workflow. They include an image resizer, file converter (JPEG, PNG, TIFF), collage maker, and color schemes generator.

8. Image searching tools

Shutterstock Editor using a template

Shutterstock’s search tool used to be essential and lacked features before the update. Now, however, it is very sophisticated and intuitive, with several filters to help you find the desired content quickly.

Shutterstock gives you several ways to find the right images. You can search by Keyword, use Filters, Sort by freshness and relevance, and reverse image search. Which you choose is totally up to you, but the easiest way to find the right image is by starting with a Keyword Search and then using FIlter to narrow down the search. Sometimes you find an image on the internet that you like and want to use but don’t know where to find it. Here you can use the image to perform a Reverse Image Search and purchase it.

9. WordPress plugin

In December of 2020, Shutterstock announced and released a WordPress plugin that you can use to upload images from Shutterstock from within your editor.

Also, this plugin works not only with WordPress but also with WordPress VIP, a platform for giants such as Facebook or Spotify. You need to download the plugin and connect it to your Shutterstock account.

The best feature of this plugin is that you don’t need to purchase the image to see it live. Why not? Because there’s a live preview option that allows you to see what the image will look like on your website. Of course, it will be watermarked until you license it.

Flaws and potential dealbreakers

1. Unflexible on-demand options

Shutterstock video pricing video packs
Screenshot of Shutterstock’s video pricing showing the abundance of on-demand video packs

Shutterstock offers image and video packs, which are quite affordable, but we don’t like how they work. If you want to use them, you must first buy the right pack, but knowing which one you’ll need isn’t always possible ahead of time. What is more, there are 5 image packs and 18 (!!) video packs.

For example, let’s say you bought a 5 video image pack in HD resolution. If you need one 4K video next, you must buy a whole new image pack. In contrast, some other stock photo sites let you buy credit (with credit packs) that you may use to buy any content on their website.

The same goes for image packs, which are still more flexible than video packs. You can choose between 2 or 3 sizes for the Standard or Enhanced licenses.

2. Low legal coverage of the Standard license

Legal coverage (or indemnity) is the maximum amount of money a stock photo agency pays for your legal issues that arise from the photo that caused them. In other words, it’s a metric of how much a stock agency believes in the legitimacy of its photos.

The Shutterstock Standard License is the most basic license that comes with subscriptions and standard image packs. To our surprise, it comes with a relatively low legal coverage of $10,000 per license. In comparison, one of Shutterstock’s strongest alternatives, Adobe Stock, offers unlimited legal coverage even with the Standard license.

If you want higher legal coverage from Shutterstock, you need to get the Extended license, which comes with a $250,000 indemnity, which is still far less than Adobe Stock. In terms of the amount of legal coverage, Shutterstock lies somewhere in the middle, with Adobe and Getty Images at the top, and Depositphotos and Envato Elements at the bottom.

3. Poor customer reviews & no responses

Shutterstock reviews on Trustpilot

Every company gets negative customer reviews–it’s understandable that you can’t make everyone happy. What is more, the larger the business, the higher the chance it will get bad reviews. And sometimes, the reviews are just not the company’s fault and are the consequence of the customers misreading the terms and conditions or not understanding the product.

However, much to our surprise, Shutterstock has surprisingly many bad reviews on sites like Trustpilot and G2. We dug into the almost 3,000 reviews to find why customers don’t like Shutterstock while we love it.

Sidenote: Shutterstock has around 2,500 bad reviews but served around 20 million customers in the 19 years since it was founded. Therefore, the bad reviews represent 0.0125% of customers.

We were the most disappointed that Shutterstock’s PR team doesn’t reply to these reviews because that would help improve their image. But because we’re here to deliver truthful information and reviews, we tackled this issue and addressed the most common complaints with facts.

Customer satisfaction

Despite being one of the best and largest stock photo sites, Shutterstock gets many bad reviews. It’s been rated 4.4/5.0 by 492 reviews on G2, 1.2/5.0 by 409 reviews on Sitejabber, and 1.2/5.0 by 1,742 reviews on Trustpilot. We will address the most common Shutterstock customer reviews and present facts:

1. Misleading free trial

Most dissatisfied customers complain about misleading free trial terms, claiming they were charged before the trial ended. This was indeed true; up until 2022, Shutterstock’s free trial policy required you to cancel the free trial four days (96 hours) before it ended, otherwise, you would be charged. According to them, this was due to the processing times (we didn’t buy it).

Sometimes at the beginning of 2022, Shutterstock lowered the deadline for the cancellation to two days. A few months later, Shutterstock removed this deadline altogether, presumably because of the overwhelming amount of complaints. You may now cancel the free trial minutes before it ends. And we support that decision.

2. Poor customer support

We have tested the Shutterstock customer support inside out, but we couldn’t confirm the allegations that it was poor. Customers complain that they had to wait several days to receive an email response and waited on live chat for hours.

We tested both, and Shutterstock responded to our emails very quickly every time (usually within hours, 24 hours at most), which is very reasonable. The live support was superb every time, with the maximum waiting time from 2 to 3 minutes. Naturally, the live chat isn’t available on holidays, so perhaps the dissatisfied customers didn’t account for that.

3. No refunds

Lastly, we’ve seen that many customers complain about not receiving refunds. While every situation is unique and thus cannot be addressed in general, we spotted a trend where customers wanted a refund after using the images. This, of course, is not possible, since those customers have already procured the license, for which Shutterstock had to pay their photographers.

To the best of our knowledge, you’re eligible for a refund if a) Shutterstock made a mistake and charged you for something you didn’t buy, or b) you immediately recognize your mistake, don’t download any images, and ask for the refund explaining the situation.

Sidenote: We do not represent Shutterstock nor are we endorsed by them. These comments are our take based on facts and our experience with Shutterstock

Shutterstock review: The verdict

Shutterstock has a 5.0 rating, indicating it is the best stock photo site and that most customers are satisfied with their purchases. It has the largest stock image database, diverse pricing, a free trial, and excellent image quality and variety. Most consumers complain about poor customer service and free trial terms.

Our experience with Shutterstock is good, and we haven’t had any problems using it. However, we did not like the relatively expensive on-demand pricing and the very inflexible image and video packs. We liked the image quality, the free trial, and the subscription prices.

Frequently asked questions

Is Shutterstock legit?

Yes, Shutterstock is a legit and reliable choice for stock images thanks to encrypting all purchases, although it has a bad rating of 1.2 out of 5.0 on Trustpilot, based on 1,742 reviews. Most customers complain about the scammy free trial terms.

Is Shutterstock free to use?

No, Shutterstock is not free. Shutterstock licenses all of its content under royalty-free licenses, often misunderstood as “free.” Instead, it means that you don’t have to pay any additional royalties after you pay the initial fee.
Learn more

Does Shutterstock have a free trial?

Yes, Shutterstock has a 30-day free trial for 10 free images of your choice. You can get the free trial by purchasing a subscription plan with an annual commitment, but if you cancel before the trial ends, you pay nothing and keep all 10 free images.

Is Shutterstock’s free trial really free?

Yes, Shutterstock’s free trial lets you download 10 stock images during 30-days free of charge, without any commitment. If you don’t cancel the free trial before the free trial ends, you’ll be charged.

Why is Shutterstock so expensive?

Shutterstock stock images and videos are expensive because you pay for quality instead of quantity. The Shutterstock review team carefully curates all the content, ensuring every image is valuable.

Can I use Shutterstock images for commercial use?

Yes, you may use Shutterstock images, except for those marked “Editorial Use Only,” in any creative project, such as print websites, ads, books, magazines, commercials, and brochures.

How much does Shutterstock cost?

Shutterstock royalty-free images cost $0.22–$4.90 when bought with a subscription and $9.16–$14.50/image when bought with image packs. Enhanced license images can only be bought with credit packs, costing $67.96–$99.50/image.

What is Shutterstock used for?

Customers use Shutterstock to buy royalty-free stock images, videos, music, templates, and 3D objects. Conversely, photographers and artists use Shutterstock to sell their work to customers by selling licenses and splitting the commission with Shutterstock. Shutterstock images are most commonly used to illustrate websites for graphics, personal projects, and marketing.

How much is a Shutterstock subscription?

Shutterstock subscriptions for images cost $25-$249/month, videos $42-$669/month, and music $16.60/month. Subscriptions come in different sizes and three commitment types, which determine the price of the plan and thus the cost per image.

How much does the enhanced license cost?

Enhanced licenses cost between $67.96 and $99.50 per image. You can only purchase an enhanced license with enhanced image packs, which come in sizes of 2, 5, and 25, and cost between $199 and $1,699. The larger the image pack, the cheaper the enhanced license.

Why you should trust us

I have thoroughly checked over 30 stock agencies and reviewed over 20 of them. I have also collaborated with other stock photo experts to exchange knowledge and share opinions, while I also consulted a number of stock photo agencies, helping them provide better services to their customers. Having reviewed all major stock photo sites, I know their licensing, pricing system, and hidden tricks inside-out, giving me the power to write an unbiased and useful Shutterstock review.

However, I do not rely only on myself. The review has also been checked by a Shutterstock employee, thus verifying that all information is correct. Importantly, they were not involved in the rating of Shutterstock, so the opinion remains unbiased.

Finally, we know that you can’t rely on the review of one person or team, as they might still be biased. For that reason, we checked over 2,500 Shutterstock reviews (literally!) from customer review sites, including G2, SiteJabber, and Trustpilot.

How we reviewed and rated

Our stock photo reviews are the culmination of hundreds of hours spent testing and reviewing stock photo agencies, so you don’t have to. This involved creating multiple email accounts (so they don’t recognize us and treat us better), contacting customer support to see how well they handle easy but also very difficult questions, and buying stock images to test the service. We then rated each stock photo site on a scale from 1 to 5 based on our findings and the quantitative measures (like the number of images, pricing, etc.). The following is how we evaluated Shutterstock:

  • 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 Shutterstock’s customer support, licensing, and additional features that would enhance customers’ workflow.

Sources

  1. Shutterstock Pricing, Shutterstock, updated 2022.
  2. About Us – Executive Team, Shutterstock, updated 2022.
  3. Free downloads, Shutterstock Blog, updated July 8, 2022.
  4. Wikipedia contributors, Shutterstock, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. updated June 30, 2022.
  5. Adam Bryant, Jon Oringer of Shutterstock, on the Power of Hackathon, The New York Times, June 20, 2013.
  6. Andrew Thomas, The Secret Ratio That Proves Why Customer Reviews Are So Important, Inc., February 26, 2018.
  7. Jonathan Oringer, Annual Report 2018, Shutterstock, February 26, 2019.

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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