The Bottom Line
Shutterstock is the best stock photo site and 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.
- The largest collection of stock images (408million)
- 30-day free trial with 10 images worth $49
- Wide variety of buying options.
- Big discounts with the annual prepaid plans.
- Content packs need to be bought for each content type separately
- Editorial images are expensive ($99.50–$199)
- Enhanced License affordable only when bought in bulk
|Free trial||Yes (10 images)|
2-minute Shutterstock review
Shutterstock is the most popular stock photo site with the largest collection of royalty-free stock images (433+ million). Despite offering an enormous stock photo library, Shutterstock is affordably priced, starting at just $0.22 per image or $25 per month. In addition, all new clients can use the 30-day free trial to test Shutterstock for free. The combination of competitive prices, impeccable stock images, and a broad range of additional features earned Shutterstock a five-star rating and a Photutorial Editor’s Choice award for a stock photo site.
However, Shutterstock is not the best option for everyone. For those who need lots of downloads or want a wider variety of creative assets, we recommend Envato Elements. This platform offers unlimited downloads of all its assets with a royalty-free license for just $16.50/per month. On the other hand, graphic designers will prefer Adobe Stock which comes natively integrated into Adobe Creative Cloud apps but is slightly more expensive than Shutterstock.
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).
Regardless of what others think, you should form an opinion of Shutterstock yourself. And you can do so for free with the 30-day free trial.
Who is Shutterstock best for?
Shutterstock is the best option for users who need a great variety of stock images at affordable prices. Its wide range of pricing options makes it suitable for individuals, medium-to-large businesses, and those who need multiple enhanced licenses. Here are some specific reasons why Shutterstock may be the best choice for you:
- Individuals: If you’re an individual looking for affordable stock images, Shutterstock’s prices and coupon codes make it a good option. The free trial also allows you to try out 10 images before committing to a subscription.
- Medium-to-large businesses: If you’re a medium-to-large business needing a large volume of fresh content, Shutterstock’s huge image selection and competitive pricing make it a top choice.
- To buy (several) Enhanced licenses: If you need multiple enhanced licenses, Shutterstock’s bulk discounts on enhanced licenses make it an affordable option. However, if you only need a single enhanced license, you may be able to find a better deal elsewhere.
How much does Shutterstock cost?
Shutterstock has several buying options, divided into subscriptions and on-demand. The most affordable option for images, videos, and audio is All-in-one subscriptions, available in 6 sizes and three commitments. If you don’t need content regularly, we recommend on-demand options instead. Yet, they are more expensive than subscriptions. Here’s a summary of Shutterstock pricing:
- All-in-one subscriptions: $25–$249/month ($0.22–$4.90/image; $2.23–$29/video; $0.89–$14.50/audio track)
- Image packs: $29–$299 ($9.16–$14.50/image)
- Extended License: $199–$1,699 ($67.96–$99.50/image)
- Video packs: $299–$2,299 ($51.96–$119.80/video)
- Music: $16.60/month for unlimited downloads
- Editorial images: $199–$2,479 ($99–$199/image)
Subscriptions vs. on-demand
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 you can use whenever you want (within a year). They also differ in a few other features:
|Coverage for 1 user||✓||✓|
|Best for||when you need stock images/videos regularly because you get the lowest possible prices||when you need stock assets occasionally|
|We like||best prices;|
20% discount with yearly;
33% discount with yearly prepaid;
no daily download limits
|We dislike||lower flexibility;|
downloads do not roll over
credits are not universal*;
* Shutterstock’s image packs are much 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.
Shutterstock offers subscription plans that allow you to access its library of stock assets, including images, videos, and audio tracks. There are six different plan sizes available, ranging from 10 to 750 credits per month, and three subscription durations to choose from: monthly, annual (billed monthly), and annual (billed upfront). The annual (billed upfront) option is the most affordable, starting at $0.22 per image.
|Credits per month||Monthly||Annual (billed monthly)||Annual (billed upfront)|
|10||$49||$29 (+ free trial)||$25 ($299/ye)|
You can use the allocated credits to download the creative assets you like, costing:
- Images: 1 credit (Standard Image license)
- Video: 10 credits (Standard Video license)
- Audio tracks: 4 credits (Standard Music license)
The All-in-one subscription offers much higher flexibility, as you can download any type of content you need. It also includes a 20% discount on annual (billed monthly) and a 32% discount on annual (billed upfront) plans, as well as access to Creative Flow applications and AI search (which are not available with credits). However, the Enhanced license is unavailable with subscriptions, and the price of 10 credits per video can be expensive, especially with smaller All-in-one plans.
In terms of pricing, Shutterstock’s All-in-one subscriptions are cheaper than Adobe Stock’s subscriptions when used to download images but more expensive for audio tracks and videos. The lower costs for Shutterstock are mainly due to the annual prepaid option, which offers a 32% discount that is not available with Adobe. At the moment, no other notable stock image site offers such a variety of assets at these prices and subscription flexibility.
Shutterstock subscriptions used to be separated for each content type (images, videos, audio tracks). In the second half of 2022, Shutterstock introduced unified All-in-one subscriptions (previously FLEX). The new subscriptions are much more flexible for creatives and also make Shutterstock cheaper for most.
Teams of up to 10 members can get a special subscription plan with 750 monthly downloads for $479/month, including team planning and collaboration tools. However, it includes downloads of images only. You can also get All-in-one subscriptions for teams by contacting Shutterstock customer support.
Images On-Demand ($9.16–$14.50/image). Image packs come in three sizes (2, 5, and 25 downloads) and cost $29–$229 (equivalent to $9.16–$14.50/image) for the Standard License and $199–$1,699 (equivalent to $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.
|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)|
Video On-Demand ($51.96–$119.80/video). Video packs are a good option if you only need stock videos occasionally and don’t want to be tied to a contract. They are available in three resolutions: SD, HD, and 4K. You can choose from packs of 5, 10, or 25 videos, with prices ranging from $51.96 to $119.80 per video. The cheapest option is a pack of 5 SD videos for $229 ($51.96 per video), while the most cost-efficient option is a pack of 25 SD videos for $1,299 ($51.96 per video).
|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)|
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.
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“.
|1 image||$199 ($199/image)|
|25 images||$2,479 ($99/image)|
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.
Creative Flow+ is a subscription that gives you access to a set of design and workflow tools from Shutterstock that include Create Editor, Catalog, and Predict. It costs $12.99/month with the monthly plans and $119/year (equivalent to $9.92/month) with the annual, billed upfront plan.
You get Creative Flow+ included for free when you buy any image, video, or FLEX subscription. But you must turn off auto-renew on your Creative Flow+ subscription from your plans page when you upgrade.
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 TRYFLEX10 in the “Modify your coupon code.”
Related: Best stock photo free trials
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.
|You can get it with||Subscriptions, Standard License image packs||Enhanced License image packs||Editorial image packs||Contact Shutterstock customer service|
|500K copies||Unlimited||500K copies||Unlimited|
|Out-of-home advertising||500K impressions||Unlimited||–||Unlimited|
|Video production||$10K budget||Unlimited||–||Unlimited|
Related: What does royalty-free mean?
How to license photos on Shutterstock?
To license photos on Shutterstock, simply download them from the platform. The type of license you receive will depend on the type of purchase you make. Subscriptions and standard on-demand packs come with the Standard license, while the Enhanced license is included with Enhanced on-demand packs.
You may not use images for
Shutterstock licenses cannot be used for logos, trademarks, sensitive materials, or reselling without significant modifications. To use images for these purposes, you must obtain a custom license by contacting Shutterstock support.
How to choose the right license?
The Standard license is suitable for most content needs, as it allows for indefinite use on the web and up to 500,000 copies for printing and advertising. The Enhanced license offers larger reproductions and reprints, making it a better choice for high-volume customers and organizations. It also provides $250,000 in legal coverage.
Can I transfer licenses?
Basic Standard and Enhanced licenses are not transferable between different individuals. If your client needs a new design or product, they must license the content independently or have you create the design for them. A better option is the Shutterstock Enterprise License, also known as the Premier License, which allows for content transfer.
How does Shutterstock compare?
At $0.22–$14.50 per image, Shutterstock is affordably priced, considering what you get from this stock agency. Arguably, subscriptions are fairly priced, while image packs are expensive.
Adobe Stock vs. Shutterstock
Adobe Stock is a good point of reference. It charges slightly more for subscriptions ($.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. On the other hand, Shutterstock 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.
Quality is debatable, considering Adobe Stock and Shutterstock sell them for $100 or more, and the license is also more restrictive.
More: Shutterstock vs iStock
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
In terms of affordability, unlimited download options from Canva and Envato Elements are worth considering. Both offer access to their entire collection of images, videos, and other creative assets for a small monthly fee. Canva has a larger collection of images (110 million) but requires that they be used in designs, while Envato Elements offers a smaller collection (6 million) but allows direct download of images.
More: Shutterstock vs. Envato Elements
Shutterstock vs. Shutterly
Shutterstock is an online platform that offers a wide variety of stock images, videos, and music tracks for sale. Shutterly, on the other hand, is a photo printing and framing service that allows customers to print and frame their own photos. Both companies are distinct and offer different services.
How does Shutterstock work?
There are two ways to begin using Shutterstock: selecting content first and then a buying option or selecting a buying option and then searching for content.
Based on our experience, the latter option (selecting a buying option first) is better because it allows you to create a clear plan for how much content you need and how much you can spend. This is also why we structured this review to focus on pricing and licensing first, followed by a guide on using the platform.
Step 1: Open the Shutterstock pricing page.
To start, go to the Shutterstock pricing page to select a plan for your content needs. You can find it by going to the Shutterstock homepage 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?
- Go to Shutterstock.com.
- Click Pricing in the top right corner.
- Click on the Buy now or Buy pack button.
- Sign in with your Shutterstock account
- Fill in your billing address and payment method
- Double-check the order summary
- Click Complete checkout.
Buying guide: Your questions answered
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 often require a regular supply of images, so an annual subscription may be the most practical option. Depending on your needs, you can choose from a range of subscription options that allow you to download a certain number of images each month.
The most popular choices are subscriptions that allow 50 or 350 monthly downloads. If you need around 100 to 200 images per month, the larger subscription (350 images/month) may be a better value, as it only costs slightly more than the 50-download subscription.
The Shutterstock Standard license with a subscription should be sufficient for your website unless you plan to use the images for resale.
Question #2: I run a media agency that requires many images.
The largest pre-made subscription available from Shutterstock is the 750 monthly download plan, which costs $167 to $249 for individuals and $479/month for teams of 10 members. For larger teams, contact Shutterstock for an enterprise plan.
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.
Pros: What we like about Shutterstock
1. The number, quality, & variety of images
Shutterstock has an impressive library of royalty-free stock photos, vectors, and illustrations, with almost 409 million images available. Not only is the collection massive, but the quality is also maintained through rigorous checks by the quality-check team. With 200,000 new images added daily, you can find any niche visual you need, even with the largest subscription of 750 monthly downloads.
Shutterstock also offers 25.2 million stock videos, with shots in up to 4K resolution and 60 FPS, as well as 28K music tracks and 10.6K sound effects available in stereo, 5.1, and ambisonic. Additionally, you can find templates and 3D models at Turbosquid, another agency acquired by Shutterstock. Editorial images and videos are also available for $99.50 up to $199 for images.
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.
2. Great subscriptions
Shutterstock’s subscriptions are renowned for their exceptional versatility and affordability. You can choose from four subscription types – images, videos, images + videos, and music – and three or four sizes for each, with the size referring to the number of monthly downloads. The more downloads you purchase, the less you pay per download, making the large plans more cost-effective.
Shutterstock offers three different subscription durations – monthly, annual, and annual prepaid – with the latter being one of the cheapest among stock photo sites. We suggest opting for the annual subscriptions, even if you don’t need the downloads for 12 months, due to the price reduction. If you only need images or videos for less than 8 months, then a monthly subscription is the way to go.
Finally, the recently-introduced FLEX25 subscription plan is perfect for creative designers who need images and videos. This plan allows you to download either 25 images or 3 videos per month (1 video download is equal to 8 image downloads).
3. Free images
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
We have thoroughly tested Shutterstock’s customer support and found it very good. We contacted them through live chat, email, and phone calls and received prompt and helpful responses each time. The wait time to receive an agent via live chat was typically 2-3 minutes on average, and we got replies to emails within 6-12 hours.
The assistants were friendly, knowledgeable, and quick to forward our inquiries to other team members if the issue was outside of their expertise. We were impressed with the quality of customer support at Shutterstock.
5. Shutterstock editor
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.
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
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’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.
Cons: Where Shutterstock could improve
1. Unflexible on-demand options
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
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 out 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, 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.
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 a 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
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.
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.
- Shutterstock Pricing, Shutterstock, updated 2022.
- About Us – Executive Team, Shutterstock, updated 2022.
- Free downloads, Shutterstock Blog, updated July 8, 2022.
- Wikipedia contributors, Shutterstock, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. updated June 30, 2022.
- Adam Bryant, Jon Oringer of Shutterstock, on the Power of Hackathon, The New York Times, June 20, 2013.
- Andrew Thomas, The Secret Ratio That Proves Why Customer Reviews Are So Important, Inc., February 26, 2018.
- Jonathan Oringer, Annual Report 2018, Shutterstock, February 26, 2019.
About your guide
Matic Broz is a multifaceted creative professional, with experience as a photographer, graphic designer, and business owner. He has a decade of experience in helping other creatives improve their craft and start their own businesses. His writing and research have been featured in notable publications such as The Guardian, PetaPixel, and USA Today. Additionally, his scientific research has been recognized with a cover feature in the prestigious MDPI-owned journal. In his leisure time, he enjoys photography, hiking, and spending time with dogs. Read more
Information provided on Photutorial is for educational purposes only. Your situation is unique and the products and services we review may not be right for your circumstances. We do not offer financial advice, nor do we recommend or advise individuals to buy or sell particular stocks or services. Performance information may have changed since the time of publication. Past performance is not indicative of future results.
Photutorial adheres to strict editorial integrity standards. To the best of our knowledge, all content is accurate as of the date posted, though offers contained herein may no longer be available. The opinions expressed are the author’s alone and have not been provided, approved, or otherwise endorsed by our partners.