Am I qualified to write this post?
I spent the better half of my life learning about photography, and that includes stock photography. I tested, reviewed, or used every major stock photo site, including Shutterstock and Adobe Stock. Here are all the best stock photo sites.
Based on my in-depth research and experience, I suggest the following:
- Adobe Stock is better for designers using Adobe Creative Cloud apps, like Adobe Premiere, Photoshop, Illustrator, and others. Thanks to Adobe Stock’s integration into these apps, you can access stock images for free. You only pay for the images you use on export.
- Shutterstock is better for businesses and individuals who are only interested in downloading stock photos because it’s cheaper ($0.22/photo) than Adobe Stock ($0.26/photo).
|Content||282 million||390 million|
|Subscription sizes||3/10, 40, 350, 750||10, 40, 350, 750|
|On-demand sizes||5, 16, 40, 80, 150||2, 5, 25|
|Free trial||10 or 40 images||10 images|
|Features||Creative Cloud integration|
|Built-in photo editor|
|Best for||Graphic designers|
|Learn more||Adobe stock review||Shutterstock review|
|Try Adobe Stock||Try Shutterstock|
In this review, I’ll answer your question, “Is Adobe Stock better than Shutterstock or is Shutterstock better than Adobe Stock?”.
I’ll compare them in terms of:
Adobe Stock and Shutterstock sell content with subscription plans (cheap) and on-demand (flexible). Subscriptions are better for those who need images (or videos) consistently, whereas on-demand plans are better for occasional image downloads.
|Sizes||3, 40, 350, 750||10, 40, 350, 750|
|Sizes||10, 40, 350, 750||10, 40, 350, 750|
Both agencies offer similar subscription plans with monthly and annual commitments. In addition, Shutterstock provides a yearly prepaid option, which is 11% cheaper than the regular yearly plan. Overall, Shutterstock is slightly more affordable.
Notably, both offer subscription plans of the same size (10, 40, 350, 750), meaning monthly downloads. However, Adobe’s smallest monthly plan comes with only 3 downloads, while Shutterstock’s comes with 10. The largest plans are equally priced, but the smallest is slightly cheaper at Shutterstock.
Every image you download through subscriptions is licensed under a royalty-free license; both agencies refer to it as a “Standard license”—more about it in the License chapter.
|Sizes||5, 16, 40, 80, 150||2, 5, 25|
|Valid for||1 year||1 year|
For on-demand options, Adobe Stock is a clear winner. It has a significantly lower price per image, and it offers more buying options.
The main distinction between the two is what you get when you buy on-demand plans. Shutterstock’s plans are simple; you buy a pack of 2, 5, or 25 images that you can use within a year.
In contrast, Adobe Stock provides credits that you can use to buy standard and premium images, as well as various templates and 3D models. Thus, Adobe’s credit packs are more inclusive, allowing you to download any content.
WINNER: Adobe Stock
You need stock photo licenses to use the content (images, videos, etc.) of which you’re not the rightful owner. A license allows you to use the content under specific usage terms, so it’s crucial that you know which license to get.
A royalty-free (RF) license is the most basic paid license. You may use the content you get licensed under an RF license forever in as many projects as you wish. But you’re limited in distribution to 500,000 copies. Both agencies refer to the RF license as a Standard license.
|Get it with||Subscriptions, on-demand||Subscriptions, on-demand|
Unless you buy the largest Shutterstock plan (750 images/month), Adobe Stock is cheaper for an RF license. The most significant Adobe’s advantage is unlimited legal coverage; it means that Adobe covers your legal expenses if someone sues you for copyright infringement.
Usually, stock photo agencies cover up to $10k, but as Adobe states: “Provided that the Works are used in accordance with the Terms /…/ We will pay you the damages, loses, costs, expenses, or liabilities“. Adapted after Adobe Stock Additional Terms (updated August 16, 2019).
WINNER: Adobe Stock
An Extended License (Enhanced at Shutterstock) is a form of RF license with an unlimited reproduction limit. It’s best suited for merchandise, commercial uses, and other large-scale campaigns.
|Get it with||On-demand||On-demand|
|Buy at once||1||2, 5, 25|
WINNER: Adobe Stock
Images, videos, & other content
|Number||254 million||390 million|
|Get with||Subscriptions, on-demand||Subscriptions, on-demand|
|Number||23 million||23 million|
|Get with||On-demand||Subscriptions, on-demand|
Both agencies have an outstanding variety of stock images and videos. But since they specialise in imagery, the video quality and variety are worse yet acceptable.
Adobe Stock has fewer images in total, but its variety is better than Shutterstock’s since many of Shutterstock’s images are repetitive. It means that many images were taken in the same photoshoot, so they don’t differ enough. Adobe Stock has a lot less repetitiveness.
Shutterstock and Adobe Stock accept only images of excellent quality. Yet as both a photographer and a blogger, I prefer Adobe’s—the images are less derivative and of higher technical quality.
Moreover, Adobe Stock offers even more prestigious images called “Premium Images.” You can only get these on-demand with credits, and they cost 5—20x more than the standard images.
Regarding video quality and variety, I prefer Adobe Stock, although its videos are a lot more expensive. Shutterstock gets an important advantage with video subscriptions that cost only $8.33/video. However, these videos are pretty low quality. If you’re looking for images, I recommend specialised stock video sites.
WINNER: Adobe Stock
Contributor program comparison
Shutterstock and Adobe Stock both run profitable contributor programs with completely different payout systems. So, should you choose Shutterstock or Adobe Stock for selling your photos online?
Shutterstock contributor pays based on how many images you have sold in the current calendar year. The commissions max out at 25,000+ downloads that yield 40% earnings.
|Image levels||Image licenses||You earn|
|Level 1||< 100||15%|
The worst part about the Shutterstock contributor program is that it resets your level to Level 1 every year on January 1st.
To me, it seems completely unreasonable, and it’s a huge turn-off for many photographers. However, due to the size of Shutterstock, it’s still the main source of income for stock photographers.
Become a Shutterstock contributor.
Adobe Stock Contributor
In contrast, Adobe Stock contributor pays based on a plan a customer was using when they purchased a license.
In short, you get 33% royalties for images and 35% royalties for videos. However, the minimum payouts improve with the number of downloads, maxing out at 10,000+ downloads and $0.38 commission.
Additionally, Adobe Stock runs a Bonus program. If you’re an active and successful contributor, you can get free access to Adobe Creative Cloud assets.
- 150-4,999 downloads: You can choose a one-year plan of either Creative Cloud Photography (20GB), Illustrator, InDesign, Premiere Pro, or After Effects.
- 5,000+ downloads: one-year access to Creative Cloud All Apps
Verdict – Use both
To summarize, you can make good money with both if you’re a regular contributor. With no significant upside to exclusive contributing, there’s no reason for you not to upload to both and maximize your earnings.
Also, having realistic expectations can save you from some disappointment and quitting early. I recommend you read my article about how much you can expect to earn with stock photography.
Data evidence and customer reviews indicate that Adobe Stock is quickly becoming Shutterstock’s most fierce competitor.
Now the question is, “Is Adobe Stock better than Shutterstock?”
I pulled data from Google Trends and analysed it in Excel for this comparison of trends.
The graph below represents fluctuations in the popularity of Shutterstock and Adobe Stock on Google over the last 5 years. Since Adobe Stock was founded in 2015, it doesn’t make sense to pull data any older than this.
From the graph “Shutterstock vs Adobe Stock Popularity”, a clear and steady increase in Adobe Stock popularity can be observed, while the popularity of Shutterstock has been slowly declining over the past 3 years, since the middle of 2017.
Every year around December, a sudden dip in popularity can be observed due to the holiday season. Over 2020, both stock agencies have seen a large decrease in popularity, which can be linked with the Coronavirus global epidemic that caused cut-backs of business expenditures and consequently lower demand for stock photos.
I used linear regression to extrapolate the date of when Adobe Stock will reach Shutterstock in popularity. If the trends continued in the same manner, Adobe Stock would become as popular as Shutterstock during the first half of 2026.
What is more, when I limited the search to the United States only, Adobe Stock had already passed Shutterstock for the first time in March of 2020. Refer to the graph below.
What does this mean for Shutterstock and Adobe Stock? Adobe Stock has been gaining popularity due to its innovation in the stock photo world, such as integrating its stock library into Creative Cloud, an incredibly attractive feature for all designers.
On the other hand, Shutterstock has slowly drowned in poor reviews while sitting on the long-lost throne.
This is my take on the data provided. Now, I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments below.
Conclusion: Shutterstock vs Adobe Stock
Shutterstock is a giant in stock photography that has slowly lost in popularity, while Adobe Stock caught up to it in just 5 years. While both stock photo agencies offer images for just a few cents, Adobe Stock has been innovating, and it’s paying off! I recommend Adobe Stock.
- Shutterstock is the best for people who want a great variety of stock photos for a decently low price. With 360+ million images in the library, Shutterstock can supercharge any business. Examples: businesses, bloggers, individuals. Try Shutterstock »
- Adobe Stock is the best for people who will benefit from its integration into the Adobe Creative Cloud. This includes artists, designers, and basically anyone who uses Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe apps. Examples: artists, designers. Try Adobe Stock »
So, I recommend you give each agency a try with a free trial. You’ve got nothing to lose. And if you like any of them, subscription plans are affordable for anyone.