Shutterstock vs. iStock 2023

By Matic Broz, editor-in-chief of Photutorial covering stock media, Adobe, and design. He founded Photutorial while finishing his PhD in computational biosciences.

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Shutterstock vs iStock

Shutterstock and iStock are both incredibly popular stock photo sites, with Shutterstock ranked 1st and rated 5.0/5.0 on our list, and iStock ranked 3rd and rated 4.8/5.0. But what does that mean for you? Shutterstock has a higher variety of stock images (396M vs 148M) and videos (25M vs. 13M), but iStock is overall a bit cheaper for subscriptions and on-demand purchases. Extended licenses are a lot cheaper at Shutterstock (from $67.96) compared to iStock, which has one of the most expensive extended licenses (from $144).

Key specs

Photutorial rating5.0/5.04.8/5.0
Best forIndividuals, bloggers, commercial purposes, enterprisesGraphic designers, students, marketers
Number of images396 million148 million
Subscriptions (images)$0.22–$4.90/image$0.22–$4.00/image
On-demand (images)$9.16–$14.50/image$8.00–$12.00/image
Extended license (images)$67.96–$99.50/image$144–$216/image
Free trialYes (10 free images, 30 days)Yes*(10 images) *currently available only in certain regions
Number of videos25.3 million12.9 million
Subscriptions (videos)$8.35–$37.80/video$5.30–$14.90/video
On-demand (videos)$51.96–$119.80/video$48.00–$72.00/video
Extended license (videos)$67.96–$193.80/videoNot necessary
Available licensesRoyalty-free (Standard, “Enhanced”)Royalty-free (Standard, Extended)
Legal coverage$10,000–$250,000/license$10,000–$250,000/license
Customer supportVery good over email and live chatNo live chat, very slow over email
FeaturesShutterstock Editor, mobile app, many integrations, image resizer, file converterCreative Cloud plugin, VisualGPS Insights, Dropbox integration
Try Shutterstock freeTry iStock free

Why Shutterstock is better

More images. Shutterstock has the largest collection of stock images, currently at 396 million images. More images mean more choice and less chance of running out of new content, especially considering Shutterstock adds over 700,000 images weekly. In addition, Shutterstock also has an extensive collection of editorial images (50 million), videos (25 million), and music (28,000).

Cheaper extended licenses. If you buy a larger quantity (25 images), Shutterstock sells one of the cheapest extended licenses (they call it an “Enhanced License”) for $67.96 per image. In comparison, iStock sells one of the most expensive extended licenses, which costs between $144 and $216 and offers no additional benefits. Even if you buy Shutterstock’s enhanced licenses separately, they’re still 50% cheaper ($99.50/image) than iStock’s.

A lot better customer support. iStock has some of the worst customer support, while Shutterstock has one of the best (right after Depositphotos). Whether you’re having trouble paying, can’t download images, or want a refund, the fast and helpful customer service is a big plus. You can contact Shutterstock through email, live chat, and phone calls, but iStock doesn’t support live chat, which is one of the best features for customers needing help.

Global free trial. Like most other free offers, Shutterstock’s free trial is valid for all new customers worldwide. iStock, on the other hand, launched its free offer only recently (January 26, 2022) and is currently only available in a few countries. Also, the list of countries eligible for the free trial offer is constantly changing, so we can’t provide it to you.

Why iStock is better

Slightly cheaper. Although the absolute lowest price per image on Shutterstock and iStock is the same ($0.22/image with the largest subscription for one year), iStock’s prices are lower overall than Shutterstock’s. For example, image subscriptions cost $0.22 to $4.00/image (versus $0.22 to $4.90/image at Shutterstock), while on-demand images cost $8.00 to $12.00/image (versus $9.16 to $14.50/image at Shutterstock), which is 15% to 20% cheaper on average.

Premium images. Sometimes generic stock photos aren’t good enough, especially when quality and added value are required. To that end, iStock offers a collection of premium images (called “Signature”) that are of much higher quality and value, but also cost more. You can buy them with credits or subscriptions, but you can’t get premium images from Shutterstock. To buy them, you’ll have to visit the other Shutterstock site, Offset, where only premium images are sold. This is very inconvenient compared to iStock, where you can download any image under any license with credits.

More flexible on-demand buying. One of the main advantages of iStock over Shutterstock is the more flexible on-demand purchase options. Whereas with Shutterstock you have to buy a separate package for each type of content (there are 18 video packages, for example), with iStock you can buy each asset with credits. You’ve got to buy the credits upfront by purchasing credit packs, on which you get an additional 20% discount if you buy them in bulk.


The main difference in the pricing is that iStock is cheaper for on-demand plans and small subscriptions. In contrast, Shutterstock is cheaper for Extended licenses and better for many music downloads.

Both Shutterstock and iStock sell stock images with subscriptions and on-demand. Shutterstock sells subscription plans in sizes of 10, 50, 350, and 750 monthly downloads with three payment options (monthly, annual, and annual prepaid). On the other hand, iStock divides its subscriptions into Basic and Premium, both in sizes of 10, 25, 50, and 750 monthly downloads. The former gives you more generic images, and the latter provides premium and high-quality photos. Overall, iStock’s subscriptions are slightly cheaper than Shutterstock’s, especially for the smaller plans (10, 25, 50 downloads), but the premium collection will cost you significantly more than Shutterstock’s.

On-demand packs are patently different; Shutterstock lets you buy image packs separately for the Standard and Extended licenses. Therefore, you may use the downloads only for that. In comparison, iStock sells credit packs, which you can use to buy anything on iStock, including images (generic and premium), footage, audio files, and Extended licenses. As a result, iStock’s on-demand option gives you more freedom. What is more, iStock is marginally cheaper than Shutterstock regarding on-demand pricing.

Promo Code

Both Shutterstock and iStock support discounts through coupons and promo codes. The highest discount at Shutterstock gets you a 25% price reduction on all purchases for all customers. iStock has a 30% discount for new customers and a maximum discount of 20% for existing customers.

Related: Shutterstock coupons, iStock coupons

Free Trial

You can get up to 10 high-quality stock images with Shutterstock’s trial at zero cost. You can sign up for it risk-free and download pictures that you may use even if you cancel the trial. To avoid paying a subscription fee, you must cancel the free trial at least 2 days before it expires.

iStock ran a promotional free trial from January to April 2022, but it is no longer available. Like Shutterstock’s trial, it allowed you to get 10 free images.

Related: Best stock photo free trials


The main difference in licensing between Shutterstock and iStock is the price of the Extended License, which costs $67.96-$99.50 at Shutterstock and $144-$216 at iStock. Otherwise, the terms of use for the Standard and Extended licenses are mainly similar for both.

Customer Support

Both stock photo agencies have quite unresponsive support teams. It usually takes a couple of days to get a response, although some customers report never getting a response.

Additional Features

Both stock photo sites offer a number of useful features, including image and video editors, image scalers, plugins, and apps. Above all, we commend iStock’s integration into Adobe’s Creative Cloud, which is an extremely useful feature for all types of creatives, especially graphic designers. Using this feature, you can open iStock’s library of files in Adobe’s apps, such as Photoshop, and import images directly into the project, thus omitting the need to download the images first. What’s more, you don’t need to purchase the image to test it in your project. Only after you’re 100% done with the project, do you purchase the used content.

Shutterstock also offers a couple of useful features, most notably its image editor, which resembles Canva, so we recommend using it for creating simple graphics. There’s also Shutterstock’s WordPress plugin, which lets you browse images within the WordPress text editor.

Shutterstock ranks first with a rating of 5.0 out of 5.0, while iStock ranks third with 4.8 out of 5.0 on Photutorial. Shutterstock is praised for its more extensive stock image library, affordable subscription plans, reasonably priced Extended licenses, and versatile plans that allow you to download images and videos simultaneously. Compared to Shutterstock, iStock lost points due to the smaller database of pictures and the lack of a free trial. Still, it’s better thanks to the versatile on-demand options, premium collection, and valuable integrations into Creative Cloud and Dropbox.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Shutterstock own iStock?

No, iStock is owned by GettyImages, which bought it in 2006. On the other hand, Shutterstock owns Offset, Bigstock, and several other websites related to visual content.

Is Shutterstock better than iStock?

Shutterstock is better than iStock regarding the number of images, Extended license buying options, and audio pricing. Unlike Shutterstock, iStock sells premium prints and all content with credits, making its on-demand pricing option a lot more flexible.


Photutorial compared Shutterstock and iStock based on 14 data points in the categories of image quality and variety, pricing, licensing, image number, customer support, and additional features. Photutorial rated Shutterstock and iStock based on the weighting assigned to each category.

  • Image quality & variety: 20%
  • Pricing: 20%
  • Licensing: 20%
  • Image number: 15%
  • Additional features: 15%
  • Customer support: 10%

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 and iStock customer support, licensing, and additional features that would enhance customers’ workflow.


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