Unsplash vs. Pexels: Why not both?

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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Unsplash vs Pexels

Unsplash and Pexels are two of the most popular free stock photo sites. While there are numerous disadvantages compared to paid stock photo sites, the lack of legal coverage being one of them, they still have many uses. And the free availability is often all too alluring.

Key differences

If you’re someone looking to download stock images from Unsplash and Pexels, you should first realize that the license you’re getting is Creative Commons and not royalty-free.

In essence, the Creative Commons license allows you to use these images free of charge, but it does not afford you legal coverage as a royalty-free license would. This is crucial because if an issue arises over copyright infringement, the royalty-free license gives you a layer of protection, whilst, with Creative Commons, you might be held liable. Here’s a brief comparison of Unsplash, Unsplash+, and Pexels licenses:

Attribution RequiredNo (but appreciated)No (but appreciated)No (but appreciated)
Commercial UseYesYesYes
Modification AllowedYesYesYes
Reselling “as-is”NoNoNo
Replicating ServiceNoNoNo
Use in Sensitive TopicsYesNo (without disclaimer)Depends on portrayal
Use in Digital Templates, AI, Machine Learning, Biometric TechYesNoYes
Legal CoverageNoUp to $10,000 per licensed photoNo
Full licenseRead more »Read more »Read more »

Digging deeper into their offerings, Unsplash boasts an impressive collection of approximately 4 million stock images, while Pexels holds a respectable collection of roughly 2 million. It is important to note, however, that Pexels has a unique edge—it also offers free stock videos, making it a viable choice for those seeking dynamic content for their projects.

In terms of user experience, Unsplash appears to have a more refined search algorithm. It often returns a broader array of semantically related images, providing you with more options that align with your creative vision. In contrast, Pexels’ search is more literal and tends to provide results closely linked to the exact terms you input.

Unsplash image search interface
Unsplash image search interface (Credit: Unsplash)

Recently, Unsplash has introduced a new feature, Unsplash+, a paid plan costing $4 per month. This premium service provides access to a curated collection of premium images, which isn’t available for free users, and perhaps more importantly, also provides a royalty-free license. This means you can enjoy a wider variety of high-quality images and the peace of mind provided by the legal protection that comes with a royalty-free license.

Despite the differences, remember that you aren’t required to exclusively use one over the other. Both Unsplash and Pexels can be used interchangeably depending on the specific needs of your project. Some users might find Unsplash’s premium images and advanced search algorithm to be more beneficial, while others might opt for Pexels due to its inclusion of videos and a larger array of literal results.

So, what’s next?

If Unsplash or Pexels cover your needs, head over there and download free stock images. Yet, if you need a royalty-free license but you’re on a budget, check our full collection of stock photo coupons and discounts. Combine these discounts with some of the cheapest stock photo sites and you’re good to go.


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