November 8

All about Stock Images

Pop Quiz: Which Cupcake Will Cost You $350?

These two cupcake pictures come from royalty-free stock photo sites. One costs $350, while the other costs a mere five bucks! Can you pick out the expensive cupcake?

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I’ve been amazed at the growth of freelance stock photography and graphics sites over the past few years. Way back in the day, when small business folks like me needed a nice image for our blogs, marketing or other stuff, were forced to either, umm, borrow, an image we found on the web (which was often a low resolution, thus bad for printing) or pony up hundreds for royalty-free stock photography from high-end sites such as Getty Images.

But nowadays, there’s no end to the number of so-called microstock sites – online marketplaces where freelance photographers and multimedia artists, both amateur and professional, sell their images for a fraction of the cost.

Characteristics of Stock Image Sites

Almost every site has the following:

  • Millions of searchable images, including photos, illustrations, vector graphics, audio clips and videos
  • Advanced search engines that let you fine tune your searches, such as
    • A horizontal picture of a man at a computer with a white background and copy space on the left
    • An illustration of a house with no people in the graphic and red as a primary color
    • Subscription or credit-based pricing tiers (some also have prices listed)
    • Multiple sizes and resolutions
    • Clear guidelines on image use
    • Collection tools such as lightboxes that allow you to select several options into a library to share with others for the final decision.

The increase in competition is both good and bad. It’s good because you have such an amazing database of images to choose from, and the competition means the prices stay reasonable. But having so many sites means that you can spend hours and hours (my Friday nights) searching multiple sites and comparing prices and looks. Believe me, this can drive you insane and suck up your time.

What You Can Do with a Royalty-Free Image

Most of the sites will include the following uses with a standard purchase. Check the fine print for individual restrictions, such as the number of impressions that the license includes. For example, if I sell more than half a million of these books, I have to pay for an extended license of the awesome jumping nerd guy on the front cover.

  • Website
  • Emails
  • Printed and electronic marketing and business materials
  • Business cards
  • Letterhead
  • Book and ebook covers
  • Product packaging
  • Posters

What You Can’t Do with a Royalty-Free Image

Again, each site may differ, but here are some common license restrictions.

  • Don’t use in your logos or trademarks
  • Don’t make it look like the model in the image is endorsing your product or has mental or physical health issues, drug problems, etc.
  • Don’t share or give away your purchased images

Buying Extended Rights to Images

If you do want to get a bunch of coffee mugs made, you can purchase extended rights for a few hundred bucks. Again, check the license agreements for the specific requirements of your images.

My Top Five Stock Image Sites

  1. Dreamstime:
  2. 123RF:
  3. iStockphoto:
  4. ClipartOf (clipart and illustrations only):
  5. VectorStock (vector graphics):

123RF made Beth’s Top Graphic Tools list!



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