An Updated Guide to Buying Stock Images –Top 10 Agencies

Settling for the best source of royalty free images and media files may prove to be tricky if you’re not aware of all the available options. So if you’re a web designer, a blogger, or a writer for an online magazine, here’s a fresh list of the best stock agencies to help you make an informed decision.





Fotolia is number one in our preferences, and their 4 million+ users share our declared sympathy. Their vaults have gathered over 24 million stock images since Fotolia first launched in 2004. Here’s what we know about them.

Browsing the site is free of charge. That means you instantly have access to peruse their content without buying. They even offer free downloadable images from time to time, and comps for planning projects to try in your designs.

Users can then create a free account to start buying. Users can purchase image files through Subscription or On-Demand Credits that cost as low as $0.74. Subscriptions are available with either a monthly, or a daily download quota. A daily subscriber can, over the course of one day, download 25 to 250 files for the convenient price of $0.19 each.

With Monthly Subscriptions, there is no daily download limit, but rather the download quota can be used throughout the month. Monthly downloads range anywhere from 5 to 5000, with a low cost of $0.84 for one file. Apart from that, all unused downloads (Rollover downloads) at the end of one month are added to the next month if the Subscription remains active. For your convenience, Fotolia will automatically renew your Subscription, however you are free to cancel it at anytime. You download the largest size (XXL) but can get a medium (M) sized for half a download if that’s all you need.

Fotolia’s On-Demand Credit system is also a good way to go, if it’s flexibility you need. Credits are required for all premium files from Fotolia’s Infinite Collection, and any Extended Royalty-Free License. If savings are your interest Fotolia has a new Low Cost Collection of over 12 million images that offers images of all sizes, S – XXL from 1 – 6 credits, respectively.




iStock is a leading figure as far as stock image providers are concerned. The veteran agency has an exclusive collection comprised of 6 million photos, videos, vector illustrations, audio tracks and Flash media. Their great reputation is understandable, considering that iStock was launched 13 years ago as the first marketplace of royalty-free stock files.

If you pay them a visit right now, you’ll catch a good offer: iStock offers half of their images at half the price, and don’t forget that they have many exclusive files that you won’t find anywhere else. A few things that are definitely worth checking out are the files in Editor’s Picks, and also those in the Lightbox because free images are added each week. If you want to narrow down a search to something more specific, iStock provides with any imaginable filter, so you’re sure find what exactly you need.

As far as payment options are concerned, a client can opt for customizable subscriptions, credits, or just cash. The iStock credit system is a fine way to go, with 15 to 30.000 credits available for purchase, and the user can save up to 25%. Regarding the available subscription plans, it is possible to create the parameters of your own subscription by toying with three main variables: period (3, 6, or 12 months), number of credits per day (from 20 to 240), and the plan price applied to these settings. And I have a tip: on adding the code ISTOCK14 at checkout, the user gets a 14% discount on credits. Just click on the ‘iStock’ link from above.




123RF is one of our favorite microstock providers. With 35,000 stock photos, vectors, video and audio files being validated and uploaded daily to their collection, this company holds a massive collection of more than 22 million and counting, royalty-free stock content. You can also expect to come across some high-quality files submitted by contributors via their smart-phones through the 123RF On-The-Go mobile application.

Oh, and you’re going to love this fact: 123RF welcomes everyone to download anything from their 30,000 images, audio files, graphics and digital arts collection without the need for a credit card. Regardless of whether one chooses a subscription plan over credits or vice versa, one thing’s for sure – you’ll get total peace of mind as any purchase made on 123RF comes with a 72 hour 100% Money-Back Guarantee. Furthermore, 123RF is also the only provider that gives you 24 hours 7 days a week support.

Here are some equally attractive details about 123RF’s package and plans. There are three packages to choose from: Basic, Premium, and On Demand. The first two are  subscription plans that come with a daily download quota of 5 or 26 High Resolution XXL images and is suitable if you have a fixed daily need to use images. Contrastingly, the On Demand plan is based solely on credits and ensures the flexibility of unlimited downloads in a day as long as you have credits available in your account. Finally, is pretty generous with discounts – the more you buy, the cheaper it gets.




Thinkstock is associated with Getty Images, and has a lot to offer through a comprehensive collection of illustrations, vectors and photos, available via 40 partners, including ringing names like iStock, or Jupiterimages. Every file acquired from Thinkstock is rich, crisp, and it automatically comes with a license. Interestingly, the price of every download never changes according to the chosen image size. Last, but not least, and this is important: Thinkstock now offers sizable discounts for all new clients, who can save 20% off a pro annual subscription by using the code R4HPC46N, or 60% off a monthly subscription with the code GTDPC46N.




Depositphotos is another great idea. The agency takes pride in a solid database of photos, videos and vector images, which altogether amounts to 17 million files. A definite must see is their comprehensive collection of vector illustrations, which is 4600-strong, and every week one of those vectors is given for free. Another positive aspect of Depositphotos is their Discounted Lightboxes, as you can find 20% discounts for a set of seasonal photos and vectors. On a final note, apart from the Pay-As-You-Go credit option, there is a subscription calculator which permits the user to establish his own limits on a daily or monthly basis, starting with a download rate from 5 to 200 (for a daily subscription), or 5 to 5000 (for a monthly subscription).




Cutcaster has good deals too, and is worth including in our list. The agency possesses many collections comprised of top-quality photos, illustrations and vectors, and categorized according to topic. Out of these, the Crescendo Collection stands out with its 920 rich files, and so do their picture collections, which I think you really need to see. As far as payment options are concerned, Cutcaster allows for their users to pay as they go (no membership required), or take up any of the four available credit packages: bronze, silver, gold, or customizable starting with a minimum of 100 credits. It’s good to know that you can receive a discount of up to 49%.





Stockfresh yields a cumulated collection of over 300.000 vectors, and much more other photos and graphics, concentrated in a collection of over 2.600.000 files. The user interface must be the easiest one I’ve ever come across, and their search box delivers the files that you need in no-time. The thing that I like best about Stockfresh is how easy it is to navigate, and how fast you can find whatever type of image you’re looking for. Payment occurs via a prepaid credit system, anywhere from 5 ($4.99) to 500 credits in one instance, and subscription plans can scale from 1 month ($99) to 12.




Bigstock is part of Shutterstock, and what it has to offer is nothing short of 14 million files put together in a sizable collection of vectors, photographs and illustrations. Moreover, it’s great that there is a 7-Day Free Trial which comes with 5 downloads per day, so you get 35 images for free in the first week, and re-download at no cost. Naturally, it can be cancelled whenever the user wishes. In terms of payment options, presently, Bigstock users can save 27% on acquiring a prepaid credit pack, with $35 for 10 credits. Finally, subscribers can pay as little as $0.35 per image if taking up an annual plan with 5 downloads-a-day.




Dreamstime are a safe bet, with their 18 million stock photos, illustrations and images, which they’ve been harnessing since year 2000. More and more new files strengthen the ranks of Dreamstime collections each day. You really need to know that, after sign up, Dreamstime grants its designer users access to the free download of more than several thousand stock files. Other than that, their payment systems are split into monthly subscriptions and prepaid credits: a credit package can be assigned starting from 11 credits to any value, and the smallest monthly subscription value is that of 750 downloads. Oh, and you’ll notice that their website automatically converts the value of their pricings into your local currency.




PhotoSpin is certainly worth mentioning in our precious little top 10 stock photo agencies. Their 3 million images are accessible via one of two major collection options. What we have is the Premier Collection and the Expanded Collection. The former comes with either one of two annual subscription options, namely Plus and Super Plus, which stand for the size of the files that are to be downloaded. Yet, the Expanded Collection is where the most part of PhotoSpin’s files reside, and it can be accessed in 4 categories, 4 options (1, 3, 6 months, or one year) and 16 subscription plans.



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