Industry’s Best: Top 10 Stock Agencies To Buy Images From

Written by Kevin Liew on 07 Oct 2013
12,021 Views • Miscellaneous


An image carries a lot of weight. Publishers and designers understand the significance of a well-placed image, but where to turn for a steady supply of high-quality images? I’ve compiled an up-to-speed list of 10 most precious microstock agencies, to provide you with a broad perspective.


Fotolia is the first source that I wish to enlist when it comes to singling out the most dashing stock image providers. It was launched in 2004, and since then amassed over 24 million stock vectors, images, and videos, which 4 million customers currently have access to. Visitors who pass by Fotolia’s homepage now and then can sometimes run across free images and free comps for planning projects to try in a design. Fotolia’s current BOGO offer states that the second month is free for all subscriptions of 5 images and $25 per month (further investigate the offer by clicking on subheading ‘Fotolia’).

Fotolia’s customers get their images in one of two ways: by subscribing, or by adopting the credit system. One credit is derived from only $0.74, which is really affordable. Using Fotolia credits opens the door to the Infinite Collection, enables Extended Royalty-Free Licenses, and makes it possible to download images from the Low Cost collection (which harbors 12 million images at prices ranging from 1-6 credits, according to the download size; it exists to accommodate creative professionals when they’re forced to work with small budgets).

On the flipside, the Individual or Multiple-member subscription can be engaged by a Daily or a Monthly character. Daily Subscriptions come with $0.19 for each downloaded image, and a daily taking limit set anywhere between 25 and 250 images. By comparison, Monthly Subscriptions require that the user settle on a monthly limit of somewhere between 5 and 5000. The awesome thing about Monthly Subscriptions is that all unused downloads at the end of a month simply Rollover to the next one, so nothing is lost.



123RF is one of the best stock image sources on the market, with a load of over 22 million royalty-free images to choose from. The agency’s stock potential expands at the daily rate of 35.000, and some of those new arrivals are uploaded via mobile with 123RF’s On-The-Go application. The files uploaded via 123RF On-The-Go usually consist of high-resolution photographs which were taken in a moment of inspiration, and their authenticity makes them very valuable.

There is one more aspect of 123RF’ content that really stands out. Registered users are granted access to 123RF’s free section, where 30.000 graphics, photos, digital and audio files are ready to be downloaded at will. As far as my memory serves me, this is one of the largest giveaway collections on the web, and a great way for 123RF’s contributors to get exposure.

When you decide to buy an image from 123RF, you need to have a subscription, or pay with credits that have been acquired in advance. While On Demand credits don’t fix any limit on the amount of downloads you can make in a day, the two available subscription plans (Basic and Premium) raise that limit higher as longer periods of time are subscribed for. Besides, the lengthier the subscription is, the smaller the price of an image.

123RF prefers to make sure that their clients are 100% happy with what they bought, so the agency’s policy dictates that whenever someone has second thoughts about a recent purchase, she/he is entitled to request for refunds. If this happens during the first 72 hours after placing the order, 123RF pays their customer back in full.



iStock ranks high on my list, since it was the first-formed royalty-free stock image agency on the internet. It started out in 2000, and has gathered 6 million exclusive vector illustrations, photos, Flash media, video and audio files for the past 13 years.

Here are some of the most prominent aspects of iStock that I’ve come to appreciate. First of all, the Editor’s Picks category highlights the finest images I’ve ever set my eyes on, so it’s always a good idea to pay it a visit once in a while. In addition, I’m also fond of iStock’s Lightbox, which puts on display several gorgeous images every week that are available for free download. Finally, in the instance where you need to start a search for a specific type of image, iStock’s search box is pretty amazing because it leaves nothing out: there are so many filters which ensure that your results turn out as accurately tuned to your thoughts as possible.

Buying from iStock is done by the traditional routes of subscriptions and credits. In a single charge, 15 to 30.000 iStock credits can be purchased, and if you acquire larger and larger amounts, discounts of up to 25% apply. Buying with credits is also a great way to go because the price of any purchase drops by 14% at checkout if you insert the code ISTOCK14 (see the link in subheading ‘iStock’). Apart from this discount, iStock has a general offer which makes part of its exclusive stock images available at half their normal price.



I foster the highest of opinions about Stockfresh, which was created by the founders of stock.xchng and stockxpert. The user platform was designed intuitively to save Stockfresh customers as much time as possible when they’re looking for the perfect images to use in their projects. Presently, the agency piled up over 2.7 million stock vectors and photos for the use of publishers and designers. I particularly love their section comprised of 300.000 beautiful stock illustrations, clipart, and vectors. When it comes to buying from Stockfresh, the classic credit/subscription rule applies. Thus, $4.99 buys 5 credits, as many as 500 at once can be taken. Subscriptions, on the other hand, cost $99 per month.



Bigstock would also be a wonderful choice of a steady image supply. Right now, the agency offers an awesome 7-day Free Trial for curious visitors. If you sign for the trial, you can cancel anytime, but why would you want to? Bigstock allows you to download 5 images each day for the whole week, and re-download as necessary. Hence, you already have 35 free images at the end of the first week. Afterwards, you can start to acquire images from Bigstock’s 15-million strong vaults by taking the traditional route of credit or subscription. And for your information, Bigstock’s Daily subscription assigns only $0.35 for each royalty-free image.



Dreamstime has been around for 13 years, and it shows in the staggering amount of stock files that they’ve compiled: 18 million amazing-looking images and vectors. Sealing the deal with Dreamstime is particularly beneficial for designers, seeing as the agency set up an entirely free section for their pleasure; that is where only designer users can download free photos, web design graphics, and illustrations from. Aside from the many treats placed at designers’ disposal, Dreamstime recently instated an awesome offer for the first 24 hours following the first visit on their website. After that first visit, the sooner you sign up, the better, because you have 24 hours to get images at a 60% discount.



PhotoSpin has almost 4 million stock files in store for creative professionals, but what makes this agency so special is the manner in which those JPEG and EPS files are categorized. Specifically, the Premium Collection has 1.5 million images which can be bought after choosing a Plus or a Super Plus plan (because you must decide on downloads’ size). The rest of PhotoSpin’s content (2.4 million, to be precise) is encased in the Expanded Collection, and a monthly subscription (customized from 4 categories, 4 time periods, and 17 different subscription plans) must be equipped before taking files from that source.



A brand of Getty Images, Thinkstock is the most unusual stock image provider from this list. Its singularity is ensured by the manner in which all the content is put together, namely over 40 partners (including iStock and Jupiterimages) directed their top-grade royalty-free images here. Apart from its mixed origins, Thinkstock has the lovely habit of setting the same price for all sizes of an image, so if you buy one at size L, it costs the same as a size S. And the final positive aspect of Thinkstock is the agency’s substantial discounts: the price of a Pro subscription for one year is cut down by 20% by inserting code R4HPC46N when placing the order, whereas the code GTDPC46N ensures 20% savings for all monthly subscriptions.



Depositphotos is a valuable source of 17 million vector images, photos, and videos. The best part of that stack is the 2 million-strong vector illustrations section, which also gives away several AI and EPS files for free on a weekly basis. In addition, the Discount Lightboxes from Depositphotos are not to be missed, because with each passing season a multitude of relevant images are placed there. Right now, the Harvest Time collection is composed of 314 photographs and many vector images whose price is cut off by 20%. In order to buy images from Depositphotos, you can either sign for a daily or monthly subscription ($0.15/image), or pay-as-you-go with credits (50 credits for $50, and the possibility to acquire images with Extended Royalty-Free License).



Cutcaster may be the last, but it most certainly isn’t the least wonderful source of stock illustrations, photos, and vectors. Cutcaster’s exclusive stock files are very methodically categorized by topic into specific collections. I was particularly drawn to the picture collections, and to the Crescendo Collection - which yields 920 appealing royalty-free items for anyone who’s interested in getting top-class images. Whenever you want to buy something from Cutcaster that caught your eye, you can pay-as-you-go with paypal or straight by credit card, without having to sign up first. However, the price of one credit is just $0.89, and using credits can take up to 49% off the standard price of an item. The three credit plans from Cutcaster also come with sizeable discounts: 39% for Gold, 31% for Silver, and 19% for the Bronze package.

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