The Absolute Best Sites to Find Perfect Stock Illustrations

It’s cliché, but it’s true – a picture really is worth a thousand words. Adding images to your website, content, social media feeds, and other marketing materials is pretty much the best strategy for making yourself stand out. We encourage you to read our article that explains what stock photo agencies are and when to use them.

There are only two problems with using stock visuals. The first is that everyone is doing the exact same thing, which makes it hard to establish some individuality. The second is that stock photography doesn’t always meet your standards when it comes to making a visual impact – you’re after stunning colours, patterns, and textures. Sometimes, you need something a little different. Like stock illustrations.

Stock illustrations can fill a variety of visual content needs, and they just might be the solution you’re looking for. Here’s what you need to know about using stock illustration art, and where to source the highest quality artistic material. Read on to learn more about finding the perfect stock illustrations and then head over to discover the types of illustrations and high resolution, quality textures we’re talking about on sites like Stock Photo Secrets.

Introduction to Royalty-Free Stock Illustrations

You’re likely already quite familiar with stock photography, which can be described as professional-looking photographs of fairly common scenes – such as nature, people, or events. The photographers who take these photographs place them on stock photo sites, where someone like you comes along and browses through a catalogue until the perfect image strikes their eye. 

Stock illustrations are similar in that you can still browse various sites and purchase the rights to use them in your own materials, but the medium itself is quite different. Stock illustrations are often more interpretive, and they’re a unique way to break through all the visual clutter that’s accumulating online. When everyone is using stock photography to add visual interest to their content, shifting gears and going with illustrations can help you stand out. 

When browsing stock illustrations, you might notice there are different types of curated artwork. When searching for custom illustrations to use, the word “vector” is likely to pop up. There are some differences between standard stock illustrations and vector illustrations (aka clip art), with each format containing elements that are beneficial for different types of usages.

The word vector is used to describe a style of illustration that is used often in graphic design applications, for example, logo creation. Vector graphics are different in that they’re generally smaller, and modifiable. A vector illustration can be stretched, enlarged, broken apart and modified in just about any way imaginable to fit your commercial use needs. 

In contrast to this are other types of stock illustrations that might be described as high-quality drawings.  They’re high resolution but have limitations on how you can use them. For example, you might be able to enlarge a stock illustration to use as a book cover or small poster, however, they might not transfer well to sizes larger than this. They also often come in PNG or JPG format and not in EPS-Vector format. 

If you’re looking for less expensive stock illustrations that can be easily modified to suit your graphic design and visual content needs, then you’ll want to check out the agencies mentioned in “Are There Any Good Places to Download Stock Illustrations for Websites?”

If you’re in need of artsy, high end looking stock illustrations that are also visually captivating, head to “Sites Devoted Specifically to Stock Illustrations” to discover where to find the curated illustrations you’re looking for. 

When you use this unique style of visual content in your work, you’ll find that it offers some advantages over the standard stock photo. As mentioned, illustrations can add a unique visual appeal and help elevate your content above the masses of cheesy, cliché stock photography. Still, there are other benefits to consider. Stock illustrations can be a better choice because of they:

  • Add personality: When your content is visually different from everything else your audience is seeing online, it adds more depth to your personality and helps them feel more connected to your business. The right illustration can convey volumes about the personality of your brand and for your next project.
  • Versatility: You can spend hours pouring over images trying to find the one that hits the nail on the head for conveying a specific message. Illustrations are different in that they’re more interpretive. This makes it easier to find a great visual that effectively delivers your message. 
  • Search Engine Optimization: You might not have digital marketing on your brain when choosing visual content, but the images you chose can have an effect on how easily your online audience finds you. Illustrations are typically smaller files and load faster. This enhances your audience’s experience and gets the thumbs up from search engines. 
  • Modifications: It’s frustrating when you find a visual that almost fits your needs, but not quite. Stock photography is difficult, if not impossible, to effectively edit. Illustrations are easier to modify in small ways that make them more aligned to your brand or message. Read our related article on using images to create illustrations and vectors
  • Profitability: Your customers are tired of the same old attempts at getting their attention. When you choose unique stock illustrations, you’re capturing their attention with something fresh that they haven’t seen countless times before. This attracts more customers and can ultimately prove to be a more profitable strategy for your business. 
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Are There Any Good Agencies to Download Stock Illustrations for Websites?

So, here’s the golden question. Are there any good stock art sites where you can source the high-quality illustrations you’re looking for? There are actually plenty of sources but much like with stock photography, you have to be choosy or you’re going to end up with something on the lower end of the quality scale. 

One of the first places worth looking is the stock photography sites you’ve already been counting on for engaging photos. For instance at iStock and more of the best websites to start searching.

iStock – Quality and Affordable Stock Illustrations

If you’re overwhelmed trying to decide where to start your search for amazing stock illustrations, there’s no better starting line than iStock. More stock image sites have been making this leap, just check out this article about iStockphoto’s new additions of video and illustrations to their Signature Collection. Learn more about iStockphoto’s Signature Collection and their pricing structure by reading our update on their collection here. There are other stock photo sites that feature illustrations as well – here are a few of the best.  iStock is a well-respected name in the world of stock imagery, and all the reasons they hold this title carry over into their stock illustrations collection. iStock is committed to working with professional quality artists, offering a catalogue of only the best illustrations, and making it all affordable with a range of pricing options. They make it easy to find vector and clipart images by adding a scroll down filter option to their search bar. Discover more about iStock, and their beautiful stock graphics, but reading the full iStock review here and go directly to their curated collection here!

Adobe Stock – Trusted Resource in Quality Stock Art

Adobe Stock is a name that’s synonymous with high-quality visuals. You can trust that they don’t drop the ball when it comes to offering a catalogue of stock illustrations that are high quality, professional, unique, and attractive to your market’s eye. Adobe Stock offers an impressive collection of illustrations that are visually attractive without being “in your face” intrusive. Adobe Stock doesn’t have a vector or illustration filter but it is easy enough to find what you need by typing what you’re looking for – such as “vector illustrations” – into the search bar. Check out the full Adobe Stock review to learn more about this site and their high quality, professional photo illustrations. Example Illustrations – Digital and hand-drawn illustrations from their most expressive artists can be found here!

Stock Photo Secrets Shop – Beautiful, Royalty-Free Illustrations

Stock Photo Secrets Shop is our own trusted resource for quality stock photography. Stock Photo Secrets is a great site for finding quality vector images and illustrations, that fit within your budget. They have over 2,280,086 vector illustrations in their stock right now. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice quality because you can’t afford the fees associated with other major sites. Stock Photo Secrets is the resource that meets the needs of any size business. Plus, Stock Photo Secrets Shop makes it super easy to find the stock illustrations you’re looking for with a menu option at the top of their site and a filter option in the search bar by picking VECTORS there. What makes this site perfect for a business looking for top-notch graphic design and illustrations with modern colour palettes? Read the full Stock Photo Secrets Shop review to learn more. 

Offset by Shutterstock

Men hiking along idyllic, tranquil sunset mountain and forest landscape

Malte Mueller / fStop / Offset

Offset Logo

Shutterstock has a platform called Offset that features stock vector illustrations, along with incredibly unique stock photography. Sites like these are ideal for businesses that have a wide range of visual content needs. It’s also great for browsing and selecting images that help build your brand image, rather just sit dully on the screen. Take a few minutes and head over to Offset to do exploration and see for yourself. 

If you take a look at your favourite stock photo site, there’s a good chance you’ll find they have a vector category hidden in there somewhere. Some of your favourite sites make it easy to separate and find vector images in their libraries. The best place to look is the search bar function, usually located at the top of the page. Many sites offer a drop-down menu, or filter option, that allows you to single out vector images in your search. 

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Stock Agencies Devoted Specifically to Stock Illustrations

In some cases, you might find the catalogue of illustrations on mixed media stock art sites to be a little limiting.  You might have better luck finding the exact type of professional illustrations you’re looking for by browsing one of several sites that specializes in stock vector illustration. When browsing these sites, keep in mind that it’s useful to use the vector search option if one’s available. Although not all stock illustration sites include a vector filter, many do and it can be usually be found near the search bar. Just click on the options menu and select “vector” to filter the images. Here are 5 of our favourite stock illustration sites. 

IKON Images

IKON Images offers an impressive selection of unique images that are ideal for helping you cultivate a modern, relevant brand. Even the standard “still life” illustration on this site has a depth of realism and quality of artistic design that makes it stand out in a crowd. The IKON platform is nicely designed to make it easy for you to browse their various themes and concepts – all of which are aligned with what the modern business is often looking for. 

If you’re looking for something fresh and unique that jumps off the screen, IKON Images is your go-to site for stock illustrations. The IKON collection of curated illustrations is beautiful but expect to dig a little if you’re looking specifically for vector illustrations. Also note that the illustrations from IKON are exclusively Rights Managed (RM), meaning that a license is sold for a specific use, and the fee for that license is adjusted accordingly.

Featured stock illustration examples from Ikon Images all Copyright by Ikon Images:

The i Spot

The i Spot is an exclusive illustration site that serves as one of the most comprehensive stock illustration resources available today. They’ve been building their collection since 1996, with a commitment to supporting talented artists and providing their customer base with only top tier illustrations. The licensing for illustrations on The i Spot are Rights-Managed (RM), however, the staff at The i Spot is available to help with, and process, requests for extended licenses for special uses.

Currently, you’ll find more than 37,000 illustrations from top artists around the world on this site. Their platform is also very user-friendly, making it a worthy first stop on your list. The iSpot doesn’t offer up a specific vector search on their site, but simply adding the word vector to the search bar when looking for images is enough to produce the results you’re looking for. 

Laughing Stock

Laughing Stock is where you’re going to find all the visual inspiration you need for elevate your content to the top tier. This site offers original stock illustrations, along with stock animations, that all pack an incredible visual punch. Think bold lines and stand-out graphics. The quality of illustrations on Laughing Stock is inspiring, and if you happen to find an artist that you love, they make it easy to follow along with their portfolio. On Laughing Stock, you can even hire an illustration if you have special visual content needs.  The Laughing Stock library is also Rights-Managed, meaning that you tell them when and how you plan on using the image, and pay a licensing fee for that usage only. 

Illustration Source

Illustration Source touts themselves as being one of the largest and most established platforms in the stock illustration industry. Take a look through their collections, and you’ll understand immediately that they’re not just tooting their own horn. They’re committed to working only with the top illustrators and offering their collections to a worldwide audience. Illustration Source also offers to put you in contact with their artists for special custom assignments. 

There are many ways to filter your search on Illustration Source, however, filtering by vector images isn’t one of them. If you can’t find what you need, Illustration Source will help create it for you.  The images on the Illustration Source are also under a Rights Managed license. It’s also important to note that in Illustration Source’s terms and conditions, they disallow the use of images from their site to be used in connection with certain sensitive subject unless prior authorization is granted. 

CSA Images

CSA Images is the largest, wholly-owned collection of stock illustrations in the entire world. Their catalogue contains more than 100,000 images and offers practically endless potential for finding the stock illustrations to make your brand stand out. The illustrations that you’ll find on CSA Images are top tier, museum quality. If you’re interested in vector images on this site, just type it into the search bar to produce results. CSA Images also has an exclusive arrangement with Getty Images. This means if you’re already a fan of Getty Images, you’re going to also find a selection of CSA Images on the Getty site. CSA images offer both standard licensing and extended licensing on request. 

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Uses for Stock Illustrations

In the broadest sense, stock illustrations can be used any time you have a need for visual content. That said, there are times when quality stock illustrations are going to perform better than others. For instance, you see a lot of stock photography attached to blogs and marketing material where evoking realism and emotion is key. You might get an emotional response with stock illustrations, but the realism factor is missing. 

One thing to remember is there’s more fluidity to illustrations. They’re interpretive and can often be used in a range of applications. Their job is to communicate a theme and fire up the imagination, rather than helping someone feel more connected to your content on an emotional level. The right stock illustration can also be insanely memorable and work toward building an image for your brand – so choose wisely.

To give you a better idea of when to push the stock images aside in favour of illustrations, here are a few situations that call for high-quality stock artwork.

  • Photography is impractical. There are occasions when the visual imagery you’d like to use is impossible to acquire. If you’re struggling to find a theme that goes along with your content or marketing material, illustrations offer more creative freedom and fill in the gaps that photography can leave behind. 
  • You have a story to tell. We’re not talking about an actual storybook type of story here (although that applies as well) but rather something more like a brand narrative. It can easier, and more effective, to find illustrations that play along with your storyline. 
  • You have infographics on your mind. Infographics are insanely popular nuggets of visual content – and they seldom work with photographic images. Illustrations and other types of digital stock artwork fill this need beautifully. 

These are a few of the reasons why you should take advantage of the great catalogues of quality stock illustrations out there, but you might still be wondering about the “when”. When is it appropriate to use this type of stock work in your materials, and when will it provide the greatest benefit from a business standpoint?

The use of stock illustrations is appropriate in a range of uses, across practically all industries. For example, an owner of a small, local café might tap into stock illustrations to help form their brand image, by including engaging, themed curated illustrations on their promotional material, business cards, menu board, or even the cup their customers sip their delicious drinks from. 

Stock illustrations sites are also a great resource for marketers, especially those who work in digital marketing, where it can be challenging to cultivate an image and attract target audiences using standard stock photography that all seems to fit into the same mould.  

Those who work more exclusively in an artistic capacity can also benefit from the selections of stock illustration sites. Graphic designers, who are always looking for a refreshing visual perspective for their clients, can tap into the illustrations and vector images that fill the libraries of the sites mentioned above. Stock illustration collection provides you access to an incredible range of visual material created by many different talented artists.

Stock illustrations can work perfectly for a variety of projects, including:

  • Posters
  • Flyers
  • Magazines
  • Teaching materials
  • Books/brochures 
  • Animated presentations
  • Short videos 
  • Social media posts
  • Infographics 

Featured stock illustration categories

  • Nature and landscape
  • Business and finance
  • Social media
  • Retro and vintage
  • Texture and pattern
  • Infographic stock
  • Fashion and beauty
  • Icon stock
  • Background
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Should You Ever Avoid Using Stock Illustrations?

There is, of course, the question of whether it’s ever just a straight-up bad idea to use stock illustrations. Of course, the answer to this is yes – just like there are times when you’ll want to avoid other types of stock media in your materials. 

One area that it’s important to be especially careful with is using stock illustrations in anything that’s associated with your logo or brand identity. The license that you purchased with your use agreement likely didn’t cover using the image as any type of trademarked work. 

For example, purchasing a graphical illustration to use as the banner of your social media page is one thing. Scaling it down and using it as a trademarked logo is another. Opt for a unique design in anything that you may attach a trademark to at some point. 

Also, as with all things, quality is always uber-important. You don’t want your illustrations to look like they came courtesy of your 5-year-old nephew. Quality is key with stock illustrations, making it extra important to source visual content only from sites that are committed to providing top quality artwork. If you can’t find a quality illustration that fits your needs, it’s best to reconsider your approach rather than take chances with an inferior visual. 

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A Few Final Words About Stock Illustrations

When choosing stock illustrations, it’s important to remember that there’s an artist behind the work, and each time you pay for their art, you’re supporting their talent. It’s entirely possible that you won’t find exactly what you’re looking for on any stock illustration site. We invite you to read our advice on how to choose the best visuals for your marketing and content needs, but if you can’t find what you’re looking for then custom illustrations are always worthy of consideration. 

If you’d like to know more about the ins and out of stock images, Stock Photo Secrets is happy to help by offering the advice you need. We encourage you to check out the high-quality stock illustration sites listed here and to enjoy exploring the potential these fantastic artists can provide for your business. 

Amos Struck

I am a publisher and entrepreneur in the stock imagery field. I focus on providing knowledge and solutions for buyers, contributors and agencies, aiming at contributing to the growth and development of the industry. I am the founder and editor of Stock Photo Press, one of the largest networks of online magazines in the industry. I am the founder of Microstock Expo, the only conference dedicated to the microstock segment. I created several software solutions in stock photography like WordPress plugins. Plus I am a recurrent speaker at Photokina Official Stage, and an industry consultant at StockPhotoInsight. I am passionate about technology, marketing and visual imagery.

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