Stock Illustrations and Illustration vectors can often convey your ideas better than a photo. And with so many fresh and affordable options from Stock Agencies, you're sure to find the right visuals to keep your audience engaged.
They can fill a variety of visual content design needs, and they just might be the solution you’re looking for. Here’s what you need to know about using stock art and royalty-free illustration, and where to source the highest quality artistic material. Read on to learn more about finding the perfect illustrative images and then head over to discover the types of royalty-free stock illustrations and high-resolution, quality textures we’re talking about on sites like Stockphotos.com.
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 catalog 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. They are often more interpretive, and they’re a unique way to break through all the visual clutter that’s accumulating online, giving you the ability to express and share messages visually, instantly, but differently. When everyone is using stock photography to add visual interest to their advertising content, shifting gears and going with illustrations can help you stand out.
When browsing these agencies with their thousands of images, you might notice there are different types of curated artwork. When searching for custom illustrations to use, the word “vector or vectors” 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 and downloaded 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, small poster, or sign; however, they might not transfer well to sizes larger than this. They also often come in PNG or JPG format and not in the EPS-Vector format after you download them.
Here, it's worth noting that royalty-free illustrations aren't free of charge; they are under a one-time-pay scheme that makes them affordable and flexible, but still premium. You can find free stock illustrations that you can use in your creative work without having to pay –and legally–, but you must be very careful selecting the source and verifying the copyright and license agreement, as they are a lot more prone to infringement issues.
If you’re looking for less expensive stock illustrations with advanced search features to download that can be easily modified to suit your graphic design and visual 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 design style of a visual part 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 project 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 project 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. This is especially relevant for trendy and socially relevant topics, such as images of women, for example.
- 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 you download visual graphics, but the images you chose can have an effect in your newsletters and 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 images, 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.
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 in 2023, 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 at is the stock photography sites you’ve already been counting on for engaging photos. For instance at Shutterstock and iStock and more of the best websites to start searching.
Even more, at the following sites, you will also find the trendiest vector graphics based on the main visual trends 2023 to make sure your graphics are up to date.
Stockphotos.com – Beautiful, Royalty-Free Illustrations
Stockphotos.com is our most trusted resource for quality stock photography. It is a great site for finding quality vector images and illustrations that fit within your budget at a low price. They have over 8M vector illustrations and other photos in their library right now, offering a good range of concept and style variety. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice quality because you can’t afford the fees associated with other major sites. Stockphotos.com is the resource that meets the needs of any size business looking for the right images. Plus, they make it super easy to find the vectors 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 color palettes? Read the full Stockphotos.com review to learn more.
Want to explore the collection right now? Use the search bar below with any English keywords you like and discover millions of stock illustrations! Whatever it is you're after, they got you covered.
Shutterstock – Immense Variety of Illustrations
Shutterstock is not dubbed “the stock media giant” for nothing. This agency has one of the largest illustration collections on the web, with over 50 million vector images and adding hundreds of thousands more each month. Such a huge pool of content covers almost every topic, theme, or graphic style you can think of, making it one of the richest collections as well. The pricing is very convenient, with subscriptions that give you super low per-download rates in fixed monthly fees, and image packs to buy only a handful of vectors whenever you need them. They present their vector library on its own page, and they include an advanced search tool to simplify finding the exact one you are after in no time.
You can learn it all about this top-level agency in our Shutterstock review. And if you're ready to give it a try, you should definitely take advantage of the cool Shutterstock Free Trial which comes with up to 10 free images to download in one month, including illustrations! Furthermore, you can save up to 15% in your purchase with the awesome Shutterstock Coupon Code.
But if you want to explore their large supply of vectors right now, don't waste time and hit the red button on this search bar to summon tens of millions of results!
iStock – Quality and Affordable Illustrations
If you’re overwhelmed trying to decide where to start your search for amazing stock media, there’s no better starting line than iStock. 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, how that distinct it from other sites, and their pricing structure by reading our update on their collection here. iStock is a well-respected company in the world of stock imagery and part of Getty Images, and all the reasons they hold this title carry over into the millions of images in their collection. iStock, based in the United States, is committed to working with professional quality artists, offering a catalog of only the best illustrations and making it all affordable with a range of pricing options including credit packs and subscription plans. They make it easy to find vectors and clipart images by adding a scroll down filter option to their search bar. Discover more about iStock, and their beautiful graphics, but reading the full iStock review here and go directly to their curated collection here!
You can check iStock's illustration variety right now, just use the search bar below!
Adobe Stock – Trusted Resource in Quality Vector Art
Adobe Stock is a name that’s synonymous with high-quality visuals and stock photos. You can trust that they don’t drop the ball when it comes to offering a catalog 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 its high quality, professional photo illustrations. Example Illustrations – Digital and hand-drawn illustrations from their most expressive artists can be found here!
Or you can find exactly the kind of illustration you're after in Adobe Stock, simply using this search bar with keyword:
123RF – Exclusive Illustrations and Unlimited Downloads
123RF is a long-standing stock image agency that offers high-resolution, royalty-free content at very affordable prices, and this includes both 2D and 3D illustrations. Their image catalog currently hosts over 80 million files between illustrations and photos, and you can rest assured the quality and variety is there to meet your professional needs.
123RF has various buying options, both on demand and via subscription, but recently added an offer that is perfect if you're after unique illustrations: the 123RF PLUS membership, which gives you access to the entire image library as well as to an exclusive selection of PLUS content –including 2D and 3D illustrations–, with unlimited downloads, for a flat monthly or annual fee.
And the great news: we have a special discount for you!
In some cases, you might find the catalog 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 premium sites that specializes in stock vector illustration. These libraries don't offer stock photos but just illustrations as individual images. 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 favorite stock illustration sites.
IKON Images offers an impressive selection of unique collections 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 boards, pages, themes, and collections – all of which are aligned with what the modern business is often looking for to get some inspiration.
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 collections examples from Ikon Images all Copyright by Ikon Images (all rights reserved of course):
The i Spot
The i Spot is an exclusive illustration site that serves as one of the most comprehensive 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 (CLOSED)
Laughing Stock is where you’re going to find all the visual inspiration you need to 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 touts themselves as being one of the largest and most established platforms in this 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 subjects unless prior authorization is granted.
CSA Images is the largest, wholly-owned collection library of stock illustrations in the entire world. Their catalog 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.
As we mentioned earlier, free stock media can be tricky in terms of legals. So if you're going to go for free vector illustrations, you need to make sure that: a) the source is serious and b) the license is valid and all rights are cleared. This is critically important if you intend to use the downloaded graphics in commercial-oriented projects.
Here are our recommended sites with free stock illustrations, but remember to always proceed with due dilligence regarding free stock media.
Vecteezy – Free and Premium Graphic Resources
Vecteezy is the largest vector graphic community on the web, and as such, they offer millions of free vector illustrations you can use both in personal and commercial projects, albeit with attribution (crediting the author/the company). You will find a lot of variety in terms of style and subjects. Additionally, they also have stock photos and even stock videos. If you wish, you can upgrade to a paid subscription for access to premium content, a cool image editor, and more.
Freepik – Freemium Graphics for Creatives
Freepik is a complete graphics resource offer for designers and creatives, with thousands of free vector illustrations ready to be downloaded and used in your work (with attribution). The service includes photos and PSD files, but the free selection is kind of limited. You can opt-in for the premium version and access millions of assets along with other perks. Freepik is now part of a much larger platform with sister sites like Flaticon for free icons and Slidego for free presentation templates.
Pixabay – Free Stock Illustrations and More
Pixabay is a popular free stock media site. Perhaps better known for their free stock photos catalog, their offer includes over 300,000 illustrations and 100,000+ vector art files. All of these are free to download and use, with no need for attribution, and it's a very pro-styled, easy-to-navigate site, where you simply enter keywords and use filters to refine your search.
Humaaans – Customizable Illustration Characters for Free
Humaans is an interesting and distinctive offer in free stock illustrations. The site gives you vector human characters, backgrounds and scenarios that you can mix&match and further customize for unique results. It is completely free to use under a Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license at your own discretion, and it works with a variety of editing tools such as Sketch, InVision Studio and Adobe XD.
VectorCharacters – Free Vector Cartoons and Characters
VectorCharacters is, as the name indicates, a site that has vector illustrations of characters and cartoons. Plenty of them, in a wide range of styles. They mix premium content with free download files, but the good thing is the free ones do not require attribution even for commercial use. If you are looking for this type of illustration, this is definitely where you'll find the most variety.
In the broadest sense, stock illustrations can be used at any time you have a need for visual projects. 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 customers on an emotional level. The right image can also be insanely memorable and work toward building an image for your brand, project, and even your name – so choose wisely.
To give you a better idea of when to push the stock images aside in favor 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 project 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 catalogs 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 of 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 mold.
Those who work more exclusively in an artistic capacity can also benefit from the selections of 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. This 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:
- Teaching materials
- Animated presentations
- Short videos
- Social media posts
Topics to find Great Illustrations:
- Business Illustrations
- flat design as editable vectoIllustration of stock
- flat vector illustration
- market analysis illustration
- abstract illustration
- antique flower illustrations
- brain illustration
- Commercial stock illustrations
- Ecliptic Stock Illustrations
- plenty of illustration
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
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 more information on this, check out our guide to buy a company logo.
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. Sometimes customers are also asking to get good icons that we can recommend Icontail for.
Where can I get stock illustrations?
There are several websites where you can get stock illustrations. Places like Stock Photo Secrets Shop and Shutterstock have high-quality and very affordable illustrations, but there are other premium sites that specialize in illustration content if that's what you need. Our list has them all.
What is illustration in Shutterstock?
Shutterstock has a whole segment of its image library dedicated to “vectors” which are illustrations and graphics in vector format. Plus, there is also a category in the catalog that is named “Illustrations/Clip-Art” where you can browse all sorts of digital illustrations.
How do you make money selling stock illustrations?
If you're interested in selling your illustrations, a simple way to do it is by submitting them to stock image agencies, such as Shutterstock, iStock, or Adobe Stock.
If approved, your illustrations will be available on these sites' catalogs and people will be able to buy and download them. You'll make money every time a user downloads one of your files.
How much can you make selling stock illustrations?
It really depends on many factors: how popular the topic of your content is, how good the quality is, and how well you have keyworded it to be discovered by user searches, among other things. Plus, keep in mind that the agency cuts their share from every sale, and it's usually a big chunk, usually between 40% and 70%
There is no ceiling for how much you can make selling content on stock agencies. But realistically speaking, today it is only a source of passive income, a side gig that doesn't demand a lot of effort. You can expect, optimistically, to make at best a couple of hundred dollars in one year.
For more details, read our guide to selling stock images online.
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.