The royalty-free license is the most popular licensing model for stock media, chosen by creatives worldwide because of its flexible and convenient terms, legal safety for commercial use, and affordable pricing.
But there are two versions of royalty-free license: the standard and the extended. Many struggle quite a bit to define which one they need. Knowing what license to use is critical to use stock photos correctly. Plus, there is quite a price escalation between the two.
Today we’ll make a complete comparison to show you the differences between Standard License vs Extended License and help you easily identify the one you need for your projects.
Always make sure to read the license agreement carefully before using a stock image, and consult with the agency directly if you have any questions or doubts about your intended use.
Which License Do I Need? Easy Checklist
The easiest way to determine what license you need is to know precisely how you intend to use the stock image, so you can then cross-check which license covers said use. Below is a list of helpful questions to get this done. And don’t worry: we did the cross-checking for you!
Am I printing the design?
Both Standard and Extended licenses enable physical use of the images, be it in large format –like a billboard– or smaller, like a flyer or brochure. To narrow it down to one license, see the following questions!
How many printed copies do I need?
For less than 300,000 copies, it's safe to say you're fine with a STANDARD license.
For between 300,000 and 500,000 copies, verify with the particular agency you chose, since many cover up to 500K reproductions with STANDARD.
With more than 500,000 copies, you will need an EXTENDED license in almost every top agency, such as iStock Extended license explains.
Am I selling the printed design?
Then you will need an EXTENDED license, no matter if you're selling two items or 200,000.
Am I putting the design online?
Again, both Standard and Extended licenses cover digital images, including those used on the web. But to determine which licensing option is best, you need to think about the following questions, next.
How many viewers can I potentially reach?
Some Standard agreements have a limitation for this, such as the Adobe Stock license that limits it to 500,000 views. So you would need an EXTENDED license from Adobe Stock beyond that.
In other cases, you are fine with a STANDARD license no matter how many clicks or views your design gets.
What is my design or project's total budget?
This question might be weird, but hear us out: there are agencies that limit digital use with a STANDARD license depending on the total cost of the project they're inserted in. Shutterstock is one such agency, as their Standard contract allows digital use in videos, for example, for projects under a $10,000 budget. Anything beyond that requires an EXTENDED license from Shutterstock.
Am I selling the finished digital design massively?
If you want to sell a design as a downloadable or customizable template or to sell a film or video including stock images, you will likely need an EXTENDED license, because despite being digital, they're still considered products for resale.
Standard License Overview
As the name indicates, the Standard License is the default option at most stock photo sites. This also means the prices you see on the sites refer to Standard license images. Here’s a brief of what it is:
Rights: Pay Once, Use Forever
The Standard license gives you the right to use the image in perpetuity, in any medium and geographic location, and as many designs as you wish, without ever having to pay royalties for said use.
Restrictions: Print Run Limit, No Reselling
Most standard licenses allow for print and digital usage, but they establish a limit of reproductions you can make. The industry standard is between 300,000 and 500,000 copies, though, which is more than enough for most people.
The most important limitation is that you cannot use standard license images in items for resale –like posters or wall art, t-shirts, mugs, etc.–
Average price: Dirty Cheap
Each agency sets its prices, but generally, standard royalty-free images are super low-priced. We are talking between $1-$20 for on-demand purchases, and down to 0.22 cents per image, with a subscription plan.
Main agency differences
The general terms are common to most agencies out there. But here are some highlights from some of the best and most popular:
- The Stock Photo Secrets Shop’s standard agreement lets you use the images in digital and print designs up to 300,000 copies. Marketing, promotional, editorial, and personal purposes are all covered, including product packaging and social media.
- The Shutterstock license enables commercial use (marketing and similar) of images across various mediums like websites, social media, printing, packaging, etc., up to 500,000 copies or digital reproductions. And in the case of film, video, television series, advertisements, and video productions for online streaming platforms (like YouTube), in projects with a budget under $10,000. (More info in our breakdown of Shutterstock license)
- iStock’s Standard license covers images used for advertising, marketing, editorial, and personal designs, up to 500,000 copies. The license does not cover product packaging (requires an Extended license).
- Adobe Stock has a Standard contract that allows using photos in multiple digital and physical mediums, up to 500,000 copies/views.
Extended License Overview
Also given away by its denomination, the Extended license adds a few essential usage rights, on top of all those included in the Standard Agreement. This option isn’t always available, but most top stock photo agencies offer it for pretty much all images they have. Due to the added benefits, it’s considerably higher-priced. However, an Extended royalty-free licensed image is still cheaper than getting a custom shot photo, so worthwhile in most cases. Here are the resumed terms:
Rights: Unlimited Copies, Products for Resale
An Extended license has all the same rights from Standard but gets rid of two important limitations: the print runs limit and the reselling restriction.
Extended licenses come with unlimited copies and the possibility of using the image in a design you will then resell for profit.
Restrictions: No Reselling of the Image As-Is, Sensitive Use Limitations
The restrictions in Extended licenses are also present for Standard licenses. This means there are things you simply cannot do with Royalty-Free stock photos:
- Reselling, gifting, or redistributing the image exactly as you downloaded it from the agency
- Using the image connected with sensitive use topics: pornography, politics, religion, criminal activity, etc.
Average price: Pricier than Standard, Cheaper than a Photographer
Extended licenses are usually available on-demand only, by the unit, or in prepaid packages. And they go for anything between $40 and $250, on average. This price is steep compared to Standard images, but keep in mind that you can use these pictures in products you can then sell massively, so the potential profits are considerable. Also, this is a one-time payment.
Main agency differences
Each stock image site does things their way in terms of Extended licenses.
- The Stock Photo Secrets Shop has one of the lowest-priced Extended licenses ever, starting at $80 for the image and going down to $44 with the largest, 25 image packs. But there’s more: if you subscribe to any of their regular, Standard license plans, you unlock a 50% discount on Extended licenses, meaning you can get them for as little as $22 each!
- Shutterstock has its Enhanced license with items for resale and unlimited print run available in packages, from 2 and up to 25 images. Price ranges between $67 and $99.50 per download
- iStock has two Extended licenses available: Unlimited reproductions and Products for Resale. With a price of 18 credits each, which translates to between $144-$170. You can add an Extended license at your discretion, but if you need both of these rights, you will spend more here than anywhere else
- Adobe Stock has an Enhanced license enabled for most of their pictures. It includes both unlimited print run and products for resale and merchandising rights. It goes for $79.99 per image, and it can go a bit lower if you redeem larger credit packs.
Use Case Scenarios
|What I Want to Do||License I Need|
|Social media graphics (posts, cover image, ads)||Standard|
|Illustrations for a flyer, I will print 1,000 copies||Standard|
|Hero image for my website/landing page||Standard|
|Image for my book cover, I hope to sell 600,000 copies!||Extended|
|A visual advert to put on a website||Standard|
|Design I will print on T-Shirts and sell||Extended|
|Cover art for my new album, I’ll distribute 5,000 copies||Standard|
|Stationery design for my client, they’ll print under 2,000 copies||Standard|
|Images to use in my YouTube videos, my budget is around $5K||Standard|
There is a License for Everything and Everyone
This is what you must take from our comparative guide: No matter what your intended use is, it's almost guaranteed that there is a license option that covers it.
Not only do the two general options for Royalty Free cover the most possible image uses between them, but also each agency has different terms for their licenses and include different rights in one or the other.
This is why is so important to ask yourself questions to determine your intended use, understand the basics of both licensing options, and of course: read the license agreement carefully, from the agency you have picked, before downloading and using a stock photo.
We hope this is much clearer now!