Stock Photo Agencies Compared: Shutterstock, iStock, Adobe Stock, Dreamstime and 123RF

Finding the right stock photo agency for your needs is hard.  Registration is free for all agencies, but when it comes down to purchasing stock photos and images, an investment needs to be made. Each stock photo agency has its benefits, and each solves design, photo, and media needs. But which one is best for you?

Many buyers invest in a few agencies to deal with their ever-changing priorities and maintain an active membership with many. These short reviews of the top stock photo agencies will be helpful in educating stock photo buyers about the differences and benefits of each stock photo agency. If you want an even quicker snapshot of each agency, this Top 5 list may serve your purpose better.

All five agencies listed offer royalty-free images, which are high-quality and legally safe to use in commercial projects. We highly recommend royalty-free photos over other alternatives –like free images from the web–, as they're legally verified and backed up by trustworthy companies.



Shutterstock is a global e-commerce company and a leading provider of stock photos, illustrations, and footage. Their library is extensive, with over 700 million photos and 2,000,000 contributing photographers. Their focus and competitive edge is to provide low-cost images bought on subscription. Smaller buyers who require few images per year will pay more for this privilege but will only need to invest $29 USD to download from their stock library. With their various subscriptions, you could be paying as low as 28¢ and up to $4.08 per image. The standard license limits the reproduction of the image to 500,000 times.

The biggest benefit of using Shutterstock is its vast collection of images. Their history in the stock photo market has enabled them to build an image and stock photo library where buyers can find what they need. If a subscription package is not what you are looking for, try their other stock photo agency, Bigstock, where images and stock photos can be purchased through credits.

Psst! Learn how to get access to Shutterstock Creative Flow for free here!

Want images for editorial use? Then don't miss their great Editorial subscription plans.

And you can now save more than ever with image packs using our new and exclusive Shutterstock discount code for image packs! This offer gives you 25% off the 25-image pack at Shutterstock. Don't miss it!

Unlock a cool exclusive 25% discount on image packs for 30 images on Shutterstock! Get 25 images of your choice on demand!


istockphoto logo new > Stock Photo Agencies Compared: Shutterstock, iStock, Adobe Stock, Dreamstime and 123RF

iStockphoto is one of the original stock photo agencies offering royalty-free stock photos, vector illustrations, videos, music, audio, and Flash at affordable prices and exceptional quality. The iStockphoto library has a collection of 8.3 million photos that are known to be of higher quality than other stock photo agencies. The Vetta Collection, Agency Collection, and Exclusives are unique, handpicked images that reflect creativity and build an impression. Standard licenses allow up to 500,000 impressions, a higher value than other stock agencies.

The smallest initial investment for a first-time user is $18 USD. The buyer can download 12 x-small stock photos, 4 small photos, a collection of XS, s, and med photos, or one large stock photo with a standard license.  Photos are downloaded with 300 dpi resolution.

Great news! For a limited time only, we offer you this awesome and exclusive iStock Promo Code with 15% off in EVERYTHING! Buy credit packs and subscriptions at cut-price! This deal is for all customers, new and existing, and is limited time, so hurry up and seize it!

adobe stock logo 1 > Stock Photo Agencies Compared: Shutterstock, iStock, Adobe Stock, Dreamstime and 123RF

Adobe Stock

Adobe Stock is a stock photo service offered by Adobe –founded on the base of the old stock photo agency Fotolia, which they acquired–, and it's fully integrated into the Creative Cloud platform. Adobe Stock's library with over 240 million images (plus videos, 3D models, and more) is available directly within any Creative Cloud design app such as Illustrator, InDesign, etc., and you can search, test edit and license stock photos in seconds, without ever leaving your design worksheet. This seamless workflow experience is the added value in Adobe Stock, but it also has its own stand-alone website, and you can use the service outside Creative Cloud and Adobe software too.

Due to its full creative workflow solution concept, they're a strong competitor to Shutterstock. We have analyzed and compared Shutterstock vs Adobe Stock for you, don't miss it!

The minimum investment is $29,99, which gives you 3 image downloads per month (you can hire it for one month only, or renew it month to month). Images come in all available sizes at no added cost. Hiring a larger subscription lets you save on single image price, as it goes down to between $3 and $0.27 per photo with monthly or annual plans, ranging from 10 to 750 downloads per month. Premium images, videos, 3D models, and other extra graphics come at different price points and are mostly on demand.


Dreamstime Logo

Dreamstime is a distinguished leader in stock photography with over 11 years of dedicated business in the industry. Dreamstime is committed to using the latest technologies on state-of-the-art hardware to make them technologically progressive yet simplistic in use.  Their focus on community has built their usability and library, positioning them as a leader with over 11 million images. The buying options include both subscriptions and credits, with image prices ranging from 77¢ to $1.25 per image for credit purchases and 20¢ to 43¢ per image with subscriptions. The minimum investment for a buyer to start immediately downloading is $10 USD for credits, which will award  10 x-small level 0 photos or 3 x-small level 1 photo, or 2 x-small level 2 stock photos. Standard licenses limit copies to 500,000 on any purchased stock photo.

Dreamstime has evolved as a stock photo agency due to its community development model that encourages contributions from its buyer and photographer communities. It is a model that has spread the word and built trust in the company's ability to grow as the industry changes.


123rf Logo

123rf gives you more for a lot less, offering stunning, practical stock photos that are refreshing and intriguing. They are newer to the industry than the other stock photo agencies and have quickly gained an audience. Their library has 9.5 million photos. Their standard license restrictions include unlimited use and rights to the image. Buyers have the option of credits or subscriptions to purchase images.

The lowest buy-in for a new member is $15 USD.  This translates into 15 small images (note the image size is 400 x 200), and 7 medium or 5 large images.  The price-per-image for subscription buyers ranges from 21¢ to 59¢.

123rf, overall, is a great option for purchasing stock photos. They are hip, have a great vibe, and are working up the microstock ladder to be a leader in the industry. Image sizes are smaller than other stock agencies, but prices are still very competitive.

Image: © fotum –

Ivanna Attié
Ivanna Attié

I am Content Manager, Researcher, and Author in and Stock Photo Press and its many stock media-oriented publications. I am a passionate communicator with a love for visual imagery and an inexhaustible thirst for knowledge. Lucky enough to enter the wonderful world of stock photography working side-by-side with experienced experts, I am happy to share my research, insights, and advice about image licensing, stock photography offers, and the stock media industry with everyone in the creative community. My background is in Communication and Journalism, and I also love literature and performing arts.

  1. Where can one find the best stock photography other than Istockphoto?…

    You might should read our agency comparison here

  2. I’m using 123rf and they are not making me a friend of their company: on subscription ($279 for 30 days for 26 photos per day) if you miss a day, you forfeit your quota for that day. They do system upgrades at 9pm at night so working at home tonight is impossible. You have to work on their schedule and under their rules…the forfeiture is a cash grab because I doubt they pay this to their photographers, and likely most new customers get duped with this at least a couple of times during their subscription. This raises the per shot profit for the company and not customer satisfaction.

    • I can hear your Glenda, but this is how their plan works. There are other stock agencies which offer subscription without a daily download limit.

  3. Avatar of DevilsAdvocate02
    DevilsAdvocate02 December 16, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    Not sure when this article was written but Shutterstock is FAR more expensive than a max of $4.08 per image. The least you can spend with them is to purchase an image for $29 (for two images but there is no 1 image purchase). Further they claim to have over 40M images and not 15M.

Stock Photo Secrets