Microstock Image Agencies

Microstock agencies source their images from not just professional photographers but also amateur photographers while still maintaining a strict quality level. In doing so microstock sites can provide images at a much lower cost than traditional stock photo agencies which you might consider to be prohibitively expensive.

Microstock started in around 2002 but took until about 2005/6 to gain acceptance and really start to take off. Rather than sourcing images from professional photographers, the advent of digital cameras meant that a lot of hobbyist photographers were able to easily take some great looking stock images, microstock photographers, sometimes professional and sometimes amateur are able to sell these images direct to you via microstock agency.

Most microstock websites operate on subscription or credit based system where you pre buy credits which allow you to make downloads of images. Although microstock images are not free, they normally cost between $1 and $5 depending on the resolution you need, once you have registered with a microstock site (a few minutes) it's quick and easy to find and download an image to suit your needs. Most agencies have several million images to choose from. With this in mind it's often a better option to use a microstock image than spend 30 minutes searching for a free image with no guarantee that you will find something suitable. Of course because you pay for the image then there is usually no need to attribute / credit link the image where you use it, making everything look a lot more professional.

While 'cheap' might be a good term to describe the agencies listed here, our guiding principle is "quality discount photos", how to get either more or better quality images for your money. Most of these sites will offer low resolution images from about $1, the guide prices listed show prices for a typical medium resolution purchase.

Most of the major microstock agencies have some form of unique selling point, and while you can probably find an image to suit your needs from any agency, some of the sites we have listed cater for different buyers' needs better than others - it's depends on your circumstances. Be it a one off purchase, an obscure subject or location, a high resolution photo for print use, a regular need for lots of small images etc. - there is likely an agency to suit your needs.


microsotck agnecies compared dreamstime shutterstock adobe stock canstockphoto istockphoto

The Venn diagram above highlights of the differing ways that some microstock sites have tried to sell to different market segments. While many sites sit in the 'middle of the road', several have carved out their own market segment suiting some buyers requirements better than others. Find out more below in which agency is best?


Microstock Site Directory

sales method Download Options - price guide Guide Price (typical 3 Megapixel image)

license type License Types - size of collection Number of images in collection

iStockphoto.com   sales methodCredits+Subscription price guide $17+
visit site for search   license type RF+ Editorial size of collection 28 Million
istockphoto was the pioneer of the microstock revolution, now owned by traditional stock photography company Getty images, painful search system peppers results with expensive images that cannot be filtered out. Images are high quality, with a large collection of exclusive and premium content

123RF   sales methodCredits + Subscription price guide $5
visit site for search   license type RF+ Editorial size of collection 110 Million
Great value images, and free link code to paste images into a blog, 123RF have a premium microstock collection called EVO

Adobe Stock   sales methodCredits + Subscription price guide$11
visit site for search   license type RF size of collection 100 Million+
combines one of the largest collections in microstock with reasonable pricing, adobe also offer cloud subscriptions to their photo editing and creative tools

Dreamstime.com   sales methodCredits+Subscription price guide $8
  license type RF+Editorial size of collection 72 Million
Another massive selection of images , but more expensive than bigstock.

CanstockPhoto.com   sales methodCredits+Subscription price guide $2
  license type RF+Editorial size of collection 21 Million
One of the best for value, but limited choice for more unusual subjects.

PhotoDune / Envato Network   sales methodCredits price guide $3
  license type RF size of collection 7 Million
One stop shop, the envato network offers a wide range of digital sales as well as photos, including video, templates, sound, 3d objects

Bigstock.com   sales methodCredits price guide $8
Visit site for search   license type RF+Editorial size of collection 95 Million
reliable stock agency, in business for 5 years+, now owned by subscription site shutterstock

CreativeMarket   sales methodCredits price guide $Varies
    license type RF size of collection 1 Million(?)
Relatively new on the scene: the (autodesk) creativemarket is predominantly a place for completed designs but has a growing photo and "packs of photos" collection.

Subscription Microstock

Subscription vs Credits ?

Credits allow you to buy images on a casual basis, whereas a subscription offers better value for those who regularly require images (usually professional designers and design groups, but perhaps also newspaper and media websites).

Shutterstock   sales methodSubscription price guide$49+ ($249pcm)

  license type RF+ Editorial size of collection300 Million
Shutterstock was one of the first microstock agencies to offer a subscription service, much copied but still one of the best. Offer excellent value if you need regular access to high resolution images

Dreamstime.com   sales methodSubscription price guide $44.99 weekly (up to 70 images per week)
  license type RF+Editorial size of collection 135 Million
Monthly subscription from dreamstime, allows images to be downloaded any time of the month and also allows extra credits to roll over to next month meaning that you never lose unused credits


Adobe Stock   sales methodCredits + Subscription price guide$39.59 Monthly (based on annual price)
visit site for search   license type RF size of collection 100 Million+
a range of options for high and low volume images needs, adobe stock allows unused credits to roll over (up to defined limits)


Stock Photo Secrets   sales methodSubscription price guide <$2 per week, $99 per year)
    license type RF size of collection 4 Million
Download 200 Maximum sized images from a smaller collection (4 million images) but great value alternative to the higher priced collections of the bigger sites.


price guide Our guide prices are based on obtaining an average resolution image of 3 megapixels or more, in most cases the websites advertise images from $1, this will only buy you a low resolution image (sub 1MP) suitable for a webpage or a blog. 3megapixels allows more flexible online use, cropping and printing at a modest size. Of course you can obtain higher resolutions, these typically cost between $5 and $10 dollars. You can get significant discounts by buying large numbers of credits, but sometimes you need to spend $100 or even $1000 to obtain the lowest price, in calculations we have taken the cheapest starter option which invariably means that individual credits cost more than buying in bulk.

What is RF+Editorial? See our Glossary of Stock Photography Terms


More Microstock Sites

Recent startups are offering lower priced photos or regular special offers, credits back, discounts etc. to carve a share of the microstock market.

Depositphotos.com   sales methodCredits price guide $4
Visit site for search   license type RF size of collection 160 Million
launched in 2009, with low prices, also offers subscription plan

Stockfresh.com   sales methodCredits price guide $3
  license type RF size of collection 5 Million
Stock photo site from the people who originally brought you stock.xchng and stockxpert

Here's a few more libraries we have not reviewed in detail:

Yay Micro | Most Photos | Panther Media | Zoonar



Which Microstock Agency is Best for Buyers?

With many of the microstock sites selling a similar image collection, (photographers upload the same image to several sites) the stock agencies differentiate themselves in various ways. The question should perhaps be restated which agency is best for my individual needs?

Value: CanstockPhoto.com have one-off high res images for a low price, but a smaller image collection, but much cheaper than other agencies with similar sized collection.

Subscription: Stock Photo Secrets, coming in at less than $2 per week with 200 downloads per year included (extra downloads @ 99c).

Bulk Buy: Shutterstock offers a flexible subscription, providing value to volume image users. A month subscription can easily be paid for by downloading 10 or so high resolution images which might cost 15-20 dollars each elsewhere. 123RF provides flexible subscription/credits to volume buyers. Prices from as low as $0.21 per image.

Guarantee: Several sites including Shutterstock and iStockphoto.com warrant their images against legal costs.

Exclusivity: Exclusive image collections like the ones at Adobe Stock or iStockphoto mean you can't find the same image on sale elsewhere.

Coverage: The number of images each site has on offer: if you require specialty stock images then choose a site which more images to increase the likelihood of your subjects being covered - use the tables of comparison above.

Style: iStockphoto.com offers premium images and a general collection of more stylish images, prices are much higher than average. The images at Dreamstime and several of the other sites have a noticeably more 'clean' and minimal look.

Search: Not all sites are alike when it comes to the quality of their search engines. When choosing a microstock site you might also check how good the search engine is.


What is the easiest?

For great value and low prices without a doubt we think depositphotos.com is the best all rounder. choose from a range of subscription packages or buy individual images under a flexible royalty free license




Useful Microstock Search Tools & Directories

If you are a regular microstock buyer and have more than one account you can integrate microstock search into firefox with the picniche buyers toolbar (currently in beta) see picniche.com/toolbar for more details.

shotspy.com another a search engine that lets you search multiple microstock agencies on one go

MicrostockPhotography.com - microstock photography industry information & news 


Microstock In Detail - Free Resource Book

stock photo resource book

Free Resource Book listing the best of Free and Paid Stock Photo Libraries

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