Shutterstock Vs iStock (2024) - 4 KEY Differences

If you're looking for quality, then iStock's curated collection is your go-to resource for high-grade imagery and videos. However, for a wider variety and greater volume of options, Shutterstock's extensive library with more than double the content offers a broader selection to explore.

February 19, 2024
Shutterstock Vs iStock (2024) - 4 KEY Differences
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Shutterstock Vs iStock - Which One Should You Choose?

In my extensive experience with both Shutterstock and iStock, I've come to appreciate the nuanced differences between these two titans in the world of royalty-free imagery. Let me take you on a detailed journey through my findings, so you can understand the subtleties from a user's perspective.

Starting with Shutterstock, the sheer volume of its library is immediately noticeable. Navigating through its vast collection, which spans from captivating images to engaging videos and audio clips, is like walking through an endless digital gallery. The search bar, prominently located at the top, is your compass in this sea of creativity. However, the vastness comes with a caveat: not all that glitters is gold. I've spent hours sifting through mediocre options to unearth the gems. But when you do find that perfect image, it’s like striking gold. The pricing, hovering around $0.22 to $14 per image, seems reasonable considering the plethora of choices.

iStock, on the other hand, offers a more curated experience. It's akin to a boutique gallery where each piece feels carefully selected. This curation, while limiting in sheer numbers, adds a layer of quality assurance. The user

interface here is intuitive, with categories and filters that are easy to locate, making the search for the perfect image less time-consuming and more precise. The pricing, similar to Shutterstock's, feels justifiable, especially when you're in search of high-quality, unique images. Their license agreements are clearly outlined, ensuring you know exactly what you're getting into with each download.

As for additional features, Shutterstock's editing tools directly on their website have been a game-changer for me. Being able to adjust an image slightly to fit my needs before downloading saves precious time. iStock, while not offering this feature, compensates with their superior image quality, which often requires less editing.

Throughout my use of both platforms, I've leaned towards Shutterstock when I needed a wide range of options and iStock when I wanted that guarantee of quality and uniqueness. My frequent use of both sites – sometimes daily for my content creation needs – has made me appreciate these differences and use them to my advantage. The choice between the two often boils down to the specific needs of my project at hand.

What Is iStock?

iStock logo

iStock is a popular online stock photography provider, known for offering millions of high-quality, royalty-free photographs, illustrations, videos, and audio tracks. It operates as a subsidiary of Getty Images, a leading provider of visual media worldwide. iStock's unique selling proposition lies in its carefully curated collections, which ensure a high level of quality and relevance for its users.

Pros of iStock:

  • Wide Variety of Content: iStock offers millions of stock content items, covering a broad range of themes and styles, making it suitable for diverse creative needs.
  • Exclusive Content: The platform features unique photos that add a sense of uniqueness to your projects.
  • High-Quality Images: iStock provides images in multiple high-resolution options, enhancing the quality of your projects.
  • Simple Pricing: The pricing structure is straightforward, with two primary options - a la carte with credits and pricing by collection.
  • User-Friendly Interface: iStock is known for its easy navigation, including curated categories and an efficient search engine.
  • Simple Licensing: The platform offers a wide usage royalty-free license, allowing multiple uses across various projects.
  • Diverse Media Types: Beyond photos, iStock also offers stock footage and audio files.
  • Non-Expiring Credits: Purchased credits on iStock do not expire, adding to the flexibility of usage.
  • Well-Organized Website: The site is structured in a way that makes finding and organizing content relatively easy.
  • Variety of Payment Options: iStock offers pay-as-you-go options and accepts various payment methods.

Cons of iStock:

  • Mixed Customer Support Records: Some users have reported inconsistent experiences with customer service.
  • Long Review Times for Submissions: For contributors, the review times for submitted content can be lengthy.
  • Low Commission for Contributors: The commission rates for contributors are comparatively low.
  • Limited Selection for High-Quality Print Media: Compared to other services, iStock may fall short in terms of selection for high-quality print usage.
  • No Video Subscriptions: While photo subscriptions are available, video clips have to be bought a la carte, which can be limiting.
  • Complicated Credit System: The process of buying with the credit system can be cumbersome, requiring users to buy a pack first before using them for purchases.
  • Costly Extended Licenses: For projects requiring extended rights, the additional licensing can be expensive.

What Is ShutterStock?

Shutterstock logo

Similarly to iStock, Shutterstock also has quite a notable presence in the digital imagery realm. It stands as a global marketplace where creativity and high-quality content converge, offering a diverse array of royalty-free images, videos, and music tracks. This platform caters to professionals across various fields, including graphic designers, marketers, and content creators, providing them with the tools and resources to enhance their projects.

What sets Shutterstock apart is not just the quantity but also the quality of its offerings. The platform rigorously vets contributors to ensure that the content available is of high caliber. While this does not mean every single asset is of the highest quality, it does provide a level of assurance regarding the overall standard of the content available.

Pros Of ShutterStock:

  1. Extensive Library: Shutterstock boasts a massive collection of images, videos, and music, providing a wide range of options for various needs and industries.
  2. High-Quality Content: The platform is known for its high-quality assets, with a rigorous vetting process for contributors to maintain standard.
  3. User-Friendly Interface: The website is intuitive and easy to navigate, making it accessible for both beginners and professionals.
  4. Advanced Search Functionality: Powerful search tools with filters help users find specific types of content efficiently.
  5. Flexible Licensing Options: Shutterstock offers various licensing terms to suit different project needs, from personal to commercial use.
  6. Additional Tools: Features like Shutterstock Editor provide convenient, in-platform editing capabilities.
  7. Regular Updates: The library is frequently updated with new content, ensuring fresh and relevant options.
  8. Global Content: Offers a diverse range of content that caters to different cultural perspectives and styles.

Cons Of ShutterStock:

  1. Cost: Some users find Shutterstock to be more expensive compared to other platforms, especially for small businesses or individual users.
  2. Overwhelming Choices: The vast library can be overwhelming to navigate, making it time-consuming to find the perfect asset.
  3. Inconsistent Quality: While overall quality is high, there are instances of variable quality across the library.
  4. Subscription Model: The subscription-based model might not be cost-effective for users who need only a few images.
  5. Limited Free Options: Unlike some competitors, Shutterstock offers very few free images, which can be a drawback for users on a tight budget.
  6. Watermarked Previews: Watermarked previews can sometimes make it hard to fully assess the suitability of an image for a project.

Similarities Between iStock & Shutterstock

Venn Diagram For ShutterStock Vs iStock

Royalty-Free Licenses for Safe Usage

The aspect of royalty-free licenses is crucial. Both iStock and Shutterstock offer images under this license, which is cleared for commercial use. This is a significant advantage over free images found on the web, which often come with uncertain copyright status and potential legal issues. Both platforms have standard and extended/enhanced licenses, offering additional usage rights. It’s reassuring to know that the license is non-exclusive, granting flexibility in how I utilize the images.

Vast and Regularly Updated Image Libraries

The size of their image libraries is another standout feature. Both Shutterstock and iStock are regularly updated with fresh content, thanks to their popularity among photographer contributors. This ensures a constant influx of new images, keeping their libraries diverse and up-to-date.

Free Membership and Accessibility

Free membership is a common ground for both agencies, allowing users like me to easily sign up and navigate their offerings. This accessibility is a significant advantage, especially when I initially explored which platform suited my needs better. The ease of sign-up without any upfront cost is a welcoming gesture for any newcomer to the world of stock photography. iStock especially, allows their uses to download 10 images for free before evening committing to any plan.

On-Demand Credit

On-Demand Credit Packs are another option for those who prefer not to commit to regular monthly costs. iStock's on-demand credits never expire, provided you log in once per year, while Shutterstock's on-demand credits expire one year after purchase. Shutterstock allows you to download all images with 1 credit, while iStock requires 1 credit for Essentials images and 3 credits for Signature images​​.

Weekly Free Photos

Another user-centric feature is the provision of free weekly photos. Both Shutterstock and iStock release a selection of free stock photos regularly, exclusively accessible to their members. This perk is particularly useful for content creators on a budget, offering a taste of their quality without financial commitment. It's important to note that neither platform has free photo galleries, which means the weekly free images are a limited but valuable resource.

Generous Free Trials

When it comes to free trials, both platforms are remarkably similar, offering a generous 10 free images for one month. This trial is a fantastic opportunity for new users to test the waters. I found the iStock free trial particularly beneficial when I needed high-quality Essential or Signature images for a short-term project. Similarly, Shutterstock’s free trial provided me with a variety of options for diverse content creation needs.

Editorial-Only Image Selections

Regarding editorial images, both companies maintain a selection specifically for editorial-only use. This has been invaluable for my projects that require current, newsworthy images with the assurance of appropriate licensing.

Similar Pricing

Both platforms offer annual and monthly subscription plans. With annual plans, you can save compared to monthly subscriptions. Shutterstock's annual plans offer options for 10, 50, 350, and 750 image downloads per month. The cost per image ranges from $0.22 to $2.90. On the other hand, iStock offers 10, 25, 50, and 750 downloads per month with prices ranging similarly from $0.22 to


Shutterstock website on a Macbook

Evaluating Shutterstock's Subscription Flexibility

In my experience, Shutterstock's subscription range of $24.92 to $499 per month offered a broad spectrum, accommodating diverse budgetary and project needs. The process of choosing a plan was straightforward, thanks to the user-friendly layout of their 'Pricing' section on the homepage.

Extensive Download Limits

The monthly download capacity, ranging from 10 to 750 images, 1 to 30 videos, and 5 to 375 audio tracks, made Shutterstock an ideal platform for projects demanding a high volume of diverse content.

Analyzing Shutterstock's Pricing and Extras

Varied Asset Costs

Shutterstock's cost per download, which varied from $0.22 to $4.90 per image, $5.55 to $89 per video, and $0.88 to $19.60 per audio track, allowed me to effectively manage my project budgets.

On-demand Packs for Specific Needs

The on-demand packs, with prices ranging from $29 to $575 for 2 to 250 credits, were essential for specific project needs, offering great flexibility for one-off purchases or specific asset requirements.

Advantageous Trial and Discounts

Shutterstock's 30-day free trial and the availability of a 15% off coupon code, along with bulk discounts, provided considerable savings, especially for larger or ongoing projects.

Delving into iStock's Quality-Centric Approach

Premium Subscription Plans

iStock's subscription plans, priced from $29 to $349 per month, though slightly higher, focused on delivering high-quality content, suitable for projects where visual impact was crucial.

Focused Download Capacity

With a download limit of 10 to 750 images, 10 to 50 videos, and 10 to 50 audio tracks monthly, iStock catered perfectly to my projects that required top-notch quality over sheer quantity.

Assessing iStock's Pricing and Special Offers

Higher Quality at a Higher Price

iStock's pricing, ranging from $0.26 to $9.90 per image, $6.98 to $14.90 per video, and a consistent rate for audio, reflected its commitment to providing premium quality assets, which I often found justified the higher costs.

Flexible On-demand Packs

The availability of on-demand packs, ranging from $12 to $2,400 for 1 to 300 credits, provided me with the flexibility to match budget and project scale efficiently, especially useful for high-quality, specific asset needs.

Beneficial Trial and Discount Options

iStock's 30-day free trial for 10 images and the 20% off coupon code, along with bulk discounts, significantly reduced costs for high-quality asset procurement in larger projects.

Personal Insights on User Experience and Asset Quality

In my usage, both platforms demonstrated their unique strengths. Shutterstock, with its vast and varied library, catered to my high-volume requirements, while iStock’s curated and premium content was indispensable for projects where quality was the priority. Their user interfaces, especially the ease of accessing subscription plans and on-demand packs, streamlined my workflow significantly. As a content creator, balancing between Shutterstock's variety and iStock's quality was key to the success of my diverse projects.