Stock Imagery: Understanding Your Choices

Posted by Bobby Chamberlin on August 27, 2013

Stock imagery provides a common alternative to original photography/illustrations for many people, but the world of stock can be quite complicated. Stock imagery is divided into two main categories: rights managed — imagery with an individual licensing agreement negotiated for each use; and royalty-free — photography with the option to use an image multiple times for multiple purposes (with some limits).

Stock Imagery: Understanding Your Choices

Rights-managed imagery is usually more expensive, with the price changing according to the size of the market, quantity of reproductions or impressions and the duration for which the image will be used. Depending on the need, this may or may not be a cheaper option than hiring a photographer or illustrator.

Royalty-free imagery is usually cheaper, although there is a wide range of quality and pricing within the market. Royalty-free images can be classified as one of the following: macro stock, which is more exclusive and expensive and found on sites such as Corbis and Getty; mid stock, which can be found on most stock sites for a mid-range price; and micro stock, priced for lower budgets and usually not quite as professional, such as iStock or Shutter Stock.

Image size is also a player in cost. Most sites sell images with at least three or four size options, with the price steadily rising with each size increase. For example, if a designer was buying an image for a website, he or she would pay substantially less than if buying the same image in a large size for a full-page print ad.

Stock vs. original artwork
Vector illustrations have become increasingly popular on sites such as iStock. Vector graphics use points, lines, shapes and polygons to represent images. These are a great solution for charts and infographics, but they cannot be used as part of a logo or as the logo itself. Original artwork is more costly, but it is unique.

Stock imagery can provide a great starting place, as it is easy to manipulate to fit specific design needs. However, if something highly customized is needed, it may be worthwhile to do a photo shoot or hire an illustrator.

The world of stock imagery can be complicated to navigate. It is best to work with a creative professional in determining what images work well for a project and if those images will require any additional work. A good image may cost more up front, but it will save time and money in the long run.

How do you decide what type of imagery to use for your projects? Tell us in the comments below, or tweet your responses using the hashtag #mcgblog.