Microstock Site Comparison
Who has the Best Value Images?
Microstock agencies source their images from both amateur and professional image contributors; this allows them to keep costs down instead of employing in house photographers or commissioning work. Contributors work to strict quality standards and a paid a royalty on each image downloaded. Prices cost from less than $1 to about $15+ depending on the resolution.
Most microstock sites sell images for 'credits' so you can download multiple images, but several do offer a 'buy it now' option for a single image. Credits allow the agency to pass on payment processing savings to the buyer - buying a single image is usually much more expensive than a pack of credits for e.g. 10 images. Buyers should take note if unused credits expire e.g. after 12 months.
Microstock sites vary their prices in a number of ways. Most agencies offer very lost cost images, but the price is usually calculated for a bulk purchase and only for a low resolution image. Higher resolutions suitable for print use cost more. Vector illustrations and video are much more expensive than images. Comparing subscriptions is even harder, see the section on subscriptions further down the page.
- Larger 'credit pack' purchases can usually be made at a significant discount over buying small quantities of images.
- It's better value to buy a credit pack for multiple images than pay price of a single image download.
- More popular images are sometimes more expensive.
- Image price increases with image size, only small web resolutions images are priced at $1.
- Take care to read the license terms to check that you do not need an extended license or merchandise use license.
- Take a look at subscription options if you are a regular image user.
- There are some bargain images to be had if you are patient enough to shop around to save yourself a few dollars. (careful to make sure it's the best use of your time to do so!)
Microstock Sites Sorted by Price:
source data: microstockinsider.com
Almost all of the agencies listed here offer a subscription service where you can pay a single fee for access to a fixed number of downloads in a set time period, e.g. 25 images per month. This often works out the best value for image users with a regular new for images. For more occasional use the best value is offered by purchasing a 'credit pack' which will, for example, allow 10 downloads over the space of 12 months.
Comparing subscriptions is not easy! Some agencies offer subscriptions by way of blocks of credits per month, this will reduce the number of images you can download if you need high resolutions (conversely it offers favourable prices if you need only low resolutions). Some are flexible and allow downloads at any time during the subscription, others have a fixed quantity per day or week. - use it or lose it.
Subscription Comparison Checklist:
- Do they offer the resolutions you need as part of the subscription?
- Does it match your buying patterns or will credits be a better option?
- How long are you locked in for?
- Do unused credits/image downloads roll over to the next month?
- Do they offer the complete range of images and vectors for all your needs or only part of your needs?
- Are vectors/illustrations included if you need them?
- Does the price of a smaller subscription and occasional top up credits work out cheaper than a larger subscription that you might only "max-out" occasionally?
- Can you get a report on downloads at your current agency that will help you understand your current buying patterns?
Subscription Prices Compared:
source data: microstockinsider.com
- Extended License - Allows images to be used for on photo gifts and products intended for resale (calendars, greeting cards etc.)
- Multi seat/Multi User- Allow multiple people to access the site and download images from the subscription - e.g. a corporate account
- Images vs. Credits - sites which are listed as offering credits for subscriptions: the number of images you can download will vary depending on the download size / image type.
Learn more in our guide to stock photography jargon