Nothing makes a print design pop more than exciting visuals that engage the audience, but you may not always have the time or budget to create original photographs or illustrations. Stock art is a quick and easy way to add a visual component to your designs; just remember that not all stock image websites will have the print-ready images you need.
Any artwork you plan to incorporate into a printed image should be:
- High resolution (300 dpi or greater)
- Properly licensed for your use (especially if you plan to use the design commercially)
- Affordable for your budget
- Professional and unique enough to grab your audience’s attention
With these requirements in mind, here’s our review of the best stock photo sites for your marketing collateral. Not only do they carry large selections of affordable (or even free) artwork, they’re your best bet for finding images that will look fantastic in print.
Best Free Stock Photo Sites
Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch? A healthy selection of nearly 1 million photos puts Stock Free Images at the top of the list of free stock photography sites for designers.
This website is owned by Dreamstime, one of the more authoritative paid sites available (and one of the best stock image sites for print designers), so you shouldn’t need to worry much about the photos being high quality.
On top of a veritable feast of photos, illustrations and vector images, stock.xchng provides many helpful graphic design tutorials and tools submitted by like-minded designers.
This site is so popular with designers, in fact, that it may take a little bit of hunting to track down images that haven’t been overused (and the site’s search engine lacks some of the finer advanced features in comparison to paid stock photo websites). Still, it’s worth the extra work if you’re on a tight budget.
Don’t let the name scare you off—morgueFile is a top online public image archive founded and run by creatives as a resource for other creatives.
Be sure to check the resolution of photos you find on this site; not all of them are in a high enough resolution to print properly. However, since it’s all absolutely free, it’s worth taking the time to sniff out the highest quality images.
If you want to make sure your fellow artists and designers are getting paid for their work (but don’t necessarily have the funds to do it yourself), then sign up for an account at Freerange. Artists who submit their work here receive a portion of the advertising revenue. Although the selection is a bit limited, the images are of excellent quality and resolution.
Everybody knows deviantART is a great place for artists (both novice and professional) to show off their work—but many don’t realize that it’s also a fantastic source for stock art. There’s a wide range of images in the stock photo section, and many of them come in an extremely high resolution that is perfect for print.
Pixel Perfect Digital (No longer available)
Pixel Perfect offers a decent number of free stock photos, but what really makes the site stand out is the fact that it can be searched and filtered based on specific RGB or hexadecimal color values. This makes it a good resource if you want your stock artwork to match or complement the hue of other elements in your print design.
The Creative Commons license allows anyone to make their images freely available for others to use, though this usually comes with a few caveats—artists might require others to credit them for their work or restrict them to non-commercial use only.
This searchable directory of CC-licensed media is a great resource, but be wary; not all of the images will be the right quality for print. There are plenty of print-ready gems to be found using Creative Commons, but you’re going to have to dig deep to find them.
Best Stock Photos for a Cheap Price
Designers of all types love iStock Photo, and for good reason. It’s affordable, the pictures are of very high quality, and the site boasts a number of impressive search tools, including searching by color.
Since it’s a popular site, you’ll need to devote more time to finding images that haven’t already been overused in other print designs. Fortunately, there’s a large enough selection that buying the right stock photo usually isn’t very difficult.
Need to download tons of stock art for commercial use on a regular basis? Be careful; even cheap images can add up to a big cost over time. When you need to buy in bulk, consider using a stock photo site like Veer, which allows you to download up to 20 images per day for a flat subscription fee.
Unlike iStock, Veer lets you subscribe on a month-to-month basis, which is helpful if you need lots of stock art but can’t afford a full six months or year worth of images.
Like the name implies, StockUnlimited lets you download as many vector illustrations or photos as you want for a flat subscription fee, and its 600,000+ images are specifically selected for businesses and professionals. Whether you want monthly access to complete one project or a lifetime subscription for a multi-user team, StockUnlimited has a cost-effective plan for businesses of all shapes and sizes.
Over 20,000 new images are added to Fotolia every day, creating an impressive bounty of photos, illustrations and vectors to choose from. Subscribing to this site gives you a monthly download limit rather than daily, so you may save money if your stock image needs are more spread out on a day-to-day basis.
Vectors are perfect for print projects because they can be resized without sacrificing image quality, so resolution isn’t an issue. Not only that, they make good backgrounds, textures, icons and logos for your print designs. For high-quality, royalty-free vector illustrations, VectorStock is your best choice.
Best Quality Stock Image Sites
You’ve probably come across photos credited to Getty Images when browsing your favorite high-profile blogs and publications. Getty is an established leader in stock art, with a giant archive of practically every type of image you could want.
On top of royalty-free stock photos, Getty also has a wide selection of editorial images (relevant to pop culture or newsworthy events), videos, music, and other multimedia to help you plan a complete marketing strategy that matches your print designs.
If you want to make your stock art search a little easier, try using Jupiterimages. The upside is that Jupiterimages searches over 50 different royalty-free sources, including Getty Images.
The downside, however, is that pulling from so many sites means Jupiterimages has over 2.5 million images to sort through. The stock photo you’re looking for is definitely out there, but it might takes some time to find it.
Owned by Getty Images, Thinkstock’s collection includes selected photos from Getty as well as iStock and Jupiterimages. You might end up paying a bit more for downloads, but the site’s convenience and massive selection are where the real value lies.
Shutterstock’s prices are comparable to Thinkstock; a bit pricey, but you get what you pay for. Their images are extremely high-quality and high-resolution, making them suitable for any print project, no matter how large the canvas. Subscription plans are available, which can help you save money if you use the site a few times a month.
Dreamstime is tailored specifically to print marketing designers; you may recognize many of their best stock photos from popular magazine and newspaper ads. Some of them are quite expensive, but there are also plenty of affordable, high-quality images to be found, including several free options.
If you want your print media project to feature original illustrations instead of photographs, consider using Illustration Ltd. Although the website functions more like an illustration showcase (with watermarks on downloadable images), the platform makes it easy to commission illustrators for original works.
As always, your printer is your number one pipeline of information when it comes to finding the best stock photo sites for print. They can help you check the resolution of your images, as well as warn you if your selected art isn’t high-quality enough for printing. It’s also a good idea to closely review your proof copy so that you can inspect the quality of your printed stock art with your own two eyes.
Do you have a favorite source for high-quality, high-resolution stock art that we forgot to add to our list? What qualities do you look for in the best stock image sites? Share your thoughts and comments below!