I’ve recently been using Google Slides for a client’s conference event. It’s been really helpful for all parties involved, being able to collaborate, update and edit all in real time. But when it came down to the event itself, the client needed an offline version of the slides running in Apple Keynote...
Six years ago, we excitedly announced that we’d signed up for our first Shutterstock subscription. Previously, we’d pretty much exclusively been using iStock for our commercial-use presentation photos. We asked, which is best? Shutterstock vs. iStock.
We concluded that, in the epic battle between Shutterstock and iStock, Shutterstock was edging ahead. Why? Shutterstock was cheaper, it had better model continuity, and Shutterstock’s Spectrum search was a super easy way of finding coloured images. But, six years later, do we still prefer Shutterstock?
Well, after an informal survey (asking the office during a coffee break) it turns out that things have changed. Spoiler alert: we’re pretty big iStock fans these days, but Shutterstock still has a place in our hearts!
Read to the end to discover where we find our favourite free stock photography too!
Shutterstock vs. iStock: Pricing
Let’s start with one of the most important things, pricing. Because, let’s face it, it doesn’t matter how much you like a service if it’s way out of your budget!
Shutterstock has a range of pricing options, from 10 images a month at £19, to 750 images at £119. Teams of 3-10 users can access 750 images for £369 per month (these prices are for an annual plan, charged monthly). Shutterstock often has a free trial offer on, so you can try before you buy.
iStock also has a range of options depending on the number and type of images you’re after. The iStock Essentials collection contains budget friendly high-resolution images; you can get 10 images a month for £19 and 750 images a month at £99. Their Signature collection contains higher priced, higher production value images exclusive to iStock. If you want access to both collections, you can get 10 images a month for £45 and 750 images a month for £119.
You can also buy credits if you want to purchase images on a more ad hoc or one-off basis, 3 credits are £20 and 60 credits are £310. An image from the Essentials collection is just 1 credit, a video 6 credits, an image from the Signature collection is 3 credits and a video is 18.
Depending on what you’re after, iStock is either slightly cheaper or a bit more expensive than Shutterstock. So, do you own maths before you reach for your wallet.
Shutterstock vs. iStock: Model continuity
Model continuity was a major plus point for Shutterstock 6 years ago. Often in a presentation, when trying to tell a visual story with lots of relevant images, our designers want photos that work well as a sequence. A doctor with a patient, then the same patient in bed, then the patient now back at home with family. A businesswoman in a meeting, then in a car, then in a restaurant with friends. Finding the right images for that sort of sequence was hard with iStock, but easy with Shutterstock’s ‘Same Model’ feature. Well, that’s still the case!
Searching for ‘woman in hospital’ on Shutterstock then choosing an image and clicking ‘Same model’ brings up lots of images of the same person in different scenarios: in hospital, talking to a doctor, on holiday, with a partner. This means that we can easily use Shutterstock photos in presentations to tell stories.
With iStock you have the option to view the whole series of pictures, which is useful, but not to see more images of the same model. Shutterstock still has the upper hand in model continuity.
A few years ago, we were waxing lyrical about how Shutterstock lab’s Spectrum feature helped us find images in certain colours. This feature has now been added to Shutterstock’s main search functions. And it’s still great. Want an office but with blue accents?
Or maybe pink is more your style?
This feature is helpful as it can help you fit images to brand guidelines or a design scheme.
With iStock you can filter by colour, but the filter is too precise – it feels like a game of Battleships… You select 6eb342, hit apply, and the top images are often odd because it looks for that specific colour, rather than ‘green’ more generally.
Corporate vs. lifestyle: Image selection
In many ways the image selection these two stock photography sites offer is similar. Shutterstock has a larger volume of images which means there is more choice, but you often have to do more digging to find what you want. Our designers find that Shutterstock images tend to be more traditionally corporate – which could be great if that’s what you’re looking for. Shutterstock is also helpful when you need quite specific photography, like product images.
iStock, on the other hand, has much nicer lifestyle images, particularly if you’re browsing the Signature collection. This collection contains more natural scenes that are not over edited and cover general themes like family, outdoor activities, friendship etc.
Top tip: If your searches are bringing up the same results again and again, both Shutterstock and iStock have an option to have the newest content appear at the top of your search – you can see this in the screenshots below. This feature is great if you’re making lots of decks on similar topics, but you don’t want repetitive visuals.
Shutterstock is generally our go-to for vectors – though this may be through force of habit! We like their huge selection and find it easy to get our hands on exactly what we need. Check out this video browsing iStock and Shutterstock’s vector offerings.
One small niggle is that there is no easy way of reporting poor quality vectors. Though the vectors are meant to be vetted, the quality is occasionally less than we’d expect.
Where to get free stock images?
If neither Shutterstock nor iStock are right for you, or you don’t have the budget to subscribe to their services, then there are plenty of free options out there. Here are a few we’d recommend:
Pexels – Free stock photos and videos from lots of creators in various styles.
Unsplash – A BrightCarbon favourite, lots of free, beautiful imagery, organised into collections.
Moose – Stock photos that ‘go together’. You can filter based on model attributes e.g. age, hair, gender, body type and more.
Freestock – A charming collection of fresh stock photography created by a small team of photographers in their spare time. Images are usually part of series so you can use several to help tell a story.
New Old Stock – This site won’t be for everyone but it’s super fun to browse through! A collection of vintage photos from public archives that have no copyright restrictions.
Freepik – A bunch of free vectors, images and icons from a range of categories – great resource for icons.
Icons8 – Another good resource for free icons, helpfully organised into 32 styles so you can keep your presentations consistent.
So, that’s our 2019 round up of Shutterstock vs iStock. Both stock image websites have pro and cons, and we use them both regularly to support effective storytelling and create beautiful slides. What stock imagery websites are your favourites? Let us know in the comments below!Leave a comment
Principal design consultantView Vincent Thompson's profile
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