Creative endeavors can be fun, but they can also involve more time and stress than the creator anticipates. Luckily, the internet provides many stock media databases to alleviate some of the difficulties of the creative process.
Stock media are generic art forms like photos, illustrations, drawings, video clips, audio clips and fonts that are sold to help complete creative projects. They can be used for branding, advertising, site development, web design, commercials, packaging and complementing other forms of content. Some media usage is restricted according to the type of license they carry, so it’s best to have some understanding of licensing before you start your search.
Rights and Royalties
There are two main licenses in stock media: rights-managed and royalty-free.
Rights-managed licenses allow the purchaser a one-time use; if multiple use is desired, multiple licenses must be purchased. Rights-managed licenses can also be exclusive, meaning the buyer has the exclusive right to use the media for a specified length of time.
Royalty-free licenses have little to no restrictions on usage. After a one-time payment, the buyer has the right to use the media in multiple projects. Unlike rights-managed licenses, royalty-free licenses cannot be exclusive.
Another type of royalty-free licensing known as “microstock” is offered mainly via the internet from amateur and emerging artists at relatively low rates.
When browsing the following list, keep in mind that some sites offer multiple forms of stock media. But rather than focusing on sites that offer wide-ranging media (like Pond 5), this article highlights those that specialize in their respective categories.
Public Domain and Creative Commons
Many stock photos and videos can be used for free via Public Domain or certain Creative Commons licenses.
Works in the Public Domain have intellectual property (IP) rights that have expired, been forfeited or are inapplicable. Because the majority of Public Domain media have expired IP rights, they are typically vintage footage and images, which can be useful in some projects. However, the U.S. Government also produces newer media that is available via Public Domain.
Creative Commons, on the other hand, issues different licenses, some of which allow for free use. Keep in mind, however, that not all Creative Commons media are for free use (and some require attribution), so be sure to know the type of license the media has before using it.
Resources for Public Domain and Creative Commons media include:
- The Library of Congress’s large database of Public Domain media
- Public Domain Sherpa’s list of stock photo sources
- Internet Archive’s film database
Getty Images is one of the largest and best-known stock media agencies in the world. It houses over 80 million images and illustrations and 50,000 hours of film footage. It also offers stock audio, music and sound effects.
The site offers both royalty-free and rights-managed media, available to either download directly from their site or via a CD-ROM.
Image costs vary according to resolution, types of rights and usage.
Another well-known agency, Corbis Images has a collection of over 100 million images, and their subsidiary, Corbis Motion, is home to over 800,000 video clips. Corbis offers creative and editorial media, historical photography as well as art and illustrations.
Like Getty Images, Corbis features both royalty-free and rights-managed media, the price of which varies according to size, quality, types of license and usage.
Corbis also has a low-cost subsidiary, Veer, which licenses relatively inexpensive crowd-sourced stock media, including images, videos, fonts and illustrations.
Another major player in stock photos, AP Images (owned by Associated Press) boasts “the world’s largest collections of historical and contemporary photographs.” Known mostly for its editorial and journalism media, AP’s image categories include breaking news, sports, business, entertainment, weather, fashion, travel and more.
Customers can purchase royalty-free, rights-managed or microstock images individually or as part of one of their subscription services.
iStockPhoto distributes royalty-free international microstock photography via a micropayment business model.
Contributors are users that apply online and are put through various tests to assure quality of work. Submitted images are then prescreened for quality, usefulness and trademark and copyright laws before becoming available to clients. In addition to images, iStockPhoto also offers illustrations, videos and audio.
Depending on size and image collection, pricing ranges from $0.95 to $200 for royalty-free stock images.
Shutterstock is another royalty-free microstock site that’s home to over 29 million stock images, with over 100,000 new images uploaded every week.
Like iStockPhoto, media are submitted by users and prescreened before becoming available to clients. Clients can then browse the library for free before downloading individual media or purchasing through one of their subscription services.
Images can be purchased in packs of two that start at $29, packs of 25 at $229 or through subscriptions that start at $199 per month.
In addition to images, Shutterstock also offers stock vector graphics and video footage.
Morgue File: Offers free images in exchange for photographer bylines.
Free Digital Photos: Offers small-sized, free images and illustrations for business, personal, charitable or educational use in exchange for photographer bylines. For clients looking for larger images without bylines, they can be purchased for a relatively small fee.
Freerange Stock: Ad-revenue site that offers high-quality images for free.
Stock Video Footage
BBC Motion Gallery
BBC Motion Gallery offers access to content falling under a wide variety of categories, including natural history, wildlife, news, locations, art, music, celebrities, culture and performing arts.
The site also offers footage from broadcasters Discovery, PBS, CBS News, NHK, CCTV, ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), National Geographic, HBO, Paramount, Sony and the Smithsonian Channel. Of course, it’s also home to over a million hours of BBC footage, accessible through its easy-to-use BBC Archive.
BBC’s database of royalty-free footage also includes short programs, mobile content and custom research.
StockFootage.com started as a project of cinematographers, colorists and VFX artists to shoot footage in fascinating and hard-to-reach destinations around the world. The result was a database of 50,000 digital assets, including ultra-HD, 4K, time-lapse and slow-motion footage.
StockFootage’s assets include footage from the Americas, Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe. The team also worked with U.S. Military Special Forces to shoot footage of explosions, gunfire and several military vehicles. The site’s simplified interface is categorized according to place, type of person (i.e. “mother,” “military,” etc.) and thing (i.e. “explosion,” “time-lapse,” etc.).
StockFootage.com offers both royalty-free and rights-managed media. Pricing varies according to type of asset and style of footage.
Video Hive is an online marketplace for microstock video footage and other media. In addition to video footage, users can buy and sell royalty-free Apple Motion files, After Effects Project files, Cinema 4D templates and motion graphics that start at $1 apiece.
Video Hive boasts over 58,000 video files, over 4 million marketplace items and over 2 million members. The site also has a useful online community that allows you to interact with contributors, observe contributors’ portfolios and request specialized media.
X Stock Video: Offers web-resolution and HD-resolution footage that is free of charge as long as the assets are being used in a free-to-view video project. Footage can be used in commercial projects for a small fee.
Videvo: Offers free stock video and motion graphics that can be used in any project. Most assets carry Creative Commons licenses and, as such, may require videographer bylines.
The iSpot is marketed as an online hub for professional illustrators to display and sell their stock or custom work to clients. Clients can search the database by keywords or by seller portfolio and either purchase rights-managed illustrations or arrange direct assignments.
Online pricing tools allow for immediate licensing and hi-resolution downloads of stock media. For more complicated, custom assignments, clients can contact the artist or his/her representative directly to field requests. They can also call 1-800-838-9199 to speak with an iSpot customer rep; the rep will then intermediate an arrangement between the client and the seller based on client preferences and seller work.
Pricing is set by the illustrators and fluctuates according to experience, scale of work and usage.
The Illustration Source provides high-quality illustration collections marketed worldwide for advertising, corporate and publishing work.
Illustration Source also offers commissioned, custom images through their online agency, Original Art Studios. Original Art Studios is a collection of Illustration Source’s top artists that specialize in brand building. Bios and portfolios of 13 handpicked and established illustrators can be browsed, allowing the client to easily identify the style best-suited for his/her campaign.
All media on Illustration Source are rights-managed, and as such, pricing fluctuates greatly.
Laughing Stock offers rights-managed stock illustration, animation and custom assignments from a roster of over 150 illustrators. The site caters to creative professionals in the publishing, advertising, corporate and new media industries.
Portfolio searches can be performed to find the ideal image or to find an artist the client wishes to commission. Commissioned artists can create campaigns or one-off works, even packaging and lettering.
For purchases of stock media, an easy-to-use pricing calculator is available for immediate licensing and image downloading.
Whereas the illustration agencies highlighted above feature rights-managed work, Image Zoo specializes in royalty-free illustration services. Its online database has thousands of illustrations; it also offers categorized virtual CD collections filled with royalty-free illustrations.
On top of that, the site features Image Zoo Surface, a showcase for its “more decorative side,” and offers “custom stock” services for commissioned, customized projects.
Whereas the other sites provide a general array of styles, Illustration Works prides itself on its edgy imagery. The agency features stock work from over 300 international illustrators as well as custom illustrations. Categorized, royalty-free CDs are also available on the site.
Illustration Works takes pride in being a small, independent agency and encourages the fostering of personal relationships with its clients by offering free research help over the phone or via email.
Watermarked rights-managed and royalty-free illustrations are free to download and use for pitches and proposals. Free estimates are also offered.
MyFonts.com offers over 110,000 fonts from over 1200 foundries.
The site features an easy-to-use interface and tools like “More Fonts Like This” and “What the Font.” “More Fonts Like This” allows users to find related fonts by using a particular font as a starting point, and “What the Font” allows users to upload fonts for instant, automated identification. It is also home to a forum with experts ready to help.
While pricing varies according to package, MyFonts.com has a “Special Offers” section that features packages for as little as two dollars.
The first font reseller in digital type, FontShop features over 150,000 stock fonts and offers free expert research for registered users. FontShop also features custom type that starts at $30 per weight for format conversions, $100 for a style linking of a four-weight family and $350 for logo fonts.
The site allows uploads from both major vendors and independent foundries, but all work is filtered vigorously before approved for sale.
While not housing as large a database as the aforementioned font agencies, YouWorkForThem has established itself by working with prominent clients such as Apple, Wieden+Kennedy, Nike and Coca Cola.
YouWorkForThem is home to over 23,000 top-quality fonts and over 45,000 stock illustrations, images and video.
While pricing varies, the site features a section showcasing free fonts for desktop and WebFont usage.
Open Font Library: Registered users can upload, download and share Open Fonts’ library of over 280 font families for free. Fonts can be used for any purpose, including commercial.
Font Squirrel: Another site that offers completely free font downloads. It also features easy-to-use filters and categories to aid font searches.
With over 600 sound-effects categories and subcategories, SFX Source is a well-respected stock audio library. The site also offers royalty-free music in multiple categories, including ambient, instrumental and rock.
SFX Source offers individual, royalty-free effects clips that start as low as $1.99 as well as categorized effects collections and monthly subscriptions. Royalty-free music tracks, loops and samples can also be purchased individually, as a collection CD or through subscriptions.
A database of microstock audio, Audio Jungle houses over 125,000 files that start at $1 apiece. It offers a wide-range of categorized music, sound effects, source files and specialty loops designed for branding.
Royalty-free files can be purchased individually or through packages.
Unlike other forms of stock media, there are many resources for free stock audio. The following sites are two of note:
Moby Gratis: Grammy-winning singer/songwriter/DJ Moby offers a catalog of 150 music tracks, including work from his previous albums. The tracks are free for film students, non-profit organizations and independent non-profit films. Tracks can be used commercially for a fee that is donated directly to the Humane Society.
Free Music Archive: Offers over 65,000 free and legal music tracks for download from the site or from a mobile app. The files carry varying types of Creative Commons licenses, so be sure to research the type of license before use.