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http://www.photobuyerguide.comAll of the most frequently asked questions and answers about buying royalty free images on microstocks

Frequently Asked Questions About Buying Images on Microstocks

Feb 01/10, 12:40   

General Questions

1. What are microstocks?

Microstocks are websites selling millions of high-quality licensed images. "Micro" means micropayments, because all images cost very cheap. Such microstocks are often called as stock photo agencies, photo stocks, photo banks. Examples: Shutterstock, iStockphoto, Fotolia, Dreamstime, 123RF, Bigstock, Depositphotos.

2. What can I buy on the microstocks?

You can buy photos, raster drawings, vector illustrations. Some of the stock agencies are also selling audio, video and flash. Stock content topics catch everything: people, animals, landscapes, architecture, objects, equipment, medicine, meal, work, rest, holidays, metaphors, concepts and so on.

3. What are the prices set on the microstocks?

Extremely low. In most of cases you can buy a picture for $1, and if you purchase many pictures at once, then the cost will be about 10 to 60 cents.

4. Why is it so cheap?

Each image is sold many times to many buyers. Having sold one picture one hundred times for $1 each, the microstock earns $100. And some images are purchased tens thousands times! Thus photo stocks earn their big money on the large number of small sales.

5. How many images are stored in the microstock's database?

Each of microstocks, described on, has several millions images, 2 to 12 mln.

6. Where do these microstocks get their content from?

It's hundreds of thousands of photographers, artists and illustrators from all over the world who provide their content. They get their small royalty for each of the work, sold on the microstock. Many of authors earn several thousand dollars each month.

7. The microstocks sell the same images or each of them has their own base of different images?

Most of content providers collaborate with several microstocks at the same time. So basically almost all the content on all microstocks is the same. However, each stock photo agency has its own store of exclusive works, which their competitors do not have. For example, iStockphoto offers hundreds of thousands of unique and exclusive photos and illustrations.

8. Who can buy images on microstocks?

Anybody who has Internet access can purchase a picture on the microstocks.

9. How to pay for the purchase?

You can do it with your credit card or via PayPal. Stock photo agencies also accepts bank transfers, checks and so on.

10. Where I can use images purchased on microstocks?

In your blogs, on sites, in magazines, journals, books, brochures, calendars, cards, presentations, reports, advertising banners, while interior decoration, on product packages, on cups, T-shirts, CD-covers... Wherever you want! The only requirement is you should follow the conditions of the purchased image license.

11. Are there any restrictions on microstock's image using?

Yes, there are some. Each microstock has his own conditions. Usually it is prohibited to use images in cigarettes & alcohol advertisements, drug ads, political ads, erotic and porno materials, in social problem discussing publications (about illnesses and drug addiction) and in other context, where a picture on the image purchased will be displayed in disadvantageous sense. You can see detailed conditions and requirements on the photo stock's license agreement page.

12. How long do the buyer keeps his rights on using the picture purchased?

Having paid once, you can use an image without time limits.

13. How many times can I use an image purchased?

Some stock photo agencies allow using an image purchased without restriction by number of copies. Other ones assign a limit at 250 to 500 thousands printed copies for each license (if it is about printed editions). After the license is expired you can purchase one more, on the same conditions. Sometimes restrictions are stronger — up to 10 thousands copies for each license. You can take acquaintance with photo stock's conditions on the description page of each of the services or in our comparative table.

14. If I buy a picture on the microstock, will I be a unique exclusive owner of this image?

No, this picture can be purchased by other people as well.

What is…

1. What is royalty free?

Images on the microstocks are being sold as royalty free. It means that you pay once while purchasing, without paying any additional royalty charges in the future. However, you may not to indicate yourself as an author of the image purchased by royalty free.

2. What is license on image using?

It is a kind of agreement between microstock and buyer which determines royalty free image purchasing conditions. In the license it is strictly indicated in which cases you may use this image and in which you may not. There are two types of license available — standard and extended ones.

3. What is standard license?

Standard license enables you to use a royalty free image in all cases, except for production intended for resale. But if you need a picture for your site or blog, for your book or brochure, for presentation or report, for an advertising or corporative poster, then the standard license would be your choice. Minimal image cost by the standard license is approximately $1 for single purchases and 20 to 60 cents while batch purchasing by subscription.

4. What is extended license?

This license is needed if you want to buy a royalty free image and use it on derivative goods for resale, and where the picture purchased will be the main or important value. For example if image is printed on T-shirts, which will be sold to many people. Also the extended license may be needed for printing a picture in very large number of copies (more then 250 to 500 thousands copies). Minimal extended license cost is approximately $10 per image, and in average it is approximately $40 to $100 per one license.

5. What is derivative good intended for resale?

It is production, manufactured using image purchased on microstocks, where this royalty free image is printed on and which are bought exactly because of this image. For example, T-shirts, cups or postcards. For derivative goods intended for resale a picture is the key value.

Templates for websites, business cards, software design are also derivative goods, intended for resale. If you use an image for the web-design for one client only, you can purchase it by standard license. But if you develop a design template and then sale it to numerous clients, then such a template is considered as derived good for multiple resale, and thus you should purchase it by extended license.

Note! Although magazines and books are sold for many people, while using an image from microstocks, they are NOT considered as derivative goods for resale and in most of cases do not need extended license.

6. What is single (one-time) purchase?

It is the system of content sale on microstocks, when you can buy any number of pictures — either one, two or twenty. You refill your account on the microstock and spend it on demand during the year, paying separately for each image. If you do not buy pictures then your money on the microstock's account are not spent. Minimal single-purchased image cost is in average $1 (for low resolution pictures).

Single purchases are the best choice for those who need to buy a small number of images from time to time.

7. What is subscription?

It is the way of content sale on microstocks when you pay fixed fee per month and then you get an access for downloading a large number of high resolution pictures daily — 5, 25 or even 250 pictures. Images by subscription are much cheaper than by single purchase. As example you pay $250 per month and you can download 25 images per day or 750 pictures per month. One high resolution image thus costs just $0.33. Monthly fee is paid each day regardless of either you do download pictures or not.

Subscription is an ideal choice for those who needs large number of images regularly.

8. What are the credits and what are they for?

It is internal currency of some microstocks. If microstock uses credits for payment, then you refill your account and get an equivalent of the amount paid in credits. One credit can be either equal to one dollar or more/less.

More money you refill your account for, cheaper are credits for you. Images are assessed in credits. Usually the smallest price is one credit. Let's look on some examples:

1) You have bought credits for $10 and one credit for you costs $1.50. Then one image costs for you $1.50

2) You have bought credits for $25 and one credit for you costs $1. Then one image costs for you $1.

3) You have bought credits for $100 and one credit for you costs $0.90. Then the same image costs for you $0.90.

9. What is minimal amount to refill an account?

Each microstock has a minimal amount accepted to client's account. Usually it is $10-$20. Refill your account on the stock photo agency and you can spend this money on any image purchasing. If you want to buy one photo per one dollar, you still should refill your account with minimal amount accepted by the stock service. All money remaining will not be lost, it will be stored on your account, and you will buy more images when you will need them.

10. What are images for editorial use only?

These are images that can be used only for illustrating non-advertising materials in press or electronic editions. Usually such pictures are used in news. Read more about images for editorial use in our special blog post.

May I...

1. I have purchased an image on the microstock. May I use it as I want and even resell it to other people or share by torrents?

No, you may not resell this royalty free image or share it for free with other people. It is the basic, but not the only restriction that microstock puts on image usage rights. You can become acquainted with the full list of restrictions in the license agreement for image purchased on one or another microstock. Just note that this restriction list basically is almost the same for all microstocks.

2. I am designer. May I buy images on microstock by standard license, use them in my work and then sell these works to my client?

Yes, you may. But only if you sell one work to one client and you do not place it for multiple resale as a template. And if you do resale your works as templates, then you need to buy images by extended license.

3. I manufacture and sell T-shirts, cups, greeting cards and posters with nice pictures. May I use for it images purchased on the microstock by standard license?

No, you may not. To be authorized to print images on T-shirts, cups and other derivative goods, intended for resale, and where these pictures are the main value, then you should purchase images by extended license.

4. I paid monthly subscription. May I download images by extended license?

No, extended license is usually available for single purchases only. The only exception is large subscription packages on the iStockphoto.

5. I am photographer/artist. May I sell my works through microstocks?

Yes, of course you may. Read more details about it in the special section of

6. I've read all questions and answers, but I still did not find an answer to my question. May I ask it personally?

Of course you may. Feel free to contact us at We will do our best to answer quickly.

F.A.Q. Topics

Shutterstock reviewiStockphoto reviewFotolia reviewDreamstime review123RF reviewBigstock reviewDepositphotos review