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Everything you need to know about Shutterstock

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  • 9 min read

Photo: 360b /

Shutterstock is a global digital marketplace primarily known for stock photos, but it also offers vectors, videos, and music tracks. Launched in 2003, it serves as a platform where photographers, illustrators, videographers, and musicians can share and monetise their creative endeavours, while businesses, marketers, and individuals can purchase content for various projects.

It is an expansive marketplace for digital assets. Whether you’re a creator looking to monetise your work or someone needing quality assets for a project, Shutterstock offers a robust platform to cater to your needs. It garners attention from photographers, videographers, musicians and those searching for high-quality digital assets.

Here’s a closer look at Shutterstock, answering the following most frequently asked questions about the platform.

How does Shutterstock work?

Creators upload their work to Shutterstock’s platform. Each submission undergoes a rigorous review process to meet quality and content standards. Once approved, the asset becomes available for purchase.

Users can browse and download these assets, and every time an asset is sold, the contributor earns a royalty.

Shutterstock boasts over a billion assets, including over 300 million images from over a million contributors.

Is Shutterstock free?

While anyone can browse and search the vast library on Shutterstock for free, downloading content requires payment. There are various pricing models, ranging from single-image purchases to monthly and annual subscriptions for images, video, music or editorial content.

Downloading isn’t free.

Shutterstock has various subscription plans, including monthly all-in-one plans that allow the download of images, videos, music or standalone images, video or music packs, and on-demand or one-time packs where you can buy credits that last you an entire year — making things easier if you’re not looking for dozens of assets every month and only need a few for your use.

The downloads available under monthly subscriptions reset in each billing cycle.

How to sell photos on Shutterstock?

To sell photos, videos, music or vectors.

  • Sign up for a Shutterstock Contributor account.
  • Upload your high-quality images, videos, music or vectors.
  • Once approved, they will be available for purchase by Shutterstock users.
  • You earn a royalty every time one of your images is downloaded.

You can also refer new contributors or buyers to earn more.

Here are the contributor and submission guidelines that you should go through before creating an account to ensure you’re not doing anything wrong

How much does Shutterstock pay?

The amount Shutterstock pays its contributors varies based on several factors, including the number of licenses sold, the contributor’s lifetime earnings and the license type purchased by the buyer.

Contributors could earn anywhere from 15% to 40% of the sale price, but this can change. According to Shutterstock, they’ve paid contributors more than $1 billion since they began operating in 2003.

Here’s an earnings breakdown for photos, vectors and illustrations on Shutterstock.

Image LevelsImage licenses sold in current calendar yearEarning percentages
1Up to 10015%
6Over 2500040%

Here’s an earnings breakdown for videos on Shutterstock.

Video LevelsVideo licenses sold in current calendar yearEarning percentages
1Up to 1015%
6Over 2500040%

Shutterstock also pays a referral fee of $0.04 on images and 10% on videos when you successfully refer a contributor and their work is downloaded.

If you’re referring a buyer, you can earn up to 20% (up to US$200) on the first purchase via your link.

Can I use Shutterstock images for commercial use?

Yes, most Shutterstock images can be used commercially with the appropriate license. However, certain license types, like Editorial, will have limited or no commercial usage on offer with the license.

Standard vs Enhanced vs Premier license

The two primary license types on Shutterstock are Standard and Enhanced. While the standard license is good enough for creative and publishing needs, an enhanced license allows commercial usage, including on merchandise, web and print templates.

In addition, Shutterstock’s highest license level is Premier, which is suitable for enterprises. In addition to the things mentioned above, a Premier license also offers unlimited indemnification and third-party rights transferability, among other things. Visit Shutterstock’s comparison of their licenses here for more details.

Is Shutterstock safe?

Yes, Shutterstock is a reputable company with millions of users. They have stringent quality controls for uploaded content, ensuring their assets’ safety and quality.

Is Shutterstock copyright-free?

No, images on Shutterstock are not copyright-free; they are licensed. When you purchase an image, you’re buying a license to use the image, not the image’s copyright.

How long is Shutterstock’s free trial?

Shutterstock occasionally offers promotional free trials for new customers, and you can avail the free trial for yourself too. The free trial allows you to try the all-in-one plan for free, paying just $29/month after the trial ends.

Also, if you cancel in the 1st month and pay nothing — 10 downloads for absolutely nothing.

How much does Shutterstock cost?

The cost varies depending on the package or subscription you choose. They offer single-image purchases, bundled packages, and monthly subscriptions. You can also find Shutterstock discount coupons and promo codes here.

Their monthly subscriptions start from $49 per month for 10 image downloads, $359 per month for 10 video downloads and unlimited music downloads for $29 per month. Editorial images are available for $199 per image, and videos for $149 per video.

How to cancel a Shutterstock account?

To cancel your Shutterstock account, you will need to turn the auto-renewal off, or if you don’t see that option, follow our guide below.

Step 1: Click on your profile icon on the top-right.

Step 2: Click on Account Details.

Step 3: Click on Plans and then on Cancel Plan.

Confirm the cancellation, and you’ll be done. Your plan will be cancelled, and you won’t be further billed. You can continue downloading assets till the end of your current bill cycle.

While this works well for monthly (no-contract) plans, if you’ve got an annual commitment and wish to cancel before the 12-month period ends, you’ll need to pay the amount you’ve saved so far by subscribing to the annual plan, which is usually 40% cheaper than monthly plans.

Generally, Shutterstock doesn’t offer any refunds for purchases, except to EU customers, who are eligible for the first 14 days if no downloads or credits have been used. If the plan has been used, you’ll no longer be eligible for a refund.

Who owns Shutterstock?

Founded by entrepreneur Jon Oringer in 2003, Shutterstock went public in 2012. While Oringer remains a significant shareholder, the company has many shareholders due to its public status.

Can I use Shutterstock images on my website?

Yes, in most cases, you can use Shutterstock images on your website, however, attribution will be required for images marked for Editorial use only.

Is Shutterstock royalty-free?

Yes, most of the content on Shutterstock is sold under a royalty-free license, meaning you pay for the image once and can use it multiple times without paying additional fees.

Can I buy 1 Shutterstock image?

Yes, Shutterstock offers the option to purchase single images. However, it buying a single image might cost you significantly more. Instead, we’d recommend purchasing the two-image license pack for $29 from Shutterstock, which ensures you don’t pay more.

Can I modify Shutterstock images?

Yes, most licenses allow you to modify or adapt the image for your needs. However, the original image remains copyrighted.

  • Images marked with ‘Editorial use only’ can’t be heavily modified.
  • At the same time, vectors can be extensively modified.
  • Video clips can be incorporated into videos in any manner the buyer sees fit.
  • Basic edits such as start/stop/fade are permissible for music files. However, you cannot remix, mashup or incorporate the music into other songs.

Can I resell Shutterstock images?

No, you cannot resell images from Shutterstock. You’re purchasing a license to use the image, not the rights to the image itself. Unless, you’re on the enterprise plan, where you can transfer the rights to a third-party.

Shutterstock also offers API plans for developers to use Shutterstock images within their own apps or websites. Sites Wix and Google Ads leverage Shutterstock API.

Can I sell AI images on Shutterstock?

Shutterstock primarily focuses on human-created content. While Shutterstock has incorporated AI into their own platform, which helps people generate and license AI images, they do not allow direct upload of AI-generated content to their library to ensure no copyright or licensing issues arise in the future.

This article was created in collaboration with Shutterstock

CT Editorial Team

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