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Best Stock Images? Shutterstock vs iStock by Getty Images

Jules Ribi, May 29, 2017

Yes, it's time for an Image Sourcing Showdown.

Picture it. You’re building the perfect website. You’ve picked an impeccable color scheme, finessed your SEO, and refined your buttons and calls-to-action. All that’s missing? The imagery that brings it all together.

If you can’t afford to pay a professional photographer and/or actors to capture the service or product you’re selling, where do you find suitable photos? You need ones that perfectly compliment your calls-to-action or contact page and bring your website to life.

If you’re anything like us, you’ll turn to a microstock website.

What is Microstock?

Microstock photography is a unique niche within the stock photography industry that has grown exponentially in the last decade. Microstock companies source their images almost exclusively through the internet, and accept images from a wide range of photographers.

Stock photography is no longer the sole domain of the professional photographer, either. Amateurs and hobbyists have gained their own space in the market through sites like Shutterstock and iStock by Getty Images.


Both of these companies allow you to source your images royalty-free, and at a bargain to boot!

The Top Dogs

Since iStockphoto was launched in Canada in 2000, a whole host of competitors have sprung up around the world. The most well known platforms? Shutterstock and iStock by Getty Images (the original iStockphoto was acquired by Getty Images in 2006).

These sites don’t carry images alone... They also offer video, audio, vectors, and even illustrations. It can be hard to figure out which will offer the right fit for you, so let’s take a look at what you need to make the best choice.

Image Sizing

Both Shutterstock and iStock by Getty Images offer different sizing options for image downloads:

While dpi (dots per inch) is an important measurement when it comes to print, the physical size of an image, in pixels, is what will matter most when choosing images for your website.

Higher ppi (pixels per inch) will result in a higher quality viewing experience, however neither Shutterstock or iStock by Getty Images offers ppi measurements as of yet. So you’ll need to rely on physical pixel measurements (ie. 800 pixels x 600 pixels).

Some things to consider:


Of the two sites, Shutterstock has the largest library, offering 90 million stock items, and adding new ones every week. Talk about a selection! This means that if you’re looking for variety, Shutterstock is for you.

However, Shutterstock doesn’t offer exclusive content, a niche iStock by Getty Images fills. What is exclusive content? These are photo collections that come from exclusive contributors.

Shutterstock’s images can be found and purchased on multiple microstock sites. And while iStock by Getty Images offers this type of imagery as well, they also curate specific high end collections that are only available through their site. The downside? Access to them will cost you money.


Both sites offer a variety of pricing options, so let’s compare the basic metrics: Single Image Purchases vs Yearly Subscriptions. 

Measuring Up

So which site fits your needs best?

If you’re looking for a few photos, iStock by Getty Images is probably the best choice. The credit system will allow you to choose from both their basic and exclusive content, and on a per image basis the cost will make less of a dent on your wallet. Just be aware that the selection might not be as large as you hoped.

If you think you’ll be downloading a wide variety of content, in large numbers, every month, Shutterstock is probably the way to go. They also offer an app for iPhone, iPad, and Android that allows you to search and download on the go. It's a nice bonus in our fast-paced world.

Once you have decided on your basic needs, there are tons of things you can do with your newly acquired visual content. Create an image sliderlightbox gallery, or make custom link buttons, to enhance your website!

Written by

Jules Ribi

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