Am I qualified to write this post?
I spent the better half of my life learning about photography, and that includes stock photography. I tested, reviewed, or used every major stock photo site, including Shutterstock and Adobe Stock. Here are all the best stock photo sites.
Based on my in-depth research and experience:
- Adobe Stock is better for designers using Adobe apps (Adobe Premiere, Photoshop, etc.) within which you can access stock images for free. You only pay for the images you use on export.
- Shutterstock is better for businesses and individuals who are only interested in downloading stock photos because it’s cheaper ($0.22/photo) than Adobe Stock ($0.26/photo).
I recommend the following buying options (and free trials):
Let’s get right into it:
- Is Shutterstock better than Adobe Stock?
- Is Adobe Stock better than Shutterstock?
- Contributor programs
Shutterstock vs Adobe Stock: Summary
Let’s look at the key differences between Shutterstock and Adobe Stick first.
|Number of images||360 million||200 million|
|Subscription pricing (per image)||$0.22/image||$0.26/image|
|Subscription plans size||10, 40, 350, 750||3/10, 40, 350, 750|
|On-demand price (per image)||$9.16—$14.50||$8.00—$9.99|
|On-demand number of images||2, 5, 25||5, 16, 40, 80, 150|
|Free trial||Yes (10 images)||Yes (10 or 40 images)|
|Additional features||Built-in photo editor||Creative Cloud integration|
Both Shutterstock and Adobe Stock are royalty-free stock photo agencies that sell photos, illustrations, videos, and audio files with subscription plans and on-demand with credits or cash.
The key advantage of Shutterstock over Adobe Stock is in the number of images which is 1.5x higher than at Adobe Stock. Additionally, Shutterstock’s subscription plans are cheaper than Adobe Stock’s, whereas Adobe Stock is cheaper for on-demand purchases.
Another key advantage of Shutterstock is the promo codes. Shutterstock always offers at least a 15% discount, while Adobe Stock does not.
Both agencies offer equal free trials of 10 photos for 1 month with their subscription plans.
In short, Adobe Stock is better for Creative Cloud users because it provides a smoother workflow thanks to its easy integration into Creative Cloud apps. However, Shutterstock is less expensive and has a larger collection of stock images, so it’s better for those who need only stock images.
Is Shutterstock better than Adobe Stock?
Shutterstock (review) is a royalty-free stock photo agency that sells images, videos, and music. Having more than two decades of success, Shutterstock is a reputable company that has partnered with several other high-profile corporations (Google, AMC, BBDO, BuzzFeed, Marvel) over the years.
Shutterstock beats Adobe Stock in sheer numbers – its collection of over 360+ million stock content is on average available at a lower price than at Adobe Stock. However, there’s a downside to Shutterstock. On review websites, such as Trustpilot, Shutterstock has many poor reviews, mostly about its subscription plan payments.
I addressed these reviews in my Shutterstock review. I looked at the issues posted by dissatisfied customers, but I concluded that Shutterstock was not to blame. Furthermore, Shutterstock clearly states in terms of the free trial that the payment for the subscription plan occurs 4 days in advance. And that caught several people off-guard.
Therefore, I strongly believe that Shutterstock is 100% safe and not a scam.
Is Adobe Stock better than Shutterstock?
Adobe Stock (review) is a royalty-free stock photo agency owned by a well-known software giant Adobe, the developer of Photoshop, Lightroom, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Effects, and other creative apps. Adobe is also the owner of the Creative Cloud platform, which is the source of all the apps. While it might not seem as much at first, this is crucial for every designer using Adobe’s apps.
Adobe Stock is the best suitable for anyone using Adobe apps because it offers invaluable integration of stock image library into those apps via Creative Cloud.
What does this mean? When you’re working on a design, you can import a stock image into the app without purchasing it, and only when you’re done with the project, you pay for the images you used.
Why would anyone want this? Using this feature of Adobe Stock, you have room for trial and error without losing money. This way, you can discard images that you don’t like and get new ones without paying a dime. In contrast, other stock photo sites might want you to purchase the image first, and if it doesn’t fit your design, you cannot refund it.
Pricing: Shutterstock vs Adobe Stock
Shutterstock and Adobe Stock sell stock images with subscription plans (cheaper) and on-demand (more flexible, more expensive).
In short, Shutterstock prices are lower than Adobe Stock prices. The prices of the royalty-free license start at $0.22 at Shutterstock and $0.26 at Adobe Stock. And although Shutterstock is cheaper, the difference isn’t that significant.
Subscription plans are, in general, more cost-efficient than on-demand packs, meaning a lower price per image. However, you have to commit to an annual contract with the most monthly downloads to get the best prices.
Therefore, it’s up to you to consider your image needs before jumping straight to the most inexpensive option. After all, if you won’t use all monthly downloads, it’s better to purchase a smaller subscription plan.
Shutterstock Subscription Pricing
Shutterstock offers subscription plans of 10, 50, 350, or 750 monthly images that you can buy for each month separately (monthly plans), or you can commit for an entire year (annual plans). Additionally, Shutterstock gives you an option to prepay for a whole year, giving you an additional 23% discount.
As a general rule of thumb: the larger the plan, the lower the cost per image.
You should also note that monthly plans are significantly more expensive than the annual and prepaid annual plans.
|Plan size||Monthly||Annual||Annual (prepaid)|
Adobe Stock Subscription Pricing
Uncoincidentally, Adobe Stock offers subscription plans of similar size and price. You can choose between monthly plans of 3, 40, 350, or 750 assets (downloads) per month or annual plans of 10, 40, 350, or 750 assets per month.
|3 or 10 images||$29.99||$29.99|
What does “3 or 10 images” mean in the first row? With the monthly plan, you get 3 images for $29.99, whereas the annual gets you 10 images for the same price.
Verdict – Winner: Shutterstock
Shutterstock offers cheaper stock photos with its annual prepaid plans that Adobe Stock cannot beat. What is more, for almost the same price, $82 vs $79.99, Shutterstock gives you 50 images, whereas Adobe Stock gives you 40.
If you don’t like being bound to a contract, you can purchase photos on-demand at both Shutterstock and Adobe Stock.
Generally, this option is a lot more expensive than subscription plans, but it offers more flexibility and requires no commitment. What is more, Enhanced or Extended licenses can only be bought on-demand, with either cash or credits.
Shutterstock On-demand Pricing
Shutterstock offers 3 on-demand packs of 2, 5, or 25 images priced according to the license. For a Standard license (royalty-free) the on-demand packs cost $29, $49, and $229, while for an Enhanced license (extended license) they cost $199, $499, and $1,999, consecutively.
|Pack size||Standard license||Enhanced License|
The cheapest on-demand Standard license images cost $9.16/image with Shutterstock’s largest plan of 25 images. Purchasing the smallest plan will result in a $14.50/image.
An Enhanced license is far more comprehensive than the Standard license, but it also costs more. Enhanced license images cost $67.69/image with the largest on-demand pack.
Adobe Stock On-demand Pricing
Adobe Stock’s on-demand pricing is slightly more intricate because you need to purchase credits first, which you use to purchase stock photos, videos, templates, and premium 3D items.
Let’s first look at the price of credit packs:
But to figure out exactly how much you’re going to for a photo, you need to know how many credits they’re going to cost you.
- Standard photos: 1 credit
- Videos (HD, 4K): 8-20 Credits
- Premium images (photos, vectors, illustrations): 12-50 Credits
- Premium templates (Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign): 2-4 Credits
- Premium 3D (Models, Lights, Materials): 2-10 Credits
This results in you paying between $8.00-$9.99 per image, based on which credit pack you choose.
Verdict – It’s a tie
Shutterstock’s on-demand images cost from $9.16-$14.50, and Adobe Stock’s between $8.00-$9.99. Shutterstock’s on-demand pricing is easier to understand, while Adobe is more adaptable because credits allow you to purchase anything.
Contributor program comparison
Shutterstock and Adobe Stock both run profitable contributor programs with completely different payout systems. So, should you choose Shutterstock or Adobe Stock for selling your photos online?
Shutterstock contributor pays based on how many images you have sold in the current calendar year. The commissions max out at 25,000+ downloads that yield 40% earnings.
|Image levels||Image licenses||You earn|
|Level 1||< 100||15%|
The worst part about the Shutterstock contributor program is that it resets your level to Level 1 every year on January 1st.
To me, it seems completely unreasonable, and it’s a huge turn-off for many photographers. However, due to the size of Shutterstock, it’s still the main source of income for stock photographers.
Become a Shutterstock contributor.
Adobe Stock Contributor
In contrast, Adobe Stock contributor pays based on a plan a customer was using when they purchased a license.
In short, you get 33% royalties for images and 35% royalties for videos. However, the minimum payouts improve with the number of downloads, maxing out at 10,000+ downloads and $0.38 commission.
Additionally, Adobe Stock runs a Bonus program. If you’re an active and successful contributor, you can get free access to Adobe Creative Cloud assets.
- 150-4,999 downloads: You can choose a one-year plan of either Creative Cloud Photography (20GB), Illustrator, InDesign, Premiere Pro, or After Effects.
- 5,000+ downloads: one-year access to Creative Cloud All Apps
Verdict – Use both
To summarize, you can make good money with both if you’re a regular contributor. With no significant upside to exclusive contributing, there’s no reason for you not to upload to both and maximize your earnings.
Also, having realistic expectations can save you from some disappointment and quitting early. I recommend you read my article about how much you can expect to earn with stock photography.
Trends: Shutterstock vs Adobe Stock
Data evidence and customer reviews indicate that Adobe Stock is quickly becoming Shutterstock’s most fierce competitor.
Now the question is, “Is Adobe Stock better than Shutterstock?”
I pulled data from Google Trends and analysed it in Excel for this comparison of trends.
The graph below represents fluctuations in the popularity of Shutterstock and Adobe Stock on Google over the last 5 years. Since Adobe Stock was founded in 2015, it doesn’t make sense to pull data any older than this.
From the graph “Shutterstock vs Adobe Stock Popularity”, a clear and steady increase in Adobe Stock popularity can be observed, while the popularity of Shutterstock has been slowly declining over the past 3 years, since the middle of 2017.
Every year around December, a sudden dip in popularity can be observed due to the holiday season. Over 2020, both stock agencies have seen a large decrease in popularity, which can be linked with the Coronavirus global epidemic that caused cut-backs of business expenditures and consequently lower demand for stock photos.
I used linear regression to extrapolate the date of when Adobe Stock will reach Shutterstock in popularity. If the trends continued in the same manner, Adobe Stock would become as popular as Shutterstock during the first half of 2026.
What is more, when I limited the search to the United States only, Adobe Stock has already passed Shutterstock for the first time in March of 2020. Refer to the graph below.
What does this mean for Shutterstock and Adobe Stock? Adobe Stock has been gaining popularity due to its innovation in the stock photo world, such as integrating its stock library into Creative Cloud, an incredibly attractive feature for all designers.
On the other hand, Shutterstock has slowly drowned in poor reviews while sitting on the long-lost throne.
This is my take on the data provided. Now, I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments below.
Conclusion: Shutterstock vs Adobe Stock
Shutterstock is a giant in stock photography that has slowly lost in popularity, while Adobe Stock caught up to it in just 5 years. While both stock photo agencies offer images for just a few cents, Adobe Stock has been innovating, and it’s paying off! I recommend Adobe Stock.
- Shutterstock is the best for people who want a great variety of stock photos for a decently low price. With 360+ million images in the library, Shutterstock can supercharge any business. Examples: businesses, bloggers, individuals. Try Shutterstock »
- Adobe Stock is the best for people who will benefit from its integration into the Adobe Creative Cloud. This includes artists, designers, and basically anyone who uses Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe apps. Examples: artists, designers. Try Adobe Stock »
So, I recommend you give each agency a try with a free trial. You’ve got nothing to lose. And if you like any of them, subscription plans are affordable for anyone.