There comes a time when those of us that produce content on the web need to find some images.  Since we prefer to stay legal, we want royalty free images, and we want them quick and inexpensive.  There are some excellent sources for these sort of images so let’s look at how they stack up.

Royalty Free Images in a Nutshell

The free in royalty free images does not mean that these sites provide images without a cost.  There is going to be a charge of around a dollar per image.  However, the lack of worrying about royalties makes these sites a great source of visual content for your site, paper, or presentation.

As you will see, most of these companies offer thousands of images across hundreds or thousands of topics and keywords.  They come in all shapes and sizes so you should be able to find one to fit your needs fairly quickly.  In my experience, I can typically find a good picture, open it up in photoshop to resize and shrink it all within a few minutes.  I recommend taking that final step as many images are multiple megabytes in size and far beyond the recommended limit of under 100K.


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Dreamstime is an excellent resource for images that offers monthly subscriptions as well as download credits.  The download credits option is ideal for those starting out or building a website.  Bloggers and designers that need images on a regular basis should look into the subscriptions.  They are currently running a download five images in a week for five cents, so they are they best place to try out right now.

The credits can be an annoying method to use as all images are not a single credit.  Low quality and smaller images cost fewer credits, but good quality images can quickly eat up your quota.  Browse for some images first and look at the costs to ensure the full price of those images is understood.  Especially when buying more credits at a time has a lower cost per credit.  If you can buy on a quarterly or annual basis, you will get the best deal.



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Although I have used all of these services, Adobe’s is my current selection.  They offer a discount for members of the application subscription plan and allow roll over of unused images, so this is perfect for web designers and bloggers.  The application subscription allows full access to their dozens of applications including photoshop.  Members can download and install the applications locally.  This option is likely too expensive when starting out or occasional use, but is ideal for professionals.

The application subscription often has an introductory deal available for thirty dollars a month for the first year and then it goes up to about fifty per year after that.  Take advantage of discount pricing by adding the images subscription for thirty more per month instead of the standard fifty.  They also have a thirty day trial period so you can check it out.  They focus on downloads instead of credits, so that saves time figuring out whether you want the higher quality image or, the cheaper low-quality image.


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You have heard of Getty if you check out the fine print on pictures in magazines or the web.  The iStock site provides access to those images.  Thus, iStock is often the first place people look for pictures, and their subscription and pay-as-you-go plans are competitively priced.  It is hard to go wrong with this option as your source for royalty free images.

They offer high and low-quality image access at slightly different price levels.  Varying price levels can be a pain when you want a higher quality image.  However, since low quality works well for most needs, this is a good way to cut costs.  I regularly look at iStock as a possible alternative to the current Adobe approach as prices and plans fluctuate.

There is no need to use poor quality free images or pay outrageous royalty fees.  Try out these sites for a great solution that will make people ask how you managed to get such great images for your content.

Rob Broadhead

Rob is a founder of, and frequent contributor to, Develpreneur. This includes the Building Better Developers podcast. He is also a lifetime learner as a developer, designer, and manager of software solutions. Rob is the founder of RB Consulting and has managed to author a book about his family experiences and a few about becoming a better developer. In his free time, he stays busy raising five children (although they have grown into adults). When he has a chance to breathe, he is on the ice playing hockey to relax or working on his ballroom dance skills.

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