Adobe Stock vs iStock: Which is Better and Why?

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For anyone looking for premium stock imagery, then the two companies that you are likely to think of first are Getty Images (and their subsidiary iStock) and Adobe Stock.

Both offer a wide selection of imagery, with various types of licenses, and both have made a big impact in the stock photography world, allowing designers and creatives the ability to download millions of high-resolution, conceptual and editorial images.

Both Adobe Stock and iStock have their individual pros and cons, but which is going to be best for you and your needs?

This article covers the key differences and similarities of the two services, in the areas of image quality, ease of use, pricing, licensing options, and integrations with popular design software.

In brief, when comparing Adobe Stock vs iStock:

  • Adobe Stock is best suited for agencies and designers who need cheaper, royalty-free images and who primarily use Adobe products like Illustrator or Photoshop to create their designs.
  • iStock is for those who might want exclusive royalty-free images (that are not seen at other libraries), although the selection is less strong than with Adobe Stock.

adobe stock vs istock
Free Downloads for Lightroom and Ph...
Free Downloads for Lightroom and Photoshop

iStock vs Adobe Stock Comparison

The table below covers the major differences at a glance between iStock vs Adobe Stock. Following this, we then go in-depth to see what these differences look like in practice.

Comparison iStock Adobe Stock
Offers Royalty-Free Images?
Offers Extended / Enhanced License?
Offers Annual / Monthly Subscriptions?
Offers On-Demand Images?
No. of Downloads per Month (Subscription) 10; 25; 50; 750 3; 10; 40; 350; 750
No. of Downloads per On-Demand Pack 1; 3; 6; 12; 18; 24; 36; 60; 150; 300 5; 16; 40; 80; 150
Subscription Cost per Image $0.22 – $12.50 $0.26 – $9.99
On Demand Cost per Image $8.00 – $12.00 $8.00 – $9.99
Ease of Use Easy – integrates with Adobe Creative Cloud, Dropbox or Sketch, but has less powerful search filters Very easy – search within Adobe Creative Cloud or use smart filters on the site
Major Pros Browser-based editor; organizational boards; simple licensing structure Excellent integration with Photoshop & Illustrator; search functionality is very powerful; high quality images
Major Cons Lower quality of images; search is less powerful; editor is less powerful Slightly more expensive, particularly for lower volumes; License types and ‘assets’ terminology can be confusing
Ideal for Freelancers and individuals looking for best price on low numbers of images, or those wanting royalty-free images not at other libraries Designers and agencies looking for high quality, finished images, or those wanting ease of use
Free Trial None currently – but 15% off with code 15ISTOCK 10 or 40 Free Images

Integrations & Ease of Use

No matter how high quality an image library is, it must be easy to find the images that you need, and easy to get them into your editor of choice. As most designers use one of Adobe’s comprehensive Creative Cloud programs, Adobe Stock definitely has the edge here with very well made integrations.

Adobe Stock

Adobe Stock web search
Searching in a browser for Adobe Stock images
(Image Credit: Adobe)

Adobe Stock has a wealth of features to make finding your ideal image as easy and straightforward as possible, with a variety of smart filters clearly laid out when searching in your browser.

Adobe Stock filters
Filters when searching in Adobe Stock
(Image Credit: Adobe)

These filters are a particularly strong asset because they allow you to not only search for basics such as orientation, but allow you to apply smart filters such as searching by depth of field, dominant color, or the presence / absence of people. The Undiscovered Content filter shows you images that have never been downloaded, getting you access to the freshest imagery.

But you don’t only have to use your web browser to search Adobe Stock, it also integrates directly into your Creative Cloud apps, which is one of the most useful features of Adobe Stock, and the reason it is so popular among design professionals.

Adobe Stock integration with Photoshop
Adobe Stock integration with Photoshop
(Image Credit: Lapse of the Shutter)

In each of your Creative Cloud apps, you will find the libraries tab, which can be set to search Adobe Stock using keywords and filters. Images can then be dragged directly into your project as watermarked versions to create a mock-up of your design. When you are happy, you can apply an image credit and remove the watermark.

Watermarked Adobe Stock image in a design
Watermarked Adobe Stock image in a design
(Image Credit: Lapse of the Shutter)

This feature is without doubt one of the best, if not the outright best, stock image integrations around, and makes creating designs a breeze. If you at all value your time and use Adobe’s products, then this feature alone is enough to make Adobe Stock worthwhile.

Adobe Stock Logo

iStock

iStock search
Searching in iStock via the browser
(Image Credit: iStock)

iStock does integrate with Adobe Creative Cloud, but not as effectively as Adobe Stock. It does have a ‘Boards’ feature though, which allows you to group images together however you see fit, enabling you to create themes of images for later licensing.

What iStock does offer that is not found with Adobe is a broswer-based editor. This is very similar to that seen with Shutterstock, and allows you to make basic edits without needing a separate design program.

istock editor
The iStock editor
(Image Credit: iStock)

The browser-based search functionality is similar to that seen with Adobe Stock, but with more of an emphasis on person-related search terms, like ethnicity and age, and fewer related to the technical characteristics of the photo.

istock search filters
iStock search filters
(Image Credit: iStock)
iStock logo

Adobe Stock vs iStock Search Comparison

After extensively testing different search criteria such as keywords and filters, it’s clear that Adobe Stock offers more comprehensive results that are more closely related to the search intent.

iStock’s filters work well enough, although are far from perfect. It’s worth noting that iStock’s images do appear to be more slanted towards those containing people than Adobe Stock, meaning this could be a better option for those wanting people in typical stock situations, like using a computer or tablet.


Stock Photo Quality

New photos are being added to both libraries at a substantial rate, but it’s safe to say that they both have tens of millions of images to choose from.

Adobe Stock divides images into standard and premium images, which cost more per image, although it is not always totally clear which group a specific image falls into when you are searching.

adobe stock image types
Adobe Stock image types
(Image Credit: Adobe)

iStock has the same separation of image types and the same less-than-obvious method of showing you the type of the image that you are looking at.

istock image types
iStock image types
(Image Credit: iStock)

Running basic searches on both Adobe Stock and iStock, it’s clear that generally, image quality is higher on Adobe Stock, although iStock has more traditional ‘stock’ style images and more photos of people.

Adobe Stock is more suited to professional imagery and photos that really stand out from the crowd.

iStock is better suited to those who want to save a few cents per image and don’t mind that image quality is more along the lines of ‘typical stock’ photos.


Key Differences Between iStock and Adobe Stock

Let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of each service.

iStock logo

iStock

Pros

  • High quality images, although more typical ‘stock’ photos than Adobe
  • Some integration plug-ins available
  • Browser-based editor
  • Can pull images from other royalty-free libraries
  • Lower per-image price for lower volumes of images
  • Monthly credits roll-over forever if you log in at least once a year

Cons

  • Less powerful search features
  • Integration is less good with Adobe programs
Adobe Stock Logo

Adobe Stock

Pros

  • Very high quality images
  • More flexibility for subscriptions and on-demand pack sizes
  • Excellent search functionality with smart filters
  • Creative Cloud Integration, including Photoshop and Illustrator
  • Premium product ideal for those looking to minimize fuss
  • Rollover unused subscription image credits from month-to-month
  • Ability to download extra images on top of a monthly subscription for the same per image price

Cons

  • More expensive per image on the cheaper plans
  • More varieties of licensing can be confusing

Price Comparison

Both Adobe Stock and iStock offer two main ways to license images – monthly subscriptions or one-off credit packs. Monthly subscriptions work out cheaper, but can tie you into paying for an entire year, while credit packs offer you greater flexibility if you intend to download images less frequently, but at a higher per-image price.

It’s worth noting that premium images from iStock cost 3x as much as the prices listed below, with Adobe premium images as much as 12x more expensive.


Annual Subscriptions

Annual stock subscriptions are the cheapest way to get stock images, although these do tie you into a one-year contract. You get a set number of images per month that you can download, with both Adobe Stock and iStock allowing you to roll-over unused credits to the next month.

Adobe also allow you to purchase additional images above those of your monthly plan for the same per-image price as your plan is currently set.

iStock annual prices are about the equivalent of nine months of a rolling monthly subscription, with Adobe’s cost very similar.

The Adobe Stock cost per image ranges from $0.26 to $2.99 on the annual plan for standard images.

The iStock cost per image ranges from $0.22 to $2.90 on the annual plan for basic images.

Monthly Subscriptions

Monthly subscriptions are slightly higher than annual subscriptions in per-image prices, but offer the flexibility of no long term contract. They also offer much cheaper prices than on-demand credit packs.

You can roll-over unused credits, provided that you auto-renew each month.

The Adobe Stock monthly plan cost per image is $0.33 to $9.99 for standard images.

The iStock monthly plan cost per image is $0.27 to $4.00 for basic images.

Subscription Comparison iStock Adobe Stock
Annual Subscriptions
No. of Image Downloads per Month 10; 25; 50; 750 10; 40; 350; 750
Rollover Unused Images?
Can Buy Additional Images?
Cost per Image $0.22 – $2.90 $0.26 – $2.99
Total Cost (Annual) $348 – $1,992 $360 – $2,388
Monthly Subscriptions
No. of Image Downloads per Month 10; 25; 50; 750 3; 40; 350; 750
Rollover Unused Images?
Can Buy Additional Images?
Cost per Image $0.27 – $4.00 $0.33 – $9.99
Total Cost (Monthly) $40 – $199 $30 – $250
Free Trial None 10 or 40 Images

On-Demand Credit Packs

If you only need a handful of images at infrequent times, then the credit packs available for both services are ideal. Per-image costs are higher, but you get complete freedom and flexibility, with credits expiring after a year in Adobe’s case, or never for iStock, provided that you log in at least once a year.

Credits can be used for individual images or videos, unlike the subscriptions which are limited to images only. You can also use the credits for a mix of standard and premium images, with 1 credit licensing one standard image at iStock, and 3 credits licensing one premium photo.

On-Demand Comparison iStock Adobe Stock
No. of Image Downloads per Pack 1; 3; 6; 12; 18; 24; 36; 60; 150; 300 5; 16; 40; 80; 150
Credit Expiry Never (provided you log in once a year) One Year
Cost per Image $8.00 – $12.00 $8.00 – $9.99
Total Cost (Per Pack) $12 – $2,400 $50 – $1,200

Licenses Compared

Both Adobe Stock and iStock offer Standard and Extended licenses (with Adobe also offering Enhanced licenses).

Standard Licenses are the most commonly used, offering $10,000 of legal indemnity from both Adobe Stock and iStock, and giving you the ability to use the image for pretty much anything, with the exception of merchandise where the image itself is a key selling point.

Extended Licenses are broadly similar for both services, and allow you to use the image on a physical product with a print run greater than 500,000 units, and allow you to use the image as a key selling point of the product. An extended license costs 18 credits with iStock, in addition to the image price, which typically puts a price of around $150 on the license. Adobe Stock is slightly cheaper for their Extended license, at around $80 per image.

istock extended license
iStock extended license benefits
(Image Credit: iStock)

Adobe Stock or iStock: Which is Better?

iStock vs Adobe Stock iStock Adobe Stock
Royalty Free Images? Yes Yes
Available in: Subscriptions & On-Demand Packs Subscriptions & On-Demand Packs
Image Quality & Ease of Use 7/10 10/10
Cost per Image $0.22 – $12.50 $0.26 – $9.99
Free Trial None 10 or 40 Images

Choosing between iStock and Adobe Stock essentially comes down to whether you want higher quality images and a better Adobe Creative Cloud integration with Adobe Stock, or if you are looking for the occasional image for smaller projects with iStock.

Either one will serve you well, as long as you are clear on what you need from the service, with pricing in practice only differing by a few cents per image on most comparable plans.

I personally use Adobe Stock in my work, and prefer the more streamlined process to get my images into Photoshop, but the value of this for you will depend on your own workflow.

iStock logo
  • iStock is the best choice for freelancers and smaller businesses, and who might only need one or two images at a time, or are not heavy users of Adobe’s Creative Suite.
Adobe Stock Logo
  • Adobe Stock is best for designers and heavy users, particularly users of Illustrator and/or Photoshop, who can’t afford to waste their time searching through sub-par images.

Read More:

Adobe Stock Review

Shutterstock vs Adobe Stock

Shutterstock vs iStock

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Follow Tim Daniels:

Hi, I'm Tim Daniels, photographer and photo trainer, founder of Lapse of the Shutter and creator of the totally free Lightroom Develop System. I've travelled to (probably) 30 countries over the last few years, taking photos and licensing them around the world, and creating lots of free photography learning resources. Read More ...

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