Stock Art 101

Stock art can be a lifesaver if you ever find yourself needing to add photos to a brochure, but lacking the budget to arrange a professional photo shoot. As the Web has grown, so have the number of stock art websites, so marketers have a wealth of choices when they are seeking art to enhance a marketing piece. But, there are limits to stock art. The article below answers a few of the most common questions we receive about stock art.

What is stock art?

Stock art is best defined as existing photos or illustrations that can be purchased by individuals. Prior to the Internet, when an agency or company needed to find a “stock art” image, they had to pore over books of photos, choose an image and then obtain the photos via original slides — with hefty financial penalties if you lost the slide. Now, stock art companies like iStockPhoto, Jupiter Images, AbleStock and Corbis offer websites that can be used to research and locate photos that meet specific marketing needs.

Are there different types of stock art?

There are two basic types of stock art that are available for purchase: royalty-free and rights-managed. Royalty-free art means that you can purchase the image and the ability to use the image - in ways spelled out by the image's contract - without paying royalties to the photographer or artist. Usually the contracts that accompany the art will allow you to use the image in most marketing materials, but not for commercial uses like making a poster from the image and selling it in a store. iStock and AbleStock are examples of websites containing royalty-free art.

Rights-managed art works in a slightly different way. These images can be purchased for use, but you work with the rights management company to determine a price based on the image's exact use. For example, if you are buying an image to use on the cover of a corporate magazine, the price of the image would be based on the number of employees receiving the magazine. You also would be limited to using the image only for the cover and not in other locations, like a corporate website and billboard (unless you negotiate this use as well). Corbis and Getty are examples of websites that offer rights-managed and royalty-free art.

Are there any rules about using stock images?

Before you buy any stock art, be sure to read the contract that goes along with it. Each stock art website offers a list of terms and conditions for the use of its images and they can differ among stock art company. As an example of a contract's length and complexity, iStock, a popular royalty-free stock art website, offers their general contract online at iStockPhoto.

Are there limits to stock photography?

While stock art websites are robust, they may not always meet every specific detail you are seeking. For example, if you need a photo of a middle-aged brunette standing in a shop window, you may only be able to find a blonde thirty-something. So, sometimes you have to be flexible. Illustrations are sometimes easier to manipulate, but they too may have some limitations.

Can I change the art that I purchase?

In most cases you can manipulate the art that you purchase. However, it is always wise to review the stock art website's contract restrictions.

What is "high-resolution" and "low-resolution" and why does it matter?

When you purchase a photo from a stock art website, you are often given the choice to purchase the image in various sizes - or resolutions. A higher resolution means that the photo or art is a larger file and will be of a better quality than a lower resolution file. For example, a photo taken by your cell phone is probably of a lower resolution than the cameras used by professional photographers. Lower resolution photos are often fine for use on a website but printed pieces require a high-resolution photo for the image to appear "crisp" in the final product.

To check out a list of stock art companies, visit: