As a designer, you’ll often have a great concept for a project, but the cost of commissioning an illustrator will be beyond yours or your client's budget. You could always put your creative skills to the test with some Illustrator tutorials and vector art. Or you could save yourself a lot of time and effort and opt to use stock art.
The idea of using stock art can seem off-putting, because there's always a sense of diluting your creativity by using work not created specifically for the brief. But the good news is, these days online stock art sites are no longer limited to a handful of tired cliches, but a huge and eclectic variety of illustrations in various styles and sizes, by thousands of talented illustrators.
There are many stock art sites out there, from larger companies where illustrations is only part of their offering, to smaller sites focusing purely on illustrators – anything from a tiny handful to a more extensive roster. Below is a list of some of the best and most popular sites for you to check out. We hope you find what you're looking for!
Getty Images is huge. It mainly deals in photography, but its library also includes more than 360,000 illustrations, all searchable via a comprehensive and easy-to-use search panel and covering every subject you could think of. The stock art on offer here tends to lean more towards a clean and contemporary style.
A nice feature of iStock's site is that it allows you to filter by dominant colour. You can also find the empty space you're seeking in the design for text, and display your results accordingly. This is hugely refreshing given the amount of time it can sometimes take to find the right illo. iStock's illustrations are a little more vector-based and slightly more stock-like than most on this list. But its range is extensive and relatively inexpensive.
If you're looking for a vintage style of imagery this site is great, and also free! All the images are scanned from old books and are in the public domain, so there are no rights hassles to deal with. It's a really good collection: categories include plants, animals, buildings and monuments, ornaments and patterns.
The British Library has shared over one million images in this public domain collection on Flickr. Much of it is old-style illustration and artwork; there are also thousands of photographs, maps and other interesting images.
This project seeks to bring together and organise the photograph collections that are made publicly available by a range of institutions such as universities, museums and libraries.
Stockollustrations features contemporary stock illustrations suitable for the world of advertising, graphic design and publishing. Whether you are looking for a particular style, subject or work by a particular artist, there's a great search facilities to help you find the right images for your project quickly.
Ikon’s website seems quite mysterious – there’s a bit too much style over usability, so browsing takes some time. But it does house a good range of stock art, viewable by style, including photo illustration, vector, digital and line art, and subjects ranging from Beauty and Fashion, to Transport and Characters.
Veer is much like iStockphoto in that it has a huge library - but that also means there are more cheaper stock art images to wade through. However, like iStock, if you have the time to browse, you're likely to find some higher-quality illos. If you want some stock art to fit for your work at a reasonable price, this is worth considering.
09. Image Zoo
Image Zoo has a large collection of traditional illustrations, searchable by keyword, artist name or subject (which effectively means the individual image name). Their images here are in general less contemporary than some of the other stock art sites listed here, and are slightly reminiscent of traditional educational textbook illustrations.
Filtering the work on Folioplanet sorts the illustrators themselves rather than their work, so it'll take some time if you simply want to browse by subject. There is a word-specific search function if you have something particular in mind, although it displays results as portfolio matches, you'll still have to click through to view the results.
11. Laughing Stock
Laughing Stock is probably the least effectively designed website on this list but try not to be put off – if you're looking for traditional-style stock art, then you'll find them by the bucketload here. Note that the illustration style is consistent through the site, so take a look at a few and if you decide it won't suit your project, it's best to move on.
12. The i spot
The i spot website has a huge number of traditional illustrations on offer – you're unlikely to find renderings here. Many different styles are covered, from a range of talented artists. You can search for stock art using keywords for category, subject, style, and medium, as well as the artist's name and the date it was uploaded.
If you're after something a bit of a cut above the usual stock art, Corbis has you covered; in addition to its extensive illustration selection, it also features a number of fine art collections, created in association with world-famous galleries, libraries and archive. So if you're only in it for the Monet (sorry), this is the place to look.
Alongside its collection of over 17 million photographs, Fotosearch also features nearly three million pieces of high-quality royalty-free stock illustration and artwork, as well as more clip art than you could ever possibly use. And if you're on a budget, alongside its premium images Fotosearch also offers a sizeable collection of value images at wallet-friendlier prices.
Although you might think of it as a photography library, Shutterstock features a vast amount of stock art amongst its ever-expanding collection of imagery. Whether you're after sleek vectors, eye-catching illustrations or simple clip art, you should easily be able to find what you're looking for on the easy-to-navigate site with its useful keyword search tool. To download content, a subscription or image on demand package is required.
Additional contributions by David Montrose.