Stock art is something you might never think of using as a creative: isn't that 'cheating'? We'd say not at all: it's all about context. Just like with stock photography, if you've got a concept but don't have the time or budget to commission a fresh piece of artwork, finding the right piece of stock art can be a great solution. At the end of the day, if it works, it works.
And if you think that stock illustrations are all low-quality clip art, you're decades behind the times. The best stock art websites contain a great selection of high-quality graphics, vector, icons and full blown illustrations created by talented artists around the world.
Not all sources of stock art are great, though. So in this post, we've gathered together the very best stock art websites, covering a range of payment models, and even including some of the best free stock art websites.
To help reduce the strain on your budget further, also check out our guides to the best free graphic design software, as well as the best free fonts, and learn how to create your own map illustration.
Adobe Stock is as slick as you'd expect it to be. It integrates with all your Creative Cloud apps, making it easy to preview a stock illustration or vector within your designs and then license it if it fits your needs. Packed with high quality photography, vectors and illustration, it's also a great platform for selling your own artwork. If you want to give it a test drive, Adobe offers a free 30-day trial with 10 images thrown in.
Getty Images is huge. It mainly deals in photography, but its library also includes hundreds of thousands of illustrations, covering every subject you could think of. The stock art on offer here tends to lean more towards a clean and contemporary style, and it's easy to filter your search results by factors such as colour and style. Like Getty photos, however, the stock art here is relatively expensive compared to other libraries.
iStock is a smaller, micro-stock version of its bigger sister, Getty. This means it has some of the same features as Getty Images, so you can filter search results by dominant colour, for example. 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 than most on this list, but its range is extensive and relatively inexpensive. You also get three free images on sign up, and every week iStock offers you a new image to download for free for a limited time.
Although you might think of it as a photography library, Shutterstock features a vast amount of stock art among 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. You will, however, probably pay a little more than with iStock or Adobe Stock.
The original online creative marketplace, YouWorkForThem has been curating niche, designer-oriented stock graphics since 2001, not to mention fonts and photos too. In their own words, "we were founded by designers, and are run by designers, for designers". The service currently provides nearly 300,000 stock art graphics, all with easy, affordable licences. Custom licence options are available too.
If you're looking for a vintage style of imagery, Old Book Illustrations is great – and also free. All the images are scanned from old books and in the public domain, so there are no rights to deal with. It's a beautiful 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, vintage advertisements, botanical drawings, vintage comics and other material.
The Flickr Commons project seeks to bring together and organise the artworks and photograph collections that are made publicly available by a range of institutions, such as universities, museums and libraries. It can take a bit of effort to find what you want among all this material, but there's some great stuff if you persevere.
The clue's in the name here. Stock Illustrations features contemporary stock illustrations suitable for the world of advertising, graphic design and publishing. Whether you're looking for a particular style, subject or work by a specific artist, there's a great search facility 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.
Image Zoo has a large collection of traditional illustrations, searchable by keyword, artist name or subject (which effectively means the individual image name). The images are, in general, less contemporary than some of the other stock art sites listed here, and some are slightly reminiscent of traditional educational textbook illustrations.
The iSpot website has a huge number of traditional illustrations on offer – you're unlikely to find CG or 3D art 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.
Providing both stock art and stock animations, Laughing-Stock is an illustration services agency specialising in rights-managed stock imagery. This means that you tell artists when and how you plan to use the image and then pay a licensing fee just for that usage. Powered by over 150 illustrators, Laughing-Stock is bursting with distinctive work that will help your projects to stand out.