Can You Use Shutterstock Images Without Paying?

Shutterstock is a fantastic resource for anyone who doesn’t have the money to pay for a professional photographer nor do they have the time and skill to take their own pictures. Images to use for a website, personal project, or any other piece of marketing, advertising, or branding are always in high demand, and Shutterstock has over 316 million of them you can download with the push of a button, but users want to know if these images are completely free or simply cheaper than most alternatives.

Shutterstock images are only free for a brief period when a new user signs up for a free trial. Otherwise, users must purchase one of Shutterstock’s subscription plans, allowing you to purchase and download various amounts of images per month or as necessary.

In this article, we’ll provide a guide explaining how you can start your Shutterstock one-month free trial today and legally download ten Shutterstock images free of charge. As you read, we’ll also cover Shutterstock’s subscription plans and discuss why paying for a Shutterstock subscription plan might be worthwhile for you.

How to Start Free Trial on Shutterstock

While there are various sketchy websites you could potentially use to scam your way into getting Shutterstock images for free, we recommend simply signing up for Shutterstock’s’ free trial instead.

To sign up for the 1-month free trial on Shutterstock, follow the steps listed below:

  1. Go to Shutterstock’s official website home page
  2. Click the “Free Trial” button at the top of the page
  3. Enter your preferred email address and create a password
  4. Press the “Start free trial” button
  5. Enter your preferred payment method information
  6. Click the “Complete checkout” button

After you’ve completed this process, you’ll have access to millions of photos and other content listed on Shutterstock. The free trial allows you to download and use ten of them completely free within a month after the trial begins.

After the one-month period has expired, Shutterstock will use your payment information to charge you a $29 monthly fee for continued access to its content. However, you can cancel your trial at any time before this charge occurs if you aren’t interested in paying for Shutterstock images.

Moreover, any images you download using the one-month free trial are still accessible and licensed to you even after you’ve canceled your trial or subscription.

What Image Subscription Plans Does Shutterstock Offer?

Because Shutterstock offers a wide range of content from images to videos to music and even editorial content, each content type has its own list of subscription plans. This allows users to strictly pay for content they know they’ll use.

Shutterstock offers four subscription plan options for their images.Here is a brief overview of each plan option regarding what it includes, its cost, and how many images that specific plan allows you to download.

On-DemandFLEXImage SubscriptionTeam
Allows one user to download images as necessary and pay per download versus monthlyAllows user to pay for all Shutterstock image, video, and music content in one subscriptionMonthly image subscription for single user that includes tools for planning and organizing contentMonthly subscription for multiple users (up to 10 members) and includes additional downloads and planning tools
$29 for 2 downloads within a year

$49 for 5 downloads within a year

$225 for 25 downloads within a year
$49 per month for 25 credits per month$29/month for 10 downloads/month

$99/month for 50 downloads/month

$169/month for 350 downloads/month

$199/month for 750 downloads/month
$479/month for 750 downloads/month

Why Pay for Shutterstock Photos?

If you were to go onto Google or your preferred search engine and type in “free stock photos” you’d see a significant list of websites and their associated images pop up. Because of this, you might be wondering how it could be worthwhile to pay for images on Shutterstock when there’s an easily accessible and vast selection of images you can download for free elsewhere.

The most significant benefits of paying for images on Shutterstock versus downloading free stock photos elsewhere are the following:

  1. Extensive library
  2. High image quality
  3. User-friendly subscription plans
  4. Royalty-free policy

Together, these reasons, in addition to Shutterstock’s easily and competitive contributor program explains why it is a multi-billion-dollar company utilized by thousands of consumers and contributors worldwide. Of course, the sheer fact that these images come at a cost might be enough to turn many potential consumers away, particularly those with a limited budget for the creative content or projects.

However, we encourage you to read on as we discuss these benefits in more detail so you can see how the cost of these images could still be worthwhile, especially when compared to free alternatives.

1. Extensive Library

Having options can sometimes be overwhelming, but when it comes to stock photos, the more unique and impactful images you can choose from, the better.

As we mentioned previously, Shutterstock currently has over 316 million images users can choose from and utilize. The contents of these images vary significantly from travel to careers to plants and animals, and so on.

The biggest benefit here is that not only are you undoubtedly going to find images that suit your intended topic, but there will also be a significant selection of images within this topic to choose from, effectively increasing the chances that you’ll find that perfect image that exactly matches what you were picturing.

Of course, this vast selection is also highly convenient because it reduces the likelihood that you’ll need to go digging through multiple stock photo websites for images.

2. High Image Quality

Many of you have probably heard the phrase “you get what you pay for,” and when it comes to stock photos, this usually applies to quality/resolution.

While it might be tempting to use free stock photos, one of the first things you’ll likely notice is that these images don’t always appear professional or, once you download them, their resolution is mid to low quality at best.

Comparatively, images on Shutterstock are provided in the highest resolution possible, which is maintained by them only being accessible and permitted for use in specific formats and dimensions. This ensures users won’t expand or alter images in a way that will cause pixelation or distortion.

As a result, any image from Shutterstock used in creative content will appear crisp, clear, and highly professional versus a free image with poor resolution that would likely have a negative visual impact on a project.

3. User-Friendly Subscriptions

One benefit we appreciate about Shutterstock is its user-friendly subscriptions. We’ve already listed the subscriptions and what the entail above, but what we sets Shutterstock apart from other subscription-based stock photo websites is the number of plans they offer to suit various consumer needs.

For example, if you’ve just started a personal blog and want professional images but don’t need more then five a month, you can opt for the on-demand plan. Alternatively, if you run a substantial business with a large team, you can put company funds towards the team plan.

Other websites are far more limited in their plan options, which often leads users to losing money or overpaying on a subscription they don’t fully utilize. Here, you can prevent that by picking the plan that matches you and your budget perfectly. Not to mention the fact that any of these subscription options will almost always be cheaper than hiring a professional photographer.

4. Royalty-Free Policy

Arguably the most important benefit of purchasing Shutterstock photos is the legal safety it provides you through their royalty-free policy.

When you purchase and download a royalty-free image on Shutterstock, you are granted copyright to that specific image and have a legal license to use it as long as it is utilized in accordance with the license agreement.

This licensing through Shutterstock’s royalty-free policy protects users from copyright laws while still allowing Shutterstock contributors to earn revenue for their images through a royalty percentage.

So, not only are you still supporting artists and photographers by purchasing and utilizing these images, but you’re also gaining legal rights to use the image; rights that aren’t usually acquired when using free online images. This could lead to an unfortunate legal hassle for you and/or your business should a creator notice you are using their images without their consent.

Final Thoughts

Paying for images on Shutterstock might not be preferrable, but it can be immensely advantageous to creating professional and impactful content through high quality graphics. The alternative is to create your own images, risk using free images illegally, or spend exponentially more money on a professional photographer. In the end, any user has to weigh the pros and cons of purchasing Shutterstock images and determine whether they deem this is a worthwhile investment.

For those seeking a less-expensive alternative to Shutterstock, we can recommend Envato Elements. It’s less-expensive, still have an extensive library, and includes full copyright-free commercial usage rights.