How Much Do Artists Make on Shutterstock?

How Much Do Artists Make on Shutterstock?

Becoming a Shutterstock contributor is an exceptional way to earn passive income while getting your creative works, whether this be photography or artwork, out into the world for others to appreciate and use for their own creative content. While Shutterstock does pay contributors through a percentage of their licensed content, many artists considering this route question how much this entails. Can you make a sustainable career from putting artwork on Shutterstock or is this more of a side hustle?

How much an artist makes on Shutterstock is dependent on an image’s license level, which is determined by how many times it’s downloaded per calendar year. Contributors can earn anywhere between 15-40% of their image’s price, which ranges from $0.33 to $4.90 for most licenses, and $99.50 per image for enhanced licenses being the highest price.

Some contributors can make several hundred or even thousands of dollars through Shutterstock per year, while a less involved contributor will likely see anywhere from $20-$100 per year.

In this article, we’ll explain how artists make money on Shutterstock, what it costs them to be a contributor, and how much revenue they could feasibly expect to make uploading artwork on this website. Additionally, we’ll discuss whether being a Shutterstock contributor is a feasible option for sustainable income for artists and other content creators.

How Do Artists Make Money on Shutterstock?

Before anyone signs up to be a Shutterstock contributor, it is crucial to understand how this website works when it comes to revenue.

Shutterstock centers on marketing and reselling creative content, namely:

  • Images
  • Illustrations
  • Photos
  • Vectors
  • 3D Models
  • Music
  • Videos

Artists who have signed up as official Shutterstock contributor will upload their work via their Shutterstock account. Once a consumer downloads that piece of work, the artist will receive a cut of the sale.

Where this process gets tricky is that not every image or piece of artwork you upload onto Shutterstock will earn you the same amount of revenue. There are two overarching elements that affect how much money a contributor earns for their work: the image level and the price per download.

Let’s start with image level. Each image you upload to Shutterstock is assigned a level that indicates how many times that image has been sold/downloaded by a consumer which then equates to the percentage of that image’s price per download you receive.

Shutterstock Image Levels

Currently, images level and their associated download requirements and earnings for Shutterstock contributors are as follows:

Image LevelPhotos SoldPercentage Earned
Level 1Up to 10015%
Level 2101-25020%
Level 3251-50025%
Level 4501-2,50030%
Level 52,500-$25,00035%
Level 625,000+40%

As you can see, the “photos sold” requirement gets extensively steeper as you move up the percentage scale, taking a huge jump in Level 4 and Level 5 requiring thousands of additional downloads versus the previous levels where you could upgrade after a hundred or so. The other kicker here is that these are downloads/sales per calendar year, so every January 1st of, all of your uploads, even the most profitable, go back to Level 1.

This can be extremely disheartening to contributors, especially if they are hoping to making Shutterstock revenue sustainable.

Price Per Download

The other side of this equation is, unfortunately, one that contributors have virtually no control over: price per download.

Part of the agreement you make with Shutterstock when you sign up to be a contributor is that you don’t have the luxury of pricing your work. Instead, the price per download of any image or piece of Shutterstock content is dictated by the consumer’s license.

In order to download and use Shutterstock content, consumers must sign up for one of the website’s subscription plans, of which there are multiple.

The price per download assigned to an image depends on the monthly or annual fee the consumer is paying for and the number of downloads this permits them. For example, if a consumer signs up for a monthly “Image Subscription” and wanted to pay for 10 downloads per month, they’d pay a monthly fee of $29, which would mean each download costs them $2.90 individually.

Now, say that same consumer purchased one of your images that is currently rated a Level. You would receive 15% of the price per download dictated by their license (in this case it’s $2.90), so your cut would be roughly $0.44.

Is Uploading Artwork on Shutterstock Sustainable?

Plenty of passionate photographers, musicians, and graphic artists have considered using Shutterstock as a means to obtain substantial revenue for their work, especially if they’re new to the industry and looking for a way to start selling their content. But can you feasibly live off the revenue you make uploading artwork onto this website?

In most cases, no. Being a Shutterstock contributor is best for generating passive income or an additional source of revenue alongside a more sustainable option.

The unfortunate reality of being a contributor on Shutterstock is that the only way you’re going to generate a reasonable amount of revenue is to upload as many images as possible and hope that the majority reach Levels 4-6 and are consistently purchased. Moreover, you’ll want to cross your fingers that consumers purchasing these images don’t have the absolute lowest price per download as dictated by their license/subscription plan.

The best way to achieve this is not only to upload a significant number of images (and by this we mean hundreds if not thousands), but each image must meet Shutterstock’s hefty list of criteria from high resolution to lack of image noise to absence of any recognizable logos or branding and so on.

This means you are not only spending substantial time creating the image, but editing and polishing them as well. Some images used for commercial images will also require the appropriate release forms, which is more time you have to spend for an image that, in the end, might only make you $0.50 per download.

And then there’s the lovely caveat that despite all of your hard work from research of trends to image creation and edition to SEO-friendly keywords and descriptions, all of your images get pegged back to Level 1 at the start of the new year. So, images you were once relying on for substantial revenue are now no better than one you might’ve uploaded a day ago.

The culmination of these efforts paired with the overtly limited amount of revenue contributors receive per image they upload results in Shutterstock being an unrealistic source of sustainable income, and far better suited as a side hustle and work portfolio instead.

Final Thoughts

In the end, how much a Shutterstock contributor makes on this website truly depends on how much effort that individual is willing to put into their uploads, how many uploads they have available, and how well these images are marketed to result in the highest number of downloads possible.