The Best Asset Marketplaces for Designers: Adding More to the Toolkit

Annie Stanley-St.Cyr Shutterstock

Let’s take a look at the most common Stock Image marketplaces on the web. We will compare pros and cons of each site and discuss their features.

Let’s be honest: sometimes, stock assets look like stock assets. You know what I’m on about:  websites filled with groups of people staring oddly into the middle distance; a texture used as a hero image that you’ve seen a thousand times already; a logo that has been lifted directly from a stock library, with the words ‘Insert title here’ emblazoned across it. 


As designers, we’re always searching for top-quality assets for our projects. The trouble is, it  can sometimes be quite the chore to source something that hasn’t been used a million times.  On top of that, costs can quickly stack up. Before you know it, you’ve fallen into the trap of  firing up a free library and choosing something that couldn’t be more inappropriate.  

Look, no tee, no shade: we’re all human; we’ve all done it… 

Fortunately, quality stock asset marketplaces have made finding and purchasing the assets  you need more accessible than ever. And, with a wealth of options, there has never been  more variety. Rejoice! 

But, as with everything, not all asset marketplaces are born equal. Some do well on range and selection but might fall short on pricing. Others may cater specifically for photographers  or videographers but do little for illustrators. Others yet might have the best assets but tie you into a burdensome price plan.

Our Scoring Criteria for Best Asset Marketplace 

Well, fear not, intrepid designers, for today we’re going to dig into many contenders and discover how they compare, using our rather nifty criteria: 

1. Pricing: what kind of pricing structure does the marketplace offer, and is it a value for money?

2. Library selection: how decent is the quality and variety of assets on offer, and is there a broad enough range of styles and subjects?

3. Features: beyond the assets themselves, what other services or add-ons does the marketplace offer?

4. Legal compliance: how much emphasis does the marketplace place on  ensuring the correct licenses and legalities are in order?

5. User-friendliness: the humble search bar sits at the center of every  marketplace, so how much care and attention has the marketplace put into the user experience, intuitiveness of the interface, and how easy is it to download what you’re looking for?


Pond5 offers many stock assets, including photos, videos, music, and sound effects.  Contributors can set prices, often leading to reasonable pricing. Purchases can be used in almost any design project across platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, TikTok, podcasts, and  live events! New assets are added daily. However, the library is not as extensive as some other marketplaces. The search bar is about as bare bones as possible, and the filter options  aren’t as beefy as some other sites on this list.

  • Pricing: Pay-as-you-go and subscription plans are available. 
  • Library selection: Offers a decent collection of stock videos, music tracks, and sound effects.
  • Features: Beyond the assets, there’s not much on offer. 
  • Legal compliance: Offers royalty-free licenses for all content. 
  • User-friendliness: The interface is clean and accessible, but modernization and more advanced functionality would take things to the next level. 


Okay, so this is a bit inside baseball, but come on, you didn’t think we were going to leave out our parent company, did you?

With over 443 million assets and counting, Shutterstock offers one of the most extensive libraries of stock available. Pricing options include subscription plans and pay-as-you-go credits to meet all needs. 

The UI is clean, easy to follow, and the gold standard for search functionality and asset curation. And, with a built-in editor, Shutterstock Create, allowing you to create entire compositions on the fly, the whole creative pipeline is covered within a single and simple to use service. 

Shutterstock’s focus on quality is clear, and it even employs a team of reviewers to curate  and vet assets on the platform. Licensing is varied, with royalty-free and commercial options  and licenses specifically for editorial use. 

Recently Shutterstock Gen AI—an AI-powered design tool that can generate custom designs based on your input—was announced, allowing users to create entirely bespoke images  limited only by their imagination! 

And you may not know this, but the wider Shutterstock family includes other industry-leading  services such as PremiumBeat for music and sound effects suitable for TV, film and radio and TurboSquid for 3D models. 

  • Pricing: Offers a range of pricing plans, including individual and team  subscriptions and on-demand purchasing. A little more expensive than some of  the other services, but with all those features, it’s well worth the cost! 
  • Library selection: Provides access to over 350 million images, videos, and music tracks curated by actual, real humans! A focus on diversity, inclusion, and expressiveness. 
  • Features: Includes advanced search features, a built-in image editor, and the ability to generate custom designs through Shutterstock Gen AI, as well as access to an even bigger catalog of assets via sister platforms such as PremiumBeat and TurboSquid. 
  • Legal compliance: Offers royalty-free, commercial, and editorial licenses. 
  • User-friendliness: Has a user-friendly interface and intuitive search function, which is the gold standard across the industry.


Pixabay offers a substantial library of over 3 million images, illustrations, vectors, and videos,  all free to use without attribution. This is great for getting started, but the quality is completely inconsistent. Though the library does include several asset types, photography is the  mainstay of the marketplace. Pixabay’s UI is clean and friendly, and its search functionality is  one of the better on offer. 

  • Pricing: Offers free assets with varying levels of quality.
  • Library selection: Provides over 3 million assets, weighted towards  
  • photography.
  • Features: Provides an easy-to-use search function, allowing users  
  • to find assets quickly.
  • Legal compliance: All content is licensed under Creative Commons, making it free to use without attribution.
  • User-friendliness: Has a simple interface with easy navigation and  
  • download options.

Adobe Stock

Launched in 2015, Adobe Stock is relatively new to the scene. However, this behemoth  naturally has a large following, given its tight integration with Adobe Creative Cloud and its  range of Adobe software. They offer a vast library of high-quality images, videos, and 3D  assets. That said, as this is essentially a subscription within a subscription, tight integration comes at quite a cost. As designers, we all have thoughts on Adobe’s interesting UI  decisions, and Adobe Stock is no different. 

  • Pricing: Offers a variety of pricing plans, including individual and team subscriptions, but it is one of the more costly services on offer. 
  • Library selection: Provides access to over 100 million stock photos,  graphics, and videos.
  • Features: Provides seamless integration with Adobe Creative Cloud, allowing for direct downloads and edits of images within Adobe software.
  • Legal compliance: Offers royalty-free licenses for commercial use in personal, business, and educational settings. It isn’t always clear which license is required. 
  • User-friendliness: Oh, Adobe…it’s one of the more difficult UIs.

Envato Elements

Envato Elements touts itself as the only subscription you’ll ever need. With a vast array of  videos, images, templates, sound effects, graphics, presentation templates, fonts, and more,  there is undoubtedly a variety on offer. 

Unfortunately, the quality is less impressive. Neither does the UI stack up remarkably well; pages are clunky, and overly complicated instructions on downloading certain asset types may be off-putting for some. They offer a range of subscription services at pretty decent price points. Assets are weighted more heavily towards videos and starter templates, so not all purchases may suit professional designers. 

  • Pricing: Offers a subscription-based model for individuals and teams. 
  • Library selection: Provides access to a vast collection of graphics, video templates, and website themes.
  • Features: A great variety of features, but not everything on offer is targeted at pros.
  • Legal compliance: Offers royalty-free licenses for all content.
  • User-friendliness: A bit cumbersome, to say the least.

iStock by Getty Images

Let’s start with the obvious: Getty’s photography chops are well known. It’s no huge surprise then that iStock’s vast library of over 200 million assets is weighted heavily towards images and includes videos, illustrations, and audio clips. Their library is extensive, their user  interface is clean and straightforward, and they display assets well. Advanced search  functionality abounds, and curated catalogs also make the group selection of assets a  breeze. They have subscriptions and credit packs on offer. However, the pricing comes in  right at the top of all the options available. 

  • Pricing: Offers a credit pack pay-as-you-go or a subscription-based model for  regular users. 
  • Library selection: Provides access to high-quality stock images, videos, and audio clips. 
  • Features: Offers a variety of advanced search filters, including colour, orientation, and composition, making it easy to find the perfect asset.
  • Legal compliance: Offers royalty-free licenses for all content. 
  • User-friendliness: Has a user-friendly interface and a streamlined download process.

Which service is the Best Overall Asset Marketplace? 

Let’s face it: we designers have never had it better. With a truly unlimited amount of options for asset selection and curation, we’re spoilt for choice! 

Shutterstock has established itself as a leading player in the asset marketplace industry. With an extensive library of high-quality, human-curated assets, a user-friendly best-in-class platform, global reach, and flexible licensing options, not to mention a wealth of additional services and features for professional designers, it makes choosing Shutterstock an easy choice.  

No matter what budget you have available or which assets you may be looking for, choices are plentiful in the services we’ve compared, and you should always evaluate your options  before choosing the service that is right for you. 

I don’t know about you, but after that, I can’t wait to get stuck in on my next creative project!