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RF Stock Imagery, Subscription-Style

Although few in number, subscription-based services work well for heavy stock users.




If you find your business using a lot of royalty-
free (RF) stock imagery, a subscription-
based service may be a good option.
Although only a few stock providers currently
offer this option”?most still only
allow users to pay on a per-image or per-collection
basis”?the economics of this makes
sense when you compare a monthly or
yearly fee to paying for multiple downloads
within that same time period.

Generally, subscriptions are available
in monthly, 6-month, and yearly options.
Some companies also base their prices
on the size and resolution of the images
available; in these cases, print versions of
images requiring higher resolution will
require a more-expensive subscription
than will a membership that comprises
only lower-res images for Web and multimedia

Once the subscription price is paid,
subscribers can download from the
company's website as many images per
day or month as the contract will allow.
Keep in mind that most subscription
prices are for single-user licenses only;
multiple users from a single company,
for instance, usually must purchase
multi-user licenses, which are more

What follows is a list of subscriptionbased
RF companies that offer high-resolution
stock imagery. We avoided companies
geared more toward consumer/
low-resolution images and those focused
primarily on multimedia applications.



A division of Hemera (see below), Able-
Stock was launched in 2002. Its collection
includes underwater images, retro
images, Asian and Latin people, family,
modern business, modern lifestyles,
technology, finance, medical, and tasteful
nudes. It offers stock photos as well as
photo-object images (images with the
backgrounds removed), raster illustrations,
and vector illustrations.

AbleStock offers three different subscription
options: $799/year, $599/6
months, and $179/month. All subscribers
have access to more than 82,800 royaltyfree
images, including the site's “superhigh”
resolutions of 28 MB, which print at
sizes of 8 x 12 to 9 x 13.5 in.

Although there is no limit to how many
images subscribers may use, there is a
maximum of 100 downloads per day
(some exceptions may be granted). Each
subscriber is provided with a single-user
license. Agencies may purchase multipleuser
licenses: A 1-year license for five
users costs $1599; a 1-year license for 10
users is $2599.


A Swiss company, AbsolutVision offers its
royalty-free images in JPEG2000 Pro file
format with built-in clipping paths. The
JPEG2000 file format (.jpx) provides high
compression, 16-bit color, and a choice of
lossy or lossless compression. To open
JPEG2000 files, users must have available
the Adobe Photoshop JPEG2000
plug-in or Adobe Photoshop 8.


Specializing in photo objects and characters,
AbsolutVision has more than 5000
images for download and adds 100 to 200
new images each week. Its “low-res”
images are 4 MB in size and its “high-res”
images are 20 MB.

An annual subscription costs $99, or
users can pay a monthly rate of $25; subscribers
are permitted 200 image downloads
per month maximum. Each subscription
is limited to a single user.


Founded in 1997, Hemera sells stock photography,
photo-object images, raster
illustrations, vector clip art, and animation.
Its collection includes health/healthcare,
tools, business, nature, people,
“Trailer Park Trinkets,” and others.

Hemera offers two primary subscription
download packages to its site members:
Express Standard as well as its
Express Premium.

  • Express Standard membership
    includes access to more than 281,000
    stock, raster, and photo-object images (1-
    MB files) and nearly 270,000 vector clipart
    images. Price is $29.95/month or
  • Express Premium membership
    includes access to the same number of
    images in the aforementioned formats,
    but also includes 15-MB files. Price:
    $99.95/month or $299.95/year.
  • All subscriptions are for single users
    only. Standard memberships can be
    upgraded to Premium at any time. Subscribers
    are limited to 1000 downloads
    per day (exceptions must be cleared by


    Part of the Dynamic Graphics Group, liquidlibrary
    offers photos and illustrations
    as well as sound effects, music, Quick-
    Time movies, PowerPoint templates, Flash
    files, and more. Its search engine provides
    the usual parameters, but also
    allows searches by sex and ethnicity.
    Images range in size from 72 dpi to 300
    dpi in TIFF and EPS formats and in both
    grayscale and color.

    Liquidlibrary's monthly “Creative Package”
    offers access to and unlimited downloads
    from 75,000 images available on the
    Liquidlibrary site. Also included is a 68-
    page monthly magazine with practical tips,
    ideas, and tutorials to inspire projects.

    Another possible package for designers
    is two downloads/month for $125
    [plus shipping]. Users who purchase this
    package will receive two CDs per month
    that include 70 new photos [in high,
    medium, and low resolutions], 70 new
    illustrations, and a variety of multimedia
    offerings. The photography CD includes
    an Extensis Portfolio catalog with an
    index of all content in the entire “issue”
    [subscribers also can access images
    online]. Members with this package also
    receive the 68-page monthly magazine.

    Offering more than 100,000 royaltyfree
    stock images for download, Photos.
    com features image categories such
    as Modern Healthcare, Caribbean Ren-
    dezvous, Business, Tropical Day Spa,
    Religion & Myth, Social Issues, and
    Household Items, among others. Owned
    by Jupiterimages (which also owns
    Comstock Images, ThinkStock, and Clip, offers subscribers
    access to photo objects as well as stock

    One particularly interesting variance
    on the site's “search” function: Users can
    search by specific color or color palette
    for a particular image. In addition, the
    standard search filters apply, including
    color/black-and-white, vertical/horizontal,
    photos/objects, etc.

    Subscriptions range from $129.95 for
    a 1-month subscription, $249.95 for 3
    months, $349.95 for 6 months, and
    $599.95 for a year. Subscription price
    includes three resolutions and file sizes:
    “multimedia” (1 to 2 MB), “medium”(3 to
    4 MB), and “high” (12 to 16 MB). “Super”
    resolutions of 25 to 30 MB are not
    included in subscriptions, but are available
    for $179.95 per download. Users can
    download up to 250 images/day.


    PhotoSpin offers 100,000 royalty-free
    photographs and illustrations, as well as
    fonts, audio/video clips, and more. Resolutions
    available include 300, 150, and 72
    dpi at sizes from 5 to 12 in. and 2 to 54
    MB. Image categories include Animals
    and Pets, Children and Kids, Food, Military
    and Government, Technology and Computers,
    Travel and Vacation, and others.
    In business since 1996, the company
    offers four basic types of single-user subscriptions:

    • Plus, for $299/year, includes, photos
      and illustrations; fonts, audio and video;
      files in 300, 150, and 72 dpi; and files in
      1024 x 768 screen resolution for Power-
    • Print Designers, for $249/year,
      includes all the above minus fonts, audio,
      and video.
    • Web Designers, for $199/year,
      includes photos, illustrations, audio and
      video”?72 dpi only.
    • PowerPoint Presenters, for $9.95/
      month, includes photos and illustrations
      in 1024 x 768-dpi format only (maximum
      25 files/month).
    • Subscribers are allowed 50 file downloads
      per day. Multi-user agreements are
      available. A free trial subscription is
      available, allowing users to try all the
      site's file types.

      In addition, the company will create
      “SpinOffs,” custom object photography on
      demand with any customer-supplied
      object that will fit on a tabletop. Cost:
      $199/object for 300 dpi, $99/object for
      72 dpi (quantity discounts available).


      ShutterStock features royalty-free images
      in categories including Holidays, Industrial,
      People, Building/Landmarks, Religion,
      Science, Art/Travel, Technology, and
      Signs/Symbols among others. All images
      are 300 dpi.

      The company offers two standard subscription
      options: a 1-month subscription
      for $89.99, and a 3-month subscription
      for $229. Both options feature unlimited
      downloads; each subscription is for a single
      license. Six- and 12-month subscriptions
      also are available (request rates).

      Stock Photography Now

      Stock Photography Now offers its subscribers
      more than 7550 royalty-free
      stock photos in categories including
      Abstract, Mushrooms, Sunsets, Sky &
      Clouds, Yachts, Lakes, Water Plants,
      Autumn, and Ecology. Nearly all categories
      are nature-oriented. The company
      also offers 500 high-quality graphic

      Image resolutions are 300 dpi at 10 x
      6.7 in. (3008 x 2000 pixels) in JPEG format.
      Subscription rate to Stock Photography
      Now is $39/month, which is automatically
      renewed until cancelled by the subscriber.


      Although primarily known for its 3D models,
      textures, audio files, and the like, TurboSquid
      also offers approximately 5000 two-dimensional
      stock-photography images for download
      with a paid subscription. Categories
      include Animals, Architecture, Money,
      Nature, Objects, People, Sky, and Vehicles.
      In all, the 1-year subscription allows
      access to nearly 80,000 royalty-free
      assets. Annual subscription price is
      quoted on request. Up to 10 users at one
      subscribing company may download with
      a single license. Turbo Squid provides each
      company its own download page, which
      lists all digital assets that have previously
      been downloaded.

      TurboSquid's images are sourced from
      artists posting their artwork onto Turbo-
      Squid's website. Artists receive 50 to 57%
      of all fees paid to TurboSquid upon a sale.
      Any artist opening an account (free) with
      TurboSquid can upload artwork.

      Stock Usage on the Rise

      Use and acceptance of stock imagery during
      creative stages is up for graphic-arts
      professionals in the publishing and Internet
      communities, says research firm
      TrendWatch Graphic Arts (TWGA). Because
      turnaround time for creative projects is
      getting shorter and shorter, says TWGA,
      graphic designers are more frequently
      turning to stock photography as a substitute
      for time- and budget-consuming custom
      photo shoots.

      The firm reports that use of all types of
      stock photography is up”?from traditional
      rights-managed images to royalty-free
      (RF) versions of all styles and price
      ranges. Each month, says TWGA, creative
      firms use an average of seven royalty-free
      images (surveyed in the 2003/2004 winter

      According to TWGA findings:

      • 64% of creative professionals plan to
        purchase RF images in the next 12
      • 34% of creative professionals plan to
        purchase a stock illustration in the next
        12 months.
      • 42% of publishers plan to purchase RF
        stock images in the next 12 months.
      • 32% of publishers plan to purchase
        rights-managed images in the next 12
      • 17% of trade shops plan to purchase
        RF images in the next 12 months.
      • 13% of trade shops plan to purchase
        rights-managed images in the next 12
      • Only 27% of all creative professionals
        say they have never used RF images.
      • The Ins and Outs
        of Licensing

        Keep in mind that when you purchase a
        stock image, even a royalty-free image, you
        are actually purchasing a license to use that
        image rather than buying the image itself.
        This means you are legally obligated to the
        license agreement, which nearly all stockimage
        providers post on their websites.
        Licenses vary broadly, so read the fine print
        in every case. Some factors to keep in mind:

        • You cannot resell the images as images
          (for instance, you cannot open up your own
          stock-image company using the images
          you just downloaded).
        • Some companies prohibit you using
          images on products that will be sold, such
          as T-shirts, mugs, or calendars. On the other
          hand, if you give these products away, the
          use is acceptable. (Note: You may be able to
          purchase a commercial-use license or subscription
          for an image.)
        • You may be limited to how many specific
          users at a company can actually use
          that licensed image. Ablestock and Hemera,
          for instance, limit that number of users to
          10, while the Liquidlibrary limit is five.
        • Generally, you cannot utilize an RF
          image as part of a trademark, logo, or other
          service mark.
        • Many companies have a line in their
          license agreement prohibiting using the
          image in conjunction with projects that are
          obscene, immoral, or illegal (although only
          one company we found bothered to further
          define those terms)
        • Some companies allow you to use content
          you've downloaded only as long as you
          are a current subscriber; once your subscription
          has expired, so has your right to
          use those images (even though you have
          already downloaded them)
        • Stock Terminology

          Stock imagery sometimes has its own confusing language, so here are explanations
          of some of the more common terms.

          Clipping Path

          A vector line outlining the separation
          between an image and its background,
          enabling designers to “clip” or cut-away an
          image from its original background and
          insert it into a new context. Some stock
          companies provide clipping paths with
          their images.

          Comp Image

          A low-resolution, small-sized image used
          for evaluation or preliminary layout purposes.
          Typically digitally watermarked by
          the stock company.

          Digital Watermark

          An imprint used to brand images as copyrighted
          property of an online retailer.

          Exclusive Rights

          An exclusive rights license gives the image
          owner the sole right to the image in question
          “?often used for a limited period of time
          and with other limitations.

          Flat Rate

          Flat rate pricing allows a specific end-user
          to use an image in an unlimited fashion for
          a flat rate price.


          The license or reproduction fees that users
          are charged typically cover specific image
          uses. If the image is used for a purpose
          beyond the license, further permission
          must be requested.

          Model Release

          A signed release from the person/s
          depicted in a stock photo, giving consent
          for his or her likeness to be used for commercial
          purposes as described in the

          Photo Objects

          Photographic images of people, animals,
          plants, and objects that have been cut from
          their original background, allowing them to
          be quickly inserted into any project.

          Property Release

          A signed release from the owner/s of property
          depicted in a stock photo, giving consent
          for the image depicting his or her property
          to be used for commercial purposes.

          Rights-Protected Images

          These images may be limited to specific use,
          media, territory/geographic area, duration, or
          other. Also known as “traditionally licensed”
          images, the images typically may not be
          altered by the user, and a credit line may be
          required. Image exclusivity is guaranteed;
          pricing varies depending upon terms.

          Royalty-Free Images

          A single price is paid for an image, which
          can then be used multiple times for multiple
          projects. Pricing is based solely on the
          size of output and resolution required, not
          the specific image use. Images may be
          altered to accommodate the project.

          Vector Clip Art

          Drawn images that are 100% scalable,
          allowing them to be resized to fit designs
          but not lose their image quality.



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