8 Key Tips for Contributing to and Earning from Stock Sites

Yes, those of you strongly against the concepts of ‘crowdsourcing’ and stout defenders of the rights of creative professionals may cringe at the idea of a post advocating the contribution of imagery to stock sites.

Sure, having huge numbers of cut price artworks available royalty-free to download sounds like it’s undermining the hard-work of professionals as well as the value of the work they produce. I personally believe people are missing the point when it comes to this topic and believe the positives outweigh the negative by far.

Those who decide to add work to these sites have much to gain by doing so, as I personally found out, including improving your own work quality, improving your perception on what work is commercially viable, increasing your visibility online for further commissions, as well as getting you passive income.

These sites are molding the industry, not undermining it, and creating an inevitably increased pressure to creative professionals who will succeed by producing work that really stands out.

For creatives not yet working professionally, stock websites can give you a good idea of industry standards, and be a good way to bulk up your portfolio, especially when you are not working on commissioned projects.

Here are 8 key tips for those of you keen on contributing to stock sites:

1. Do your research

Before adding images to sites like shutterstock.com and istockphoto.com, both of which are becoming increasingly packed full of varied work, make sure you can spot gaps in the market. Keywords like ‘handshake’ and ‘oil’ yield tens or even hundreds of thousands of results on stock image websites.

While there is a large reserve of these images because they are clearly relevant and popular, chances are you will be lost in the crowd. Some stock websites have stopped accepting images for the most over-populated categories. Stock sites are always providing contributors details on the kinds of work they need, and even though there seems to be endless stuff out there, there is still a lot of potential for a lot more for you to make money from.

2. Know the guidelines

Guidelines vary for different websites, and it’s best to check out the different specifications before you start work. In general though, there are a few points you should bear in mind.

Quality Some sites have minimum size/resolution requirements, or offer images for sale in variety of sizes.

Readability/style You know it’s a fish, but then, you drew it. Someone else might think it’s a vase of flowers. While style can help you stand out from the crowd, content is really important here.

Format Some sites only accept vector images, and then only a certain format. Don’t spend hours working on something beautiful only to find it’s unsuitable. If in doubt, check!

3. Make ‘stock’ friends

Spend some time in the stock site’s forums, getting to know people who use them a lot. You will be surprised at how helpful people can be within stock site communities, as I can personally attest for inside istockphoto.com, for example.

Having valuable contacts will provide you with all the advice you need to be a success. The more of a familiar entity you are within forums, the quicker you will find people helping you out, letting you know of useful events, contests, and so on.

Becoming known within stock communities will also benefit your sales indirectly. I’ve noticed that active site users tend to get featured, contacted and referred much more than those that sit on the periphery.

4. Promote our stock elsewhere

When you have a decent selection of stock images, it’s a good idea to regularly promote your work within the stock site, so that you not only promote your own work to potential clients, but also alert people that your work is available to buy royalty-free, so that you open up further opportunities for making stock sales.

5. Create a stock style

It is really important to develop a style that you become known for within stock sites. You will find people will return to you who have used your work before because they know your style. The more work you have, the more people who see your work will come back to you and bookmark to you, especially if it is a style that is commercial and ‘sellable’.

6. Do set aside time each week to create stock material

For those of you who really want to commit to stock imagery and want to earn regular income from it. It is advisable, at least initially, to set aside time each week, in the same way you would set aside time to eat breakfast, to commit to researching and producing work for stock.

With such a regime, you will find that over time, you can put together a sizable and lucrative portfolio of work.

7. Note down your ideas everywhere

Keep a note or sketchbook handy wherever you can. Great ideas for new stock comes in the least expected places. Make a point of taking a pen and paper to places where you know you will get inspired, like art galleries.

8. Dare to be different

Though it is wise to go for gaps in the market, choosing to produce work that you know will sell before committing time to producing it, it is definitely worth producing something a little different every now and then, to test the response. My experience is that often work you think will sell tends to do less well than work you think will not.

Good luck!

Places to go

There are plenty of stock websites out there and it’s worth looking at as many as possible before you start submitting. Below are three of the biggest, which should give you a good idea of industry standards.

Shutterstock – Rigorous submission process, guaranteeing high quality work. Read the guidelines carefully!

iStock Photo – One of the biggest and most popular. There is a great online community here.

Illustration Works – Deals purely with illustration, no photos.

Comments, as usual are welcome. What has your experience with stock sites been like?



  1. Always tempted to set up an account, but I think one needs a large number (100+) of illustrations or photos to make an impact, correct?
    The big earners on these sites seem to have the most number of images up.

    • I agree with you that along with quality uploads, quantity is the kicker when it comes to making money from stock sites like istockphoto. There is a ton of competition on there, and I’ve found that having lots of work on there is important not only for earning more, but for gaining exposure amongst all the rest.

  2. I have images on Dreamstime.com – started this ages ago and not added anything new for years, I’m still making money from it, even though it’s just a few dollars here and there. I intend to get back into it as I used to spend half a day each week adding a few images and doing all the tagging/keyword stuff. It’s definitely worth it!

  3. I’ve been contemplating about how to make some extra money which could help bridge the gap when I finish my part time job, allowing me to move into solely working as a full time illustrator, instead of working 2 jobs. Also, I’ve been dabbling with an alternate, more unique illustration style to set me apart from others and this sounds to be an appropriate arena to do so. Nothing like extra cash for incentive to do something amazing.

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