What is Microstock?
A good way to earn extra each month and help supplement your freelance work is Microstock. So, what is it? Microstock companies are very similar to regular stock photography and illustration agencies. Artists resell their images as royalty free for a commission. The main difference between stock and microstock is the price. Microstock sites sell images at a much lower price. The philosophy is that the prices are more affordable, so you should get more sales from a broader demographic.

How Does it Work?
Microstock sites are free to join. Most of them require you to submit a few samples for initial approval as a contributor. Microstock is a mix of pros, hobbyists and amateurs, so approval isn’t too rigorous. Once approved, you can upload files for sale. You will still own all the rights to your work and the royalty free license prevents your work from being resold or used for logos or branding. Make sure you read all the fine print for each site to make sure you are comfortable with it. Other than that, it’s pretty straight forward. Once online, people download your files. You receive a royalty each time your work is downloaded. The commissions vary from site to site.

How Much Can I Earn?
Now, I’m not suggesting you’ll be able to retire by selling your vectors on a few websites, but you can make a pretty sizable chunk of change. I made about a nice percentage of my income last year from microstock, and I know there are a lot of artists that do much better than me with it. It all really depends on your skill level and the whether your images are trendy or in demand.

Another big appeal of microstock is quick results. You’ll probably earn your first dollar within days or weeks of uploading your first files. A regular stock agency has bigger payouts, but you might not see any activity for months. With all that said, here’s my list of microstock sites from an Illustrator’s perspective.


Pros: Strong Seller, High Prices & RPD (Royalty per Download)
Cons: Very Low Royalty Share
*Note: I’ve left iStock due to low royalty rates.

Pros: Strong Seller
Cons: Mostly a Subscription site and Low RPD

Pros: Good Seller
Cons: Has Subscriptions and Low RPD

Pros: Good Seller, High Royalty Share and you can set your own prices
Cons: Hard to get accepted to join

Pros: Good Seller
Cons: Has Subscriptions, Low RPD and low royalty share
*Note: I’ve left Fotolia because I was unhappy about them lowering royalties each year.

Can Stock Photo
Pros: Good Seller and Good Royalty Share
Cons: Has Subscriptions

Pros: Mediocre Seller
Cons: Has Subscriptions and a low RPD

GL Stock Images
Pros: High Royalty Share and you can set your own prices
Cons: Mediocre Seller

Pros: Mediocre Seller
Cons: Extremely low prices and low royalties

Big Stock Photo
Pros: Average royalty rates
Cons: Low Seller and low RPD

Pros: High Royalty Share and you can set your own prices
Cons: Low Seller

Pros: I’ve never been a contributor there, so I can’t say
Cons: Low prices and low royalties

Pros: I’ve never been a contributor there, so I can’t say
Cons: Mostly a Subscription site

That’s the list. There are other agencies, but sales are fairly low at most of them. Right now, I’m recommending Graphic Leftovers, ClipArtOf and Drawshop as the best agencies for artists to join. I’d like to see the other agencies follow their example of treating their contributors fairly and with respect.

Last updated 3/4/2012. I’m going to update and change this entry as things change.

This post was written on IllustrationInfo.com. Content copyright 2012 Cory Thoman. This post contains affiliate links. Please read the About & Policies for more information.

Comments 4

  1. Chris Reply


    I’ve been thinking about getting into using stock sites to earn a bit of passive income. I’m guessing you do, but thought I’d check. Do you up load the same graphics to each website?


  2. David Reply


    I would just like to thank you for being someone of success that I can model.

    I am a newbie in the process of creating stock art but I am determined, my business strategy being to create a million pieces of stock art and sell it on a million stock sites.

    My questions would be, is it better to sell the same stock art to all the websites and receive a lower income per image because I have not joined the “Red carpet” section (You know, where the images are the ownership of the website and you cannot sell that image to other sites) or would you rate it is better to create unique images for each site?

  3. Tristan Klein Reply

    Great site!
    This may or may not be a stupid question, but can you upload the same artwork to more than one stock image sites? Or will the site get exclusive rights to the artwork?

  4. Cory Reply

    You can choose to go exclusive with some sites, or you can upload the same images to multiple sites. It really depends on the sites you want to participate at. I’ve never been exclusive, so I submit the same images to multiple sites.

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