Designing with stock images has long been a grey area for many due to the complicated legalese and fine print that comes with it. So a lot of designers give up altogether and miss out on the opportunity of injecting something new to their designs.

To help designers with this all-too-common issue, 99designs teamed up with expert book designer and Top Level designer Llywellyn to teach a class on the basics of stock imagery and how to break down the most common legalese concerning stock.

In this article, we’ll talk about the most important tips from Llewellyn’s class. Feel free to dig deeper and follow along with her presentation slides and class transcript.

1. What is stock?

Darshan book cover

We know that is the last thing anyone wants to hear, but we’re here to help break it down.

2. Usage types

Not sure which license you need? Most stock sites help hold your hand through this with clear definitions.

This webinar focuses on three main stock usage types – or what Llywellyn refers to as “The Big Three”. They are royalty free, rights-managed and extended / enhanced license.

Royalty free

Royalty free is when a stock image’s license is sold and then used multiple times without having to pay further royalties. The designer can use the stock image many times over, provided that they abide by the terms set by the artist.


The rights-managed license gives only the designer an exclusive, time-limited permission to use an image. These images can only be used for one particular project for a set period of time – and quite often, in specific geographical areas.

Extended / Enhanced license

To find out more about the extended license, jump to slide 6 of the presentation.

3. Sourcing stock images

Use reliable services, such as Getty Images, to ensure that your design contains appropriate stock.

Contrary to popular belief, finding stock images from a simple Google search is not okay.

We are so used to resorting to Google to find anything, that it’s easy to fall in to the same trap when trying to find an appropriate image for your next project. But always remember that obtaining the right stock image needs to go through the right channel, so always go with trusted sites such as or

For a more complete list of stock image sites, jump to slide 8.

Choosing the right image

It takes skill to get the right stock image for your project – though it’s not a difficult skill to learn.

Llywellyn goes through the simple steps when searching for the right stock image on a well-known stock image site between slides 9 and 13.

4. Declaring stock images

Remember: It’s your client’s responsibility to purchase any stock imagery you use in a design. That’s the only way to ensure your client owns the license for the image, not you.

Once you have correctly chosen the right stock image for your project, you need to correctly declare the stock image on your submission. This is very important because this is how customers find out about the exact image(s) you have used, any rights restrictions and cost.

We can’t stress it enough: always, always declare any stock images you’ve used to avoid any issues.

5. Using stock images

You probably knew there are certain contest categories where you are never allowed to use stock images. But what about all the other categories?

Jump to slide 21 for a list of the contest categories where you can use stock images, provided you have played by the rules.

It is also easy to make any of these common mistakes:

Copyright versus trademark

We’ve addressed it before, but there are some distinct differences between copyright and trademark. And when working with stock image, knowing the differences have never been more crucial.

To put it simply, copyright belongs to the original artist. They will always own the rights to their work and can set the terms for if and how their art can be used.

Trademark belongs to a business. It can cover a word, a logo mark, or anything else the business has legally declared represents them. Only businesses can give permission for their trademark to be used.

For example, if an artist took a photo of a McDonald’s sign, the artist owns the copyright to that photo. But McDonald’s own the trademark for the golden arches. If you wanted to use that photo in your design, you’d need to get permission from both the photographer and from McDonald’s.

Don’t treat the “Download” button like a freebie

Another common mistake is not realizing that a “Free Download” button does not equal permission. You’ll see this a lot on HD Wallpaper sites, which offer high-resolution images to use for your computer’s desktop wallpaper.

But make sure you always read the fine print, because chances are, you’ll find a “Disclaimer” from the site stating that all images are copyrighted by their respective authors and if you wish to use these images, you must get permission from said authors.

Never ask for permission after the fact

To save time, of course, it’s always good to keep designing while waiting for the permission from the original artist / author to come through.

But this is another common mistake that should be avoided, as it can be so easy for your client to be satisfied with your design, only to later discover the original artist doesn’t want you to use their work in the design at all. That’s just awkward.

So always make sure you secure an expressed permission first before showing your client the design. Trust us, it’s worth the wait.

Be sure to secure indemnity

Add “indemnity” to your vocabulary immediately. It means causing damage to someone personally. And this is really important to know when dealing with images.

Picture this as an example: your client needs a book cover and says their main character looks just like Jennifer Lawrence. You think, “Sweet – photos of Jennifer Lawrence are all over the internet. This is easy.”

Sorry to burst your bubble – it’s not that simple. The actress has not given you permission to use her likeness, and she can easily sue you or your client for damages.

So always make sure you are covered; if you need to use an image of a person in your design, it is always better off to obtain a signed model release than winging it and hope for the best.

Tracing and editing third-party images

Sometimes your design only requires a part of an image. So if that were the case, obtaining permission for the image is unnecessary, right?

Wrong. You still need to buy the original stock image. Even if you’re only using a silhouette, or even just a small part of it, you’re still effectively using the image. You need to abide by its terms to ensure your client is safe from any future legal trouble.

Client “said it was okay”

What if a client provides you with an image to use? Would you need to obtain the license?

Jump to slide 28 to find out the correct answer, and why.

6. Finding license info in different platforms

iStock includes licensing information right below their "Download this photo" button.

Jump to slide 30 to see them.

7. Learn more about stock imagery

To find out more about the extended / enhanced licence of stock image and a list of trustworthy stock image sites among others, read through Llywellyn’s presentation slides and transcript.


Additional resources

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About 99webinar

At 99designs, we always strive for quality designs. We believe there’s no better way to achieve this than helping our designers thrive, and get access to the best tricks of the trade. So we’ve created a few series of webinars that delve deeper into design categories, and now you can access them right here on the blog!