Whether you require one image or a dozen to embed within your artworks, knowing where to source files can be tricky. We quiz the pros on their stock-buying secrets Try as we might we can t be good at everything, and as much as we like to think we could photograph all the assets needed for our Photoshop creations, in reality it is quicker, easier and likely to provide better results using those taken by professionals. The good news is that there are dozens of stock image sites available on the world wide web, and what is more many of them offer photographs for free. "I really wouldn t consider myself to be a photographer; so I leave that to those who are really good at it,”admits Chris Haines ( a freelance digital artist. In a perfect world each project would have a photo shoot to go with it so you have all the material you need to play with, but as designers we rarely get that luxury. Stock photos are fast, cost effective and a great way to inject some quality into a project." Ross Crawford (, a professional illustrator; also agrees that time restraints make using stock imagery the only viable option: "I started using stock libraries on a project that had a tight deadline. I realised if I found a good source of vectors, I could cut the working time down. I believe that using these sites in a time of need is an ideal way to streamline projects and help with timing issues, especially for shorter deadline jobs." Using stock sites can also be a boon for Photoshop users seeking strange or peculiar images. last project I used a stock image on had a number of boxes to tick. It had an unusually sized template to fit into which was the main issue I faced with selecting the perfect image. The image also had to be an isolated object with a clipping path on a white background, as this would save crucial time in the project. As this was a commercial project it also needed the right licence and usage terms. In that respect, stock libraries are a goldmine of resources." Gordon Reid, a professional designer ( urges Photoshop fans to investigate the entire kaleidoscopic range of facilities available on the internet before narrowing the field down to just one or two favourite contenders. An avid fan of Shutterstock, Reid reveals what it was he was looking for when settling upon an image library: "I found Shutterstockwhole site very easy to use, there is an absolute wealth of images available and generally itcheaper to use than others. It makes life painless when needing to get through a project quickly and doesn t burn too much of a hole in my pocket." PICK THE RIGHT STOCK Once you ve chosen a stock library there are a number of factors you should consider before purchasing or selecting an image. For instance it s strongly advisable that you opt for a picture thatbeen properly lit in even and consistent lighting, so the lines are clean and crisp and details appear sharp. Users should check to see whether a cutout version is available as this could reduce labour and time later. It s also worthwhile researching what the maximum size file available is, as this is where it can often make sense to use paid-for images as opposed to free images which can sometimes be too low-res. Finally it is prudent to read through the terms and conditions to discover if there are any restrictions over usage rights and licensing options that you or your client should be aware of. "Mainly what I m looking for is the right subject at the right angle, with good-quality lighting," confides Haines. "Lots of my artworks feature stock images, however they are often heavily manipulated from their original form. I like to cut out sections, paint over them and rearrange them. When I m looking for an image, I am trying to find one as large as I can afford as I like to work quite high-res, as you never know how the finished artwork might need to be used." Reid reveals that he enters on a quest for bold and beautiful photography when roaming the ocean of image libraries. always go for the largest size available when buying stock purely because you then have more freedom to play about with. I generally go for JPEGs and in terms of usage you have to go for the completely royalty-free. Going for rights-managed images can get a little tricky unless there is a humongous budget to play with.” Some artists urge that downloading comps to try out images in designs, before committing to buying, can be a useful tactic. "Downloading comps is a great way to test out the image in a low-res format, or present to a client before buying the image," Haines says. "Sometimes what seems like the perfect image might not work when you actually put it into use. Use comp images first to get the composition down, or to get the client to approve the image, it s also important to only use stock images as a base; they should just be one of the tools you use to create your artworks." FREE VS. PURCHASED The best things in life are not always free, as many Photoshop users argue that the higher-quality, more unique, larger stock images are usually paid for However if you re seeking texture files or images that may appear quite small within the artwork then there is a place for the free stock counterparts too. Many artists like Haines, like to dabble with a mixture of the two: "I often use SXC for free images for things like the sky, landscapes, or other small bits and pieces. This is usually when there will be heavy postwork anyway, and so the lighting and quality of the images doesnneed to be perfect. If I am buying an image I mostly use It has got a massive range and usually pretty good prices. The level of image quality is almost always higher and I usually only use paid-for stock images of people as it is an art to get lighting on a figure just right so it doesn t appear flat, or overexposed. If you start with a high-quality stock image it makes your job a lot easier. I use iStockphoto.compay-as-you-go system. This way only pay for what I use as the low volume of images need doesn t justify a subscription service." Photoshop users planning to frequent image stock sites regularly and require a large volume of files may want to consider a subscription-based payment system, as Reid endorses. I use a subscription-based system where you get 25 images a day, which just makes life quicker and easier being that I usually have to source images reasonably quickly. I think it s about ?125 a month, which is pretty pricey, but having this has paid for itself so it s just one of those things. Buying stock photography will never be a cheap option; you re paying for quality after all. On average I would spend about 30-40 for a royalty-free image from places like Shutterstock. Some of the bigger sites like Getty have different rules about usage and can charge hundreds of pounds for images if they are to be reused, so generally I d say you can get what you need for around ?30." A quick internet search will provide image-hunters with a bevy of free and paid-for stock sites, but also be sure to view our handy boxouts of information, which list our top five sites in each category. NOT JUST PHOTOS If you thought stock libraries only catered for those seeking photographs then youin for a pleasant surprise, as most creative hubs also extend to fonts, textures, vectors and 3D models. Vectors, for example, can refresh a flagging image, textures can add depth or interest within a piece and a 3D model can save even the most dedicated and talented of creatives dozens of man hours. most cases i will draw my own vector work and model my own 3D models," reveals Haines. "However; sometimes I need a 3D model that is quite complex or time consuming to create, so I will use a free 3D mesh site like" For many designers like Ross Crawford, however using vectors may be more of a fair-weather occasion than a regular occurrence: "I dondownload vectors on a day-to-day basis, but rather when something specific is called for then it can be a great time-saving option on a short deadline. So in this respect an on-demand service works best for me." "A lot of these sites have good resources for vector art, which can sometimes be handy if youup against it," informs Reid. "In terms of fonts I usually use like probably everyone else in the world because it is a fantastic resource. I also use Fudgegraphics and Webdesigner Depot which provide free frames, or Shutterstock, which sells products that come in at around the same price as images, around 30-40." Despite being a regular user of stock sites for images, vectors and fonts, Reid advises users to adopt them with care. rely on them too much, only use these when you really need to and if youjust starting out, shop around, find the sites that work for you and build up a large library of free images, fonts and vectors. When I was starting out that s all I used; financially it s tough enough already without spending more of your budget on stock photography and if your client is a particularly caring and decent one, they may even supply you with the images." Other useful ports of call include Arsenal (, Designious (, Vectorvault (, QVectors ( and CG Textures (, which all offer a range of free and paid-for files.

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