Stock. What the heck is it, and why should you care? Stock refers to a licensed image that is available via the web from a third party source.

If you are going to use stock, there are a few things to know before implementing someone else’s work into your designs.

Why some designers use stock

Stock can save a designer’s time and money – and help individuals who are not experts in photography and illustration. It’s no surprise that some designers turn to stock for purposes spanning a variety of design projects such as websites, banners, book covers and more.

However, as a professional designer it is always best to create original work. Most professionals do not use stock vectors or clip-art because creating vector art is a graphic designer’s job, after all.

If you are fresh in the design industry and want to expand your skills so you don’t have to rely on stock images – have no fear! We’ve created dozens of resources which may be a tremendous help in showing individuals how to build their skills and amp up their originality.

“A copyright will protect you from pirates” by Ioan Sameli is okay to use for this blog under the Creative Commons license which was found in a specific section of for Creative Commons-licensed images.

Finding and using stock images

When stock usage is inevitable (like adding an image to a blog post 😉 it’s important to know the correct places to look.

Proper stock images can be found at their original source where you can obtain licensing information. If you find an image online, it doesn’t mean it’s public domain.

Take Google Images, for example. Google is the most inappropriate place to pull images because one can easily be using copyrighted material without knowing. Instead, designers should look on credible sites which are dedicated to organizing and correctly labeling stock.

Designers should also keep in mind that most “free” vector sites often take from stock sites, so be weary that they are okay to use. If the definite source for an image cannot be found, it is better to move on and use something correctly cited.

Before diving into a stock site, get familiar with the 3 basic types of stock:

1. Royalty-free

Royalty-free images are the best choice for the budget-minded and anyone can purchase them. Royalty-free is the most popular, affordable license because it allows you to use the image multiple times, without paying a royalty. It is the most lenient for uses in both commercial and personal projects.

2. Rights managed

This license grants exclusive, time-limited use of an image to only the licensee. Given on a pay-per-use basis, these images can only be used for one particular project, for a set period of time and often in specific geographical areas. They’re expensive to license but offer protection against competitors using the same image and allow for larger print runs.

3. Extended/enhanced

Some stock companies offer Extended or Enhanced licenses which extend the permitted uses of a previously licensed work. This gives permission to “extend” upon the original license which may include increasing the number of copies showing the image, resale purposes (posters, t-shirts, greeting cards, etc) or allow for other methods of distribution.

As a 99designer, it is best to use any stock image with its watermark. Clearly displaying an image’s watermark in your design sends a clear message to the CH, and other designers that you are aware of the source and that a license must be obtained.

by vanessanoheart

When can I use stock on 99designs?

On 99designs, designers can NOT use stock in logo, illustration or icon contests. In the same vein, tracing and vectorizing a photograph does not make it original.

Designers are allowed to use stock in non-logo contests as long as they declare it. This means designers must provide a link to the image source. Do not assume a client knows how to handle stock — you are the expert and you should inform them about purchasing the image.

Declaring stock on 99designs

When submitting an entry, designers are prompted with two options:

  1. This design is all my own
  2. This design uses licensed content

If the second option is selected, a menu will drop down:


Select “stock” and fill out the correct information:

  1. The full link to the direct stock image you’re going to use in your design
  2. The description of the stock image
  3. Check the box if this image needs to be purchased

POOF! You’re done. Piece of cake, right?

Once a design is successfully uploaded, the declaration will appear on the designer’s private comments with any additional descriptions about the design.

declaring stock

Designers found violating this portion of the Stock Image and Clip Art Policy will face the same consequences as those who use stock in logo designs — a suspension or even a ban.

Using copyrighted materials without the proper permission is illegal and a designer can be held accountable. Furthermore, if a client chooses a design which contains an image that has been inappropriately linked by the designer, or not linked at all, they may end up in unwanted circumstances warranting legal action.

Do you always declare stock images? Thanks to those who do!

Featured image: LethaColleen (via Flickr)