SXC, iStockphoto And Fotolia Compared! Which Stock Photo Site To Choose?

A couple of weeks ago I received an e-mail from Fotolia offering me a 1 month free subscription for trying their service. I often use images to cheer up my articles, so why not testing this new site? 


Till now, I used 2 different web sites, SXC and iStockphoto. When looking for the right image, I always visit SXC first, because this one’s free. If not, then I go to iStockphoto to find what I need.  After using Fotolia for a month, I thought it was time for a review…

For this review I searched for a “Ninja” image. I also looked at the search and size options.

Let’s take a look at the results! (and I can honestly say, it’s worth checking the conclusion at the end!)

1. SXC


SXC search results for “Ninja”:

When looking for “Ninja” images, SXC returns 30 images:

SXC Ninja Results

Picture size / quality

SXC size

As you can see, images are available in only 1 resolution. Image quality is good!

Search options

Search options of SXC are basic.


As I mentioned before SXC (or stock.xchng) is free to use (don’t forget to read the usage options of each image!). But watch out, there are a lot of ads: images that redirect to iStockphoto where you have to pay for images!

2. iStockphoto


iStockphoto search results for “Ninja”:

When looking for “Ninja” images, iStockphoto returns 1469 files. This includes images, illustrations, video, audio and flash. If I choose to keep only the results of the images, iStockphoto returns 976 images:

iStockphoto ninja results

Picture size / quality

iStockphoto size

At iStockphoto, you have the choice of different sizes. The bigger the size, the more credits an image costs.

Quality of the images is very good.

Search options

iStockphoto comes with a handy search option in the left menu bar. When you look for a keyword, you can add more keywords to narrow your results:

iStockphoto search

It’s also possible to add a price range and a license type:

iStockphoto search

What I really like is that you also have photo and illustration filters:

iStockphoto search

To end with you can also select on category, collections and more attributes!


iStockphoto isn’t free. There are 2 options

If you just need an image sometimes, then buying credits is the best option for you.

3. Fotolia

Fotolia home

Fotolia search results for “Ninja”:

Searching for “Ninja” returns me 1674 files. When I choose to select only images (photos), I get 1044 files.

Fotolia ninja results

Picture size / quality

Fotolia size

At Fotolia, you also have the choice of different sizes. The bigger the size, the more credits an image costs. My experience is that there are a little bit more choices in sizes, but this also depends on the pictures.

Quality of the images is very good.

Search options

Fotolia also comes with a lot of search options, but not as much as iStockphoto.

On the other hand Fotolia comes with a free desktop widget (PC & Mac) which makes it easier and faster when you need an image. You don’t have to go to their website, the only thing you have to do is start the application!

Fotolia desktop widget


Fotolia isn’t free. There are 2 options

  • you can buy credits (and the more credits you buy, the cheaper the credits are)
  • you can go for a subscription
If you want to know how much the credits cost, you have to create an account and log in. Minimum credit purchase is 10 credits.

iStockphoto vs Fotolia

Is it possible to really compere this 2? Yes, because some of the images they offer are the same, and this is a very interesting part ;-) .

I found on both iStockphoto and Fotolia the following picture:

Ninja to compare

You can find these images (vectors) yourself:

iStockphoto size options

iStockphoto size options

Fotolia size options

Fotolia size options


As you can see, for this image Fotolia has a lot more options. If you only need a little jpg image, you just can download it. That’s not possible at iStockphoto, there you have to buy the vector license.

Another difference is that the vector license at Fotolia costs only 6 credits, while at iStockphoto the vector license costs 12 credits. But how much costs a credit? Well, it depends. But for comparing this honestly, I’ll buy 12 credits at Fotolia, and 12 credits at iStockphoto. These 12 credits cost 14.40 usd (10.26 eur)  at Fotolia and 19.66 usd (14 eur) at iStockphoto (both vat exclusive).

Because this vector license costs 6 credits at Fotolia and 12 credits at iStockphoto, you pay 7.20 usd at Fotolia and 19.66 usd at iStockphoto for the same vector…

If you should find another example where prices vary less or more then this example, please leave a comment. Because it’s impossible for me to check every image (I have a life…) and I just found this example by accident. But it’s very interesting to see that the same image varies this much in price.


When looking for images, I allways went to SXC first, because that one is free. And I’ll keep doing that. But when I don’t find the right image at SXC, then I’m now going to Fotolia in stead of iStockphoto. Fotolia has more images, more image sizes and is also cheaper.

More info

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