Can You Use Shutterstock Images With a Watermark?

Shutterstock is an online platform that provides stock images, music, and footage. It is one of the biggest providers of stock photos on the internet today, and its photos are used by millions of users daily.

We’ve all seen the versions of the images with the watermark when you’re browsing through them and before you purchase and download the actual images. Have you wondered if you’re allowed to use those images with the watermark?

Using an image from with its watermark is an infringement on the photographer’s and Shutterstock’s copyright claim to that photo. The punishment for infringing on copyright ranges from paying a fine to imprisonment, depending on the severity of the case.

There are multiple reasons why this is the policy of Shutterstock in order to protect both businesses and photographers.

  1. It greatly diminishes the quality of a photograph.
  2. It looks unprofessional and cheap to use a photo with a watermark.
  3. Watermarks are used to make images, documents, and videos unusable by others to prevent stealing and unauthorized use of the images, etc.

What is a stock photo?

A stock photo is a photograph that is readily available and can be either free, licensed, or purchased from a photographer or agency.

Businesses purchase stock photos because it saves them money. Instead of having to hire a photographer, a company can instead opt to buy photographs that are related to their niche.

Each stock photo listed on the internet has its own specific license, depending on the photographer/agency, which may place certain restrictions on how businesses may use their photographs.

What is a watermark and what is it used for?

A watermark is a symbol/indicator used to prevent counterfeiting, copyright infringement, and used to establish authenticity.

For the purpose of this article, watermarks on photographs are used to prevent any counterfeits or infringements of copyright from circulating the internet. Some websites have programs that can remove these watermarks. However, these programs usually end up diminishing the quality of a photograph.

Using a watermark when posting images online, especially in places that are accessible by anyone, is essential for photographers who want to both maintain credit for the photograph and advertise their services online.

Watermarking also gives a photographer more control over how the image will be used, since the only copy the public has is the watermarked version. The photographer should always have the original by coordinating with their clients on printing, distribution, and use.

An argument could be made that watermarks ruin the composition and beauty of a photo, especially if the watermark is not well done or looks tacky. However, this is precisely the point to ensure that the photographer always has the best version of that photograph. The only time this may be a concern is for social media posts or advertising campaigns.

Explanation of proper image use

Shutterstock serves as a middleman between photographers and customers. When you purchase a photograph from Shutterstock, you are entitled to certain rights on how you can use that photograph depending on the license. A key thing to understand is that Shutterstock does not sell photos; they sell licenses that allow businesses to use photographs for their own purposes, to a certain extent.

Basic rules

Shutterstock has some do’s and don’ts that you should follow:

  • Strictly no using of images of people in derogatory ways (Using a stock photo of a person for a political agenda, pornography, drugs, tobacco, etc.)
  • No claiming that you or anyone else, aside from the copyright owner of the photo, created that photo.
  • You cannot resell or transfer ownership of the images you purchase.
  • Depending on your license, you can only own a certain amount of physical copies of a stock image you have purchased.
  • You cannot use stock photos for products you intend to sell.
  • For Shutterstock‘s standard license, your use of a stock photo is limited to a certain degree.


Photos purchased from Shutterstock are royalty-free. Royalty-free licensing means that you only have to pay once, upon purchase, and you never have to pay again to use the photo. There are many types of licenses that Shutterstock offers to its users.

Standard and Enhanced License

Specific Licensing RightsStandard LicenseEnhanced License
License DurationPerpetualPerpetual
Regions of UseWorldwideWorldwide
Digital Use (websites, mobile apps, software, ebooks, etc.)UnlimitedUnlimited
Print Runs (in books/magazines, on posters, etc.)Up to 500,000Unlimited
Legal IndemnificationUp to $10,000 per imageUp to $250,000 per image
TV, Online Video, and FilmUnlimited viewers (production budgets up to $10,000 USD)Unlimited
Web Templates or Print TemplatesNot permittedPermitted
MerchandiseNot permittedPermitted
Decoration in a Commercial SpaceNot PermittedPermitted
Out-of-Home Advertising (trade show/ conference, signage, billboards, subway ads, etc.)Up to 500,000 gross impressions (views, not viewers)Unlimited


A standard license is the default license you have when you purchase an image from Shutterstock. This license is intended for business owners/creatives to use the stock images they’ve purchased for small-scale projects only.

An enhanced license is geared towards large-scale projects. The prices for purchasing photographs with this license starts at $99.50. This license allows you to use this photo to any extent or way you see fit (assuming you follow the rules of Shutterstock for using stock images).

Shutterstock Premier License

A Shutterstock premier license gives you more rights to an image compared to the previous licenses mentioned in this article. These include:

  • Unlimited indemnification
  • Use in merchandise and templates
  • Sensitive use rights
  • Third-party rights transferability
  • High-resolution unwatermarked comps

Media License

Grants access to Shutterstock‘s special platform, which provides tools and services for better workflow. Here are a few benefits included from this license:

  • Research service
  • Pay-as-you-go or bulk purchasing
  • Sharing assets across an organization
  • Customized invoicing

Editorial License

This license is used if you intend to use the stock photo, audio or footage that you have purchased for the following:

  • Documentaries
  • Non-Fiction books
  • News Articles
  • Any news worthy purpose

This license only allows you to use the image, audio, or footage once. Assets purchased under this license are strictly not authorized to be used for any other purposes aside from the ones listed above.


For more on Shutterstock, feel free to check out my article on “Why is Shutterstock so Expensive?”.

If you want to sign up for a Shutterstock account and start buying and downloading some stock images, you can click on any of the “Shutterstock” links in this article or go to

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