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Why can’t we use that image?

January 25, 2013
Posted in design-speak decoded

Finding the right imagery is often a huge part of a design project. And, it’s more complicated than you think – a quick web search just won’t cut it. Here’s why:

A few years ago, when we were struggling to find the right imagery at a budget price for a brochure, one well-meaning client sent us a bunch of images that she loved. However, she grabbed them from Google, which didn’t work for two reasons:

1.) The images were too small to use for print (see “what is a high-resolution image?)

2.) We couldn’t legally use the images

Unless you were to track down the original source for each image and ask permission to use it, images that are on the web aren’t necessarily in the public domain. And, we don’t want to be sued for using one!

So, the client went to a stock photo site. And she was ecstatic; all of the images were royalty-free! She spent hours downloading samples of her favorites.

Unfortunately… royalty-free doesn’t mean “free.” Stock photography comes in two categories:

1.) Royalty-free
This means that, once you pay for an image, you own it and can use it anywhere. Most times, these images are sold at a different price for each file size (an image sized for the web is less expensive than an image for a poster).

2.) Rights-managed
These images are purchased for a one-time use, and the cost depends on what that usage is. An image used on the interior of a brochure you’re printing 500 copies of will be less money than an image used in a national ad campaign.

The advantage of a rights-managed image is that someone else in the same market/industry won’t be able to use that image – so you won’t see it in a competitor’s materials.

When custom photography isn’t in the cards, we find that royalty-free images are often the way to go. It’s a budget-friendly option and gives our clients the most flexibility when, for example, a successful ad should also be translated to a web site, an email blast, and web banners.


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