Natasia Designs
Graphic and website design based out of Edmonton, AB.


A little bit of this, a little bit of that

What's the difference between stock and custom artwork?

Natasia Designs Edmonton Freelance Graphic Designer Blog Post on Custom Illustration

Despite what you may think, you can’t simply grab an image off the internet and use it for your own purposes.

Most images you find online have some form of license, making them not available for your use. The images you'll likely need to use on print materials and advertising either fall under the category of stock photography or custom photography.

Stock artwork typically encompasses any photography, illustration, videography and animation that is available for purchase on stock websites such as Shutterstock, iStock, Getty Images and so on. Stock artwork is great if you need generic, quick and cost effective imagery.

Custom artwork refers to hiring an illustrator to produce hand drawn, custom imagery. It also refers to having a photo or video shoot with hired experts. Custom artwork is great if you need to convey a specific message or theme relating to your business, but it’s also great for producing support graphics. Maybe you frequently write articles, send out newsletters or even post to social media. After a while, only limiting yourself to stock photography can bore your potential customers.

There’s a time and a place for stock photography, in the same way that there’s a time and a place for custom artwork. When would you use one or the other?


Do you want generic or unique artwork?

Stock Artwork = Generic Artwork

Stock artwork is available to everyone and anyone who has access to the internet. Buying stock photos seems like a great idea in the beginning, but what happens if your competitors also use stock photos? What happens if they even use the same stock photos? It’s not unheard of for businesses to use the same stock photos on their branding. If you’re okay with that risk, then stock would be an okay option.

Here's an example of an image used on two different websites:

Stock photography versus custom Illustration Natasia Designs Edmonton Freelance Graphic Designer Blog Post
Stock photography versus custom Illustration Natasia Designs Edmonton Freelance Graphic Designer Blog Post

Don't believe me? Take a look here and here.

Custom Artwork = Unique, One-of-a-kind Artwork

Having some form of unique custom illustration or one-of-a-kind pieces part of your branding will help you stand out from your competitors and push your messages further. No one will have the same visuals as you do, and you will be able to represent complex ideas or themes related to your organization.

When you have someone producing custom illustration, video work or photography, they can also work in unlimited styles. Take a look at the range in styles between these illustrations. All three of these illustrations depict a person singing in some way shape or form, accompanied by other themes and meanings displayed by the styles they're rendered in.

Natasia Designs Custom Poster Illustration Edmonton
Natasia Designs Custom Poster Illustration Edmonton
Natasia Designs Custom Poster Illustration Edmonton


Are you hoping for low-cost artwork or an investment piece?

Stock Artwork = Low-cost Artwork (Right?)

Stock imagery is often times fairly affordable, easy to use, and very available. So if you're in need of budget friendly imagery, opt for stock.

In the event that you do need very specific images, sometimes it’s nearly impossible to find artwork with the available licensing at a reasonable price. For example, if your business falls in the oil and gas industry, you’d likely want images of employees or workers on your website or print materials. Take a look at these two photos below:

Natasia Designs Stock versus Custom Artwork Blog Post Edmonton
Natasia Designs Stock versus Custom Artwork Blog Post Edmonton

The stock photo on the left is about $25. It seems okay, BUT, he’s not at all wearing the right kind of safety equipment to be where he is. What does that say about your company and their safety policy? On top of that, maybe those aren’t even the right kind of pipes or equipment for your industry even if you typed in "Oil and Gas Worker" to the stock photo search engine. 

The stock image on the right is $575. The safety equipment seems to be a little better. But is it still the right type of pipes for your industry? Is your company colour red like their clothing? 

These two stock prices are very different, which brings me to my next point.

Stock Artwork = Not Always Low-Cost Artwork

Investing $575.00 to purchase a stock photo that isn’t exactly what you want, that took you or the designer hours to find on a stock website seems a little silly. Why wouldn’t you invest that money to have a photographer come in and take photos of your actual employees, wearing your branded equipment, working on actual worksites? Doesn't that just seem more authentic and timeless?

Sometimes, it’s more cost-effective to just use generic stock. Other times, you're best to invest and get custom work.

Custom Artwork = Investment

What if you have a concert poster you need designed? In that case, you might want custom illustration to match the band, album, and concert themes. You'll want to make sure the artwork you have is something you can use on all of your branding and promotional channels. Creatives can work with you to ensure your custom artwork can be used on everything.

Custom artwork is considered an investment into your business, as you are developing long-term branding by adding visual assets to your brand's toolkit and establishing a consistent look for your company.


Do you need instant artwork or are you willing to wait for artwork?

Stock Artwork = Instant Artwork

Stock photos are generally easier and quicker than custom. However, on the same note as finding very industry-specific stock images, consider the amount of time you or the designer are putting in to be able to find a perfect stock image that conveys the right message or vision for your business or brand. Sometimes it’s more time efficient and cost effective to go in the direction of custom photography or illustration.

Custom Artwork = Longer Timeline

Photo shoots and custom illustration do take time to plan and produce. If you're okay waiting and working with creatives to have custom work done, that's great! But if you missed the planning boat and have a slim timeline, you might need to opt for the last-minute, readily available stock artwork. 


So what will it be?

In the end, stock artwork is used when budgets are tight, timelines are slim, and generic artwork is acceptable. Custom artwork is often needed if you need message or theme-specific artwork, an investment, and pieces that will help you stand out from your competitors. Keep that in mind when you are planning your company’s marketing materials if you don't already have readily available imagery.

Thanks for reading!