Acceptable Uses for Royalty Free Stock Photos

While Royalty Free Stock Photos are very popular and this license is an universal concept, each agency has its own customized license terms. This means that, while the general lines of this license are common to all of them, the accepted uses it grants can vary from one agency to the other.

Therefore, it's always very important that you read the licensing terms carefully and understand them before you buy stock photos at an agency, to make sure your intended usage is allowed by their terms.

However, there are some uses of Royalty Free stock photos that are standard, and accepted at most of agencies. To find out where to buy great Royalty Free images, do check this great guide with the Top 20 Best Stock Photo Sites. 

For further information, learn all about Royalty Free images here.

Royalty Free License

It's always useful to remember what is Royalty Free license in essence: a type of license that grants you the right to use a photo for various personal o commercial purposes, with no time limit, and without having to pay a royalty for each use.

Royalty Free (RF) refers to the fact you are not required to pay further royalties for the license: you pay only once, and get to use the photo forever, in any of the wide range of accepted uses. But it does NOT mean that the photos are free to use. You must pay for the license in order to use the photo legally.

Now, here's a list of typical, acceptable uses of RF stock photos (common to most of agencies):

Advertising and Marketing

  • Printed materials
  • Product packaging
  • Film and video
  • Commercials – TV, Web, Commercial Displays, and more
  • Catalogues
  • Brochures


  • Trade booth displays
  • Corporate identity documents
  • Letterhead
  • Presentations

Promotional (ie. not for resale or license)

  • Greeting cards
  • Postcards
  • Flyers
  • Posters


  • Books and book covers
  • Ebooks and ebook covers
  • Magazines
  • Newspapers
  • Blogs and online publications
  • Editorials
  • Newsletters
  • Video
  • Broadcast
  • Theatrical presentations
  • Desktop wallpapers
  • Cell phone wallpapers

On-line or Electronic

  • Websites
  • Web Design themes
  • Web Design elements

Personal Use (ie. not for resale or license)

  • Prints
  • Posters
  • Other reproductions


  • Editorial use
  • Decor in a home, office, or any public area.

It's important to note that RF images can also be used in projects for a paying, third party – for example, when you create a design using a stock photo for a client who is paying you for your work. But in these cases, the third party does not own nor have any rights over the image, only owns the final work that includes it.

And never forget: Royalty Free images mean you don't have to pay for royalties, but it does NOT mean that the images are free.

The best practice to ensure you're using RF images correctly is to carefully read the license agreement of the agency you acquire them from, making sure you understand all their terms.

Amos Struck
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