What are the rules concerning incorporating stock image elements into a website branding or logo?

From what I understand, IStockPhoto.com doesn't allow it. Are there any stock images sites that do? Is there a specific licensing option required?

Please note- I'm not talking about adopting a stock image as a logo straight up- just using it as an element in a larger logo or brand design. What I want to know is if there's any leeway there, or if logos must always be original art from the ground up.



8 Answers 8


Just to inform you; I 've used an image of gettyimages by using screenshot program. Just an cropped part of it. I modified and merged it with 50% transparency with my existing image. Then I changed some saturation. The image was 150x150 pixel. After 2 years, I received an legal warning letter with costs about $1500.-.

Also if you "CAN" download the image as "free" there are rules why you are not allowed to make it public.

I really recommend to explicit request for each image for license to not fall into unwanted costs. If the producer changed his mind from "free license" to "nonfree license" it is hard for you to validate your situation.


  • 2
    Should stackexchange be a forum, I would post a generic facepalm image. Commented May 18, 2011 at 12:31
  • If that was the case, somebody would have to start the slow clap... Commented May 19, 2011 at 0:07
  • This sounds like a confessional.
    – DA01
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 1:54
  • 1
    +1 This is actually a useful (perhaps not 'good') answer.
    – e100
    Commented May 20, 2011 at 12:30

Using a stock image as the entire logo, or even part of a logo requires proper permissions.

The permissions depend on the license that that image is licensed under. Which license is needed is wholly dependent on what you plan to do with the final product. There are websites that have one license applied to the entire website, and anyone uploading to that website agrees to those license terms, and other stock websites allow their users to set the license.

Commercial stock is typically the hardest to find if you're looking for free commercial resources, but there are still some pretty good resources scattered around.

http://www.sxc.hu is a great resource, I do believe every user can control their license. Please correct me if I'm wrong. http://cgtextures.com/ is a texture website but everything on it you can use commercially.

To summarize, there is no definite answer. There isn't one governing rule. It all depends on the website/user, so be sure to check the licenses and read them through.

  • +1 for sxc.hu. They often have decent images and their licenses are typically very clear.
    – Farray
    Commented May 18, 2011 at 17:33

The rules are outlined in the EULA that you would be agreeing to by purchasing the rights to reproduce the image. Typically using it for a logo is not permitted.


When creating a logo for a client, should not the client be able to own all the rights to the logo? How could they if the logo incorporates an image that is copyrighted by someone else? Why would any client want to pay for a logo design that they cannot completely own? Would a company be able to obtain trademark registration for their logo if it contains an image that is merely licensed, an image actually owned by someone else?

Using stock images as part of a logo or a branding scheme is a bad idea. Doing this for a client could be exposing them to a charge of copyright infringement and it could prevent them from obtaining trademark protection for their mark.

What if we want to create a logo with an image that is "opensource?" Or an image that is in the public domain? Again, would the client commissioning the logo design be able to completely own the mark if it contains an image that is free for anyone to use? What would prevent two competing companies from using the same image for their respective logos? The potential for marketplace confusion seems likely, and confusion in the marketplace is something that US trademark law is designed to prevent. So, even if an artwork supplier does not specifically forbid its use as part of a logo, it is still not a good idea for us to use images that are not original.

When we design a logo, using stock images would, in my opinion, be a disservice to the client. Of course, we find inspiration in the work of other artists and designers. And sometimes original art may resemble other original art. This is to be expected.

What constitutes infringement? The standard for copyright infringement is that the image in question be "substantially similar" to the original. The standard for trademark infringement is that an image be "confusingly similar." Of course, these are simplistic definitions of the standards. There are many factors that can come into play. And courts do not always decide the same way in similar infringement cases.

One further point, why would a designer even want to use stock images in logo design? Would this not be an admission of inferior design skills? Is this not something you would expect from an amateur rather than a self-respecting professional? I would think that our "artist pride" would become a factor. :)

Brad in Kansas City


Bad idea. Plus it wont look good. However you can use a stock image as an inspiration to ignite your creative forces.


you can go check out openclipart.org

Everything on the site is free for commercial use and of high quality as well.


You cannot use any stock photo, or any photo that is free for commercial use as part of logo, trademark or service mark.

I'm assuming the logic is because logos are often heavily copyrighted themselves and it wouldn't make sense to have a piece of heavily protected copyrighted work that isn't entirely original.

You can of course look into the licensing terms for each website and ctrl+F search for logos to see if they have a clause for restricting use. istock and shutterstock prohibit this use.

I've heard from a professional matte artist and digital painter that if you use only 20% of any image and alter it drastically to the point that it's no longer recognizable then it's okay to do whatever you want, but this route is always risky. Better to be inspired.

  • Welcome to Graphic Design SE. I disagree with some of your claims: 1) You cannot use […] any photo that is free for commercial use as part of logo, […] – That’s too general and clearly wrong for public-domain photos. 2) it wouldn't make sense to have a piece of heavily protected copyrighted work that isn't entirely original. – Copyright does not work like that. Derivative works can be granted the same level of protection as original works.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 19:44
  • [continued] 3) if you use only 20% of any image and alter it drastically to the point that it's no longer recognizable then it's okay […] – If it’s unrecognisable, then how should anybody claim copyright infringement. In this case, you could even use 100 %. If there is some recognisability, the percentage does not matter (at least I have never seen anything comparable in copyright law). — Can you please back these claims up (or retract them)?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 19:46

It seems incredibly deceptive for companies to sell images like the following and then prohibit their use as a logo. I think any designer who tried to sell this kind of artwork on a stock site would be on a pretty narrow beam if they were to try to sue for damages. https://www.shutterstock.com/search/sun+logo?image_type=vector. Then again, it's in the license agreement. No logo use.

  • Shutterstock would sue. Anywaythere are such things as mockups, and other marketting like logos that arent nesseserily company logos.
    – joojaa
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 1:02

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.