Illustrations vs. Stock Images: Which is Better for Website Design?

Website Design
2 minutes read
29 Dec 2022

The Role of Visuals in Website Design

Visual elements in web design, such as illustrations and stock images, hold a crucial role in defining a website's overall aesthetic and user experience. They function as powerful communication tools, conveying complex ideas effectively, directing users' attention, and emotionally connecting with viewers. The proper use of these visuals can significantly enhance your website's appeal and functionality, thereby fostering user engagement and retention.

In this evolving digital landscape, the debate often narrows down to two popular choices: illustrations and stock images. Each comes with its own set of advantages and unique challenges, making the choice not as straightforward as it might initially seem.

In this article, we will embark on a detailed comparison of illustrations and stock images, assessing their respective pros and cons in the context of website design. Our aim is to help you discern which option aligns best with your website's objectives and brand ethos, thereby facilitating a more informed decision-making process. Let's dive in.

The Age-Old Dominance of Stock Images

Stock images have been an integral part of web design for decades. They're readily available and cater to a wide variety of topics, making them a convenient option for website designers. With stock images, you can add real-life visuals, add a professional look to your site, and convey concrete ideas or situations. However, the downside of stock images is their generic nature. They can be less personal, run the risk of being overused, and may not perfectly align with your brand's unique message.

Feeling stuck or overwhelmed with your design project?

Let us work with you as your creative design partner, guiding you though every step of the creative process.
Schedule A Free demo

The Rising Popularity of Illustrations

Over recent years, illustrations have risen to prominence in digital design, bringing along an innovative, personalized, and artistic approach to visual representation. The versatility of illustrations lies in their innate ability to be fully customized and fashioned from scratch, yielding entirely original designs that echo your brand's identity and narrative.

Illustrations offer several advantages that elevate website design. They can transform your website into a more engaging and vibrant space, thus enhancing user engagement. Complex ideas and abstract concepts can be distilled into simpler, visually appealing illustrations, making information digestible and retention more likely.

Further, illustrations offer an unmatched flexibility in terms of style, color palette, and thematic representation. They allow for a wider representation of diversity and inclusivity, which can make your brand more relatable to a broader audience. By integrating your brand's color scheme and visual language, illustrations can foster a stronger brand identity and ensure consistency across your digital presence.

However, these benefits come with their own set of challenges. Creating custom illustrations is often resource-intensive, requiring more time and financial investment compared to using stock images. It generally necessitates the expertise of a skilled illustrator or designer, adding to the complexity and cost. Nevertheless, the investment could well be justified by the value and uniqueness that custom illustrations bring to your website.

Illustrations vs Stock Images: A Comparative Overview

The decision to use illustrations or stock images in your web design hinges upon several factors, such as your brand identity, resource availability, target audience, and the specific purpose of your website. Both mediums come with their respective advantages and disadvantages, as detailed below:

Stock Images:


By weighing these pros and cons, you can make an informed decision on the medium that best aligns with your brand's goals and the overall user experience you aim to deliver.

grab your free website audit

Don’t miss out on optimization! Take the first step towards optimizing your online presence and start boosting your online impact.
Claim FREE Audit Now

Choosing the Right Visuals for Your Website

Making the right choice between illustrations and stock images isn't a one-size-fits-all decision. It demands careful consideration of various factors that intricately connect with your brand's identity, goals, and audience's expectations. Here are some key points to consider while making this choice:

  1. Brand Personality: If your brand leans towards a creative, playful, or innovative persona, custom illustrations can best reflect this essence, making your brand and website more memorable. For a formal or corporate brand identity, high-quality stock images could resonate better with the professional tone you're trying to set.
  1. Website Purpose: Consider what you're trying to achieve with your website. If the objective is to explain a complex process or concept, illustrations can simplify and clarify these ideas. In contrast, if your website is about showcasing real-life products or people, authentic stock images might serve you better.
  1. Target Audience: Understand your audience's preferences and expectations. Younger demographics might appreciate the creativity and novelty that come with illustrations, whereas a more mature audience may resonate more with the realism of stock photos.
  1. Resources: Budget and time are crucial determinants. Stock images are cost-effective and quick to implement, but risk being generic. Custom illustrations demand more resources but offer greater originality and alignment with your brand.
  1. Uniqueness: If standing out from the competition is a priority, illustrations offer a distinct advantage. They can be tailor-made to your brand, unlike stock images, which can be bought and used by anyone.

Ultimately, you may not have to make a strict either-or choice. A mix of both illustrations and stock images, if done strategically, can create a rich visual experience, combining the best of both worlds. Balancing these factors will guide you towards the most effective visual strategy for your website.

Strike the Right Balance

The dynamic landscape of web design offers numerous possibilities for creating visually engaging sites. Both illustrations and stock images have unique strengths that can be harnessed to enhance your website's visual appeal and user engagement.

Illustrations, with their limitless potential for creativity, can infuse a unique personality into your brand, set you apart from competitors, and simplify complex concepts. However, they require more time, resources, and expertise to produce.

Stock images, while more generic, provide realism, are quick to implement, and cost-effective. They can add a professional touch to your site and are particularly useful when showcasing real-life products, locations, or people.

The choice isn't always binary. In fact, many successful websites leverage a balance of to create a rich, diverse visual narrative. They might use illustrations for storytelling or to represent abstract concepts and stock images for sections where real-life representation is essential.

Ultimately, the decision should align with your brand identity, audience expectations, website objectives, and available resources. By striking the right balance, you can create a compelling visual experience that resonates with your audience and bolsters your brand's online presence.

Feeling stuck or overwhelmed with your design project?

Let us work with you as your creative design partner, guiding you though every step of the creative process.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are illustrations better than stock images for website design?

There isn't a definitive answer to this question as both illustrations and stock images have their unique strengths. Illustrations offer more room for creativity, customization, and brand identity, while stock images provide a sense of realism and are more cost-effective and easier to implement. The choice depends on your brand's needs, website objectives, and available resources.

How can I decide whether to use illustrations or stock images for my website?

Deciding between illustrations and stock images depends on various factors such as your brand's personality, your website's purpose, your target audience's preferences, and your budget.

If your brand values creativity and originality and you want your website to stand out, investing in custom illustrations could be beneficial. Conversely, if you need to set up a website quickly and cost-effectively, stock images could be a viable option.

Can I use both illustrations and stock images on my website?

Absolutely! Many successful websites use a combination of both to create a diverse and engaging visual narrative. You can use illustrations for storytelling or to represent abstract concepts and stock images for sections where real-life representation is essential.

Is it expensive to incorporate custom illustrations into my website design?

The cost of custom illustrations varies depending on the complexity of the design, the illustrator's expertise, and the time it takes to create them. While it can be more costly than using stock images, the investment can pay off in terms of originality, brand identity, and user engagement.

How can I get custom illustrations for my website?

There are several ways to get custom illustrations for your website. You can hire a professional illustrator, work with a digital agency, or use online platforms that connect you with freelance illustrators.

Before you hire an illustrator, make sure to check their portfolio to see if their style matches your brand's identity and your vision for the website. Check out our work at Pixel True!

Get  actionable tips on how to increase sales and conversions with design!
[free download]

We've put together a handy checklist of things you can do to make your website more effective at converting visitors into customers.
Download FREE Copy