Here’s how you can creatively recycle and redesign with your stock images, producing fantastic designs in the process!
Make the most of your image downloads with these helpful tips! The name of the game is versatility, allowing you to use your images widely across a number of projects, while never compromising on the impact of your designs.
Whether it’s textural backgrounds or handy icon sets, with a little know-how, you can really stretch the potential of your stock images.
Read on to discover how to creatively recycle images across a wide range of designs, including social media, websites, print media, ads, and marketing assets.
License this background landscape image via contributor Tavarius.
Think Versatility . . . Not Specificity
Recycling a stock image doesn’t have to be limiting. In fact, it can produce fantastically creative results, and encourages a consistent, campaign-style outcome across a range of designs.
What we’ll discuss in this article is reconsidering your approach to using stock imagery.
When browsing for images, consider their potential for versatility rather than specificity. If an image could be used once, but have little-to-no application for other designs, it’s not going to be recyclable or adaptable.
A well-chosen image can be applied to a huge range of designs and media, such as websites, apps, banners, social media posts, video intros, stationery, brochures, ads, and so much more.
In this YouTube thumbnail template, a simple metallic gradient image adds a fun, creative element to an otherwise simple design.
Certain types of images can be reused almost endlessly in the right context, maximizing their value and usefulness. Intelligently selected seamless textures, abstract graphics, or universal photography will bring both impact and value into your design process.
In many contexts, images that can be reused also enhance the effectiveness of a series of designs, giving your project a consistent, brand-standard feel.
The most versatile stock images you can find include assets that fall into one of these 10 categories:
- Immersive Landscape Photography
- Borders and Stamps
- Seamless Textures
- Product Mockups
- Abstract Graphics
- Gradient Effects
- Universal Subjects
- Clip Art Vectors
Scroll down to explore each of these categories in detail and pick up tips for creating designs that make the most of these endlessly useful images.
License these images via UfaBizPhoto, Arelix, and Tavarius.
This category of reusable images is particularly useful if you have a business that relies on seasonal marketing.
For example, you might have a fashion retail business that advertises sale events on a seasonal basis, in which case you would periodically look for images that relate to seasonal themes.
Before you opt for a well-meaning but one-use-at-most image of a topless model in a Santa hat, consider how you could ensure that your choice of seasonal images remains timeless for seasons and years to come.
Photos that hint at the concept of a season and bring in seasonal color tones will prove to be versatile over the long-term and make a great companion to more one-off imagery, such as products or portrait shots.
Seamless backgrounds that feature seasonal or holiday concepts can also be layered with typography for social media posts or website banners.
A good rule of thumb is to try to avoid using images that are specifically festive or occasion-related, unless the marketing is aimed at these events.
For example, an atmospheric wintery background generally has more versatility than a holiday-themed photo brimming with tinsel and baubles.
2. Immersive Landscape Photography
Simply looking at images of nature have proven to be beneficial for our health, with a recent study reporting that hospital patients with either a real or artificial view of a natural scene visible from their bed to recover much more quickly than patients without any natural view.
Images of nature are both soothing and function as background noise. In other words, when we look at landscape images, we feel calm and content, whereas our brains go into “social mode” when we look at images of people.
While social mode is not a bad thing in certain contexts, nature images have the unique capacity to put viewers into a positive and relaxed state of mind.
Depending on the intention of your design, this often makes these types of images the perfect fit for a wide variety of projects.
For example, a beautiful image of an aerial landscape enhances the likeliness a viewer will respond positively to your design, while its lack of human subjects allows you to use the image in a versatile and flexible way.
Photos that feature natural landscapes, aerial shots, or calming views of skies or oceans will bring visual interest to your designs, as well as boosting their feel-good factor. Win-win.
This series of website and app layouts uses an aerial landscape image by contributor Tavarius, which gives the designs interesting texture and a thematic style.
License this image via Tavarius.
3. Borders and Stamps
Whether you’re creating logo designs or simply looking to add a polished effect to designs for social posts, banners, or flyers, a border is one of the most useful and versatile stock images you can have in your design kit.
Transform dull-as-dishwater type with an ornate hand-drawn frame, add a vintage style stamp to a brand name, or draw the viewer’s attention to a subject or call-to-action with a crisp border.
An instant way to add polish and professionalism to any design, borders, frames, and stamps are also a great technique for keeping the viewer’s focus targeted to what lies within.
Boost the reuse value of your stock images even further by opting for a bundle of frames, and ensure a vector format for easy application.
Create an on-trend frame design for social media with this Shutterstock Create template.
4. Seamless Textures
Perhaps the most recyclable of stock images, high-resolution textures and overlays are endlessly useful, bringing depth and tactility to any design. These textural images lift a design from flat and lifeless to tactile and ultra-professional in an instant.
Seamless textures should be considered the essential finishing touch to any digital design, as they put the physicality back into the design, mimicking the intangible quality of hand-drawn art or analogue photographs.
Some of the most versatile textures add almost invisible character into a layout, with subtle paper and canvas textures adding artistic flair to illustrations—and noise, grunge, or light textures adding grit and interest to photographs.
Simply drop your texture on top of your chosen design and apply a blend effect to overlay the texture onto the layout. You’ll be amazed by how much this can improve the overall look and feel of your designs.
Layering seamless textures over other images is an instant way to professionalize your designs, adding more depth and interest to photos. See above for before (left) and after (right) applying an overlay texture. License this image via UfaBizPhoto.
5. Product Mockups
A fantastic way to demonstrate ideas to clients or colleagues, product mockups are the unsung heroes of stock photography. Designers use these mockup images to communicate the expected final outcome of a design to a client, whether it’s a poster ad, packaging design, or business card.
However, non-designers will find just as much use for these types of images, especially if your business sells any type of product or regularly pitched ideas to colleagues or clients.
A little Photoshop wizardry is often necessary to get the best results from your mockup images, but this shouldn’t put you off. Familiarize yourself with Edit > Transform > Distort to map a flat design effectively onto the product photo, before blending with a Multiply or Overlay effect to merge your design with the mockup.
6. Abstract Graphics
Abstraction is a fabulous teammate to versatility. Once again, avoiding specificity, abstract shapes, and lines can be used to add graphic flair to a wide range of designs, from websites to corporate reports.
For extra impact, blow up graphics to super-size, allowing bold swashes of shape and color to bring interest to even the most formal of layouts.
Abstract graphics also encourage a playful attitude with designing layouts, pushing you to move typography creatively around shapes, and breaking the traditional grid for a more engaging and dynamic design.
Extra points for choosing a vector image, which will allow you to be as flexible as possible with scaling and color choice.
License this image via Arelix.
7. Gradient Effects
From subtle two-tone gradients to psychedelic whirls of rainbow hues, gradient effects are incredibly useful assets for adding depth, color, and unbridled fun to your designs.
Gradients are a long-standing trend, and have found particular use on digital designs, where they serve an attention-grabbing or mesmeric purpose on websites, apps, or social media.
You can have a super simple headline, place a gradient behind it and see it come to vivid, colorful life.
Easily customize a Youtube thumbnail template, complete with metallic gradient effect, in Shutterstock Create.
A vector gradient image allows you to adjust colors or intensity, meaning you can adapt your imagery to suit a brand or campaign identity.
And, why not boost the trend factor of your gradient images with oil-slick liquid effects or vintage-inspired noisy texture?
8. Universal Subjects
Imagine that you’re trying to communicate a particular subject or feeling to a diverse group of people. Perhaps these individuals are from different countries, and have different ethnicities, languages, genders, and social cultures from one another.
In this context, what image would best convey to the entirety of this audience the concept of human connection? Or health? Or happiness?
When you start thinking about achieving universality in your images, you’ll find that only a single well-chosen image is needed to communicate a particular subject or emotion.
Clasping hands signifies connection, support, or love, while arms stretched skyward might signal happiness, health, or freedom. These human universals allow you to reuse images that express a number of shared meanings in a single visual cue.
9. Clip Art Vectors
Clip art has suffered from an association with the early days of Microsoft Office, but contemporary clip art is a long way from the naff graphics of the early ’90s. You can often find dozens of creative images in a single bundle of cute and quirky clip art illustrations.
You can download a deck of 10 or more illustrations in a single download, giving you lots of content and potential for a wide range of designs.
Look for vector illustrations, which give you more editing potential, as well as unusual subjects and styles that offer a bit more quirk and kook.
Clip art illustrations are a fun way to bring character into social media posts or stories, and can be mixed and matched with other content, such as photos and type, to create a cool collage effect.
You can use an online app like Shutterstock Create to easily put together a clip art design for social media.
For web and app designs, icon bundles are indispensable. These vector packs of icons, symbols, and logos can be used to create buttons, or to populate websites with illustrations and infographics.
In one download, you can gain access to dozens of characterful icons, and you’ll find that these come in handy for almost any digital-centric project, from videos to Instagram posts.
While minimal and clean icons always add polish to a website design, you can look for unusual icon styles that give a nod to your business and bring a more characterful aspect to a layout.
For example, an eco-focused company might look for an icon set with environmental imagery, while an artistic business might find that icons in a painterly or doodle style add creative quirk to their website.
Creative Ways to Recycle Your Stock Images
In this article, we’ve looked at how you can really make the most of your Shutterstock subscription. If you’re running a small business, it’s important to ensure your stock images work as hard as possible, so you don’t have to!
You’ll find endless uses for these exceptionally versatile images, whether it’s icon bundles or beautiful textures, allowing you to create a wide range of campaign-style designs, across print and online.
If you think these types of images will help you create fantastic designs for your business, why not check out our great-value pricing bundles?
And, when you’re ready to get creative, use the handy templates on Shutterstock Create to design impactful designs for marketing, social media, and more.
License this cover background image via Tavarius.