Designers have different ways of invoicing clients for stock images used in their projects. Money doesn’t always mesh well with the creative process, but for each and every download, someone has to eventually shell out the dough. Here are a few thoughts on the pros and cons of flat rates, mark ups, research and design fees, and how to invoice your clients when the time comes.

1. Your invoice includes the cost of the purchased files – with a % mark up and your research time to be billed separately.


  • Well, obviously, that mark up lands in the “pro” column.
  • By billing your research time separately, you receive an hourly fee for your time spent searching for images. This way you can take your time, and if you have to keep searching for additional images, you will not find yourself holding the short end of the stock photo stick.


  • Your client may balk at the amount of time/money spent searching for images, not appreciating the skill and patience it takes to find that perfect image. You may prefer to bill a research rate instead of a design rate to appease your client.
  • Depending on the size or type of images needed for a specific project, your client may expect the price to be the same for every project.
  • Some clients may check for images on their own and realize your mark up, which could be awkward.
 Design process image |  enotmaks
Design process image | enotmaks

2. Charge a flat rate which includes images and search time.


  • If your client is easily pleased with your findings from a quick search, you could come out way ahead.
  • By budgeting the number of images included in the flat rate, and keeping a careful eye on the clock, you can ensure your profit margin.


  • Your client could continually send you back to the drawing board, taking hours to find the right image, plummeting your hourly rate. (Personally, I now include a caveat for two to three rounds of searches. Anything additional is an hourly rate. A lesson I learned the hard way.)
  • If you’re using a credit-based image plan, your client could choose only the most expensive images or vectors from your search.
 Customer payment image |  enotmaks
Customer payment image | enotmaks

3. Have the client purchase the images himself/herself. Include your research to find those images in your design fee.


  • No money comes out of your pocket to purchase the image.
  • If the client changes his/her mind, no money comes out of your pocket to purchase the other/new image, and you’ll have lost nothing on the now-rejected one.
  • By incorporating your research time into the project’s final fee, your client will not be able to complain about how long it took you to find that perfect image.
  • You are not liable for any misuse of the image by the client.


  • Your client now knows how affordable the images are.
  • Your client will know where you’re getting your images from. This could create challenges in the future, with your client wanting to do some image searching himself/herself – depriving you of research funds.

Depending on the client, the project, your time, and your patience, you may end up learning some of these invoicing challenges the hard way. Hopefully, what I’ve learned the hard way will give you some insight towards making an informed estimate or invoice in the future. Good luck.

And, if you’re needing royalty-free stock photos, why not sign up for a 7-day Free Trial of a Bigstock subscription? You’ll be able to download up to 35 free images during the course of your trial. Happy downloading!

About the Author: Jessica Furst is a designer for “aging rockstars, neighborhood businesses, and corporate giants.” She specializes in event materials, package design, small biz branding, and concept development. She is the founder of Furst Impressions Design in Brooklyn, NY.

Header image by Bigstock contributor RaStudio.


  5 Crucial Budgeting Tips for Every Freelancer
5 Crucial Budgeting Tips for Every Freelancer
  How to Avoid Common Freelance Designer Mistakes
How to Avoid Common Freelance Designer Mistakes

Posted by: