Anyone scouring the Web for visual material to be included in their newsletter, or on their website, either needs to have invested time and energy in building up their own archive or access to a stock content database. These offer both free and paid media for all sorts of purposes.
Generally speaking, you won't get any sort of indemnification (legal protection) in the event of copyright infringement from a free provider. For that reason, to be on the safe side, we recommend using paid databases, among which is 123RF. There, you can find more than 150 million images. In this review, we'll see what the Asia-based service is capable of.
What Is 123RF?
123RF ⇱ is a photo agency that was founded in Malaysia in 2005. When starting out, it focused on marketing image rights. As demand for new content grew, 123RF evolved into a full-fledged stock photo service.
While most image platforms typically market themselves to commercial users, 123RF caters to private ones. This is palpable in its rather upbeat and unconventional website which since 2016 has been designed by the renowned graphic artist, David Carson.
Alongside millions of images, 123RF also offers stock vector graphics, icons, videos, and audio. Beyond that, there are a number of photo editing tools available such as filters and effects, auto enhance, as well as a font pairer and color marker.
123RF is based in Malaysia and caters to private, rather than corporate users.
Pros and Cons
Impressive selection of photos
Complicated licensing and pricing
Downloads are deleted after a year of non-use
Configuration & Usage
Getting started with 123RF was a breeze. To set up an account, we only needed to confirm our email address. The website's homepage is colorful and well-organized, which makes it very easy to navigate. In the upper right, you can specify your language preferences with a single click. The header menu along the top directs you to different types of content (photos, vectors, footage, audio, and tools). Alternatively, you can also search by category (landscape, food, technology, etc.), or input a keyword. Apart from content, the header menu also includes an option for Corporate+, as well as Free Images.
123RF's tools and products complement its media offerings on the service's homepage.
Finding what you're looking for
By searching by keyword, 123RF will return thousands of high-quality images that match your query. Thanks to its comprehensive filter settings, visible off to the left, you can refine results. The georank filter is particularly interesting since this ostensibly yields results that are prevalent in the country you've selected and/or its local culture.
We tried this out with a few different words and phrases and it worked well. For example, when we set the filter to Spain and searched for village, the results showed Spanish or Mediterranean-style buildings. Similarly, when we reset the filter to Germany, it showed us half-timbered homes and dwellings.
The georank filter is very interesting. Depending on the location you specify, 123RF will return local results that match the country and its culture.
Sleek videos for everyday use
There's more to content than just images and text though. Accordingly, 123RF also offers a wide selection of video files (footage). Here too, the georank filter works very well, however, the sorting options when querying the database for other types of media are generally less elaborate than for images. By excluding certain terms, it's possible to refine search results. Video quality is excellent, and even though the target groups are private individuals and semi-professionals, there's plenty for anyone looking for film material.
123RF's video archive is impressive.
For audio searches, category filters help to sift through results. Using these, it's possible to specify whether you're looking for music, sound effects, or jingles. With the genre filter, results can be further refined. This allows you to pinpoint natural sounds, industrial noise, epic soundtracks, or music for transitions and fades.
123RF's audio files include music, sound effects, and noises that cover nearly any subject matter.
Many of the techniques that professionals use to edit photographs, such as removing backgrounds or glare from an image, or adding a filter, can also be accomplished with 123RF's photo-editing tools. During our assessment, we determined that background removal worked well, so long as there was a marked color contrast between it and the rest of the image. Automatic photo enhancement, on the other hand, was rather mediocre.
Depending on the motif, 123RF's background removal tool does a decent job of getting rid of backgrounds.
Purchase credits or a subscription
123RF is a premium service. This means that before you can download any sort of media, you'll either need to purchase on-demand credits or a subscription. The latter includes photos covered by both the provider's standard as well as editorial licenses. Such images can be used for advertising, private, and commercial purposes.
Should you opt to buy credits, you can exchange them for all types of data covered under the platform's varying licenses. On-demand credits, like subscriptions, can be purchased by debit/credit card or Paypal. The entire payment process is uncomplicated and self-explanatory.
You have two options for securing paid material from 123RF: On-demand credits, or a subscription.
Getting started was simple, 123RF's website is intuitive to navigate and well-organized, and its filter options are more than sufficient. Overall, looking for media material on the platform is fun and hassle-free.
Score: 5 / 5
Selection of Stock Photos
At present, 123RF's database offers access to more than 150 million images. The sheer amount of material available means that you'll have a wide selection, however, you still have to locate the right images. To see how well this functioned, we searched for five keywords and phrases: web hosting, ecommerce, antivirus, business, and email marketing.
Web hosting: Our first search yielded around 110,000 photos. Among these were not only relevant options, but also high-quality and very creative ones that you just can't find everywhere. Using the platform's filters, the results could be further refined.
In this image, 123RF combines web hosting and cloud.
Ecommerce: Once again 123RF positively surprised us, generating more than 700,000, fairly relevant, high-quality, and unique hits for our search. Even on the last pages of search results, the photos are good. Our only complaint would be that the "human" filters could be expanded, however, as things stand, the results were in order.
123RF turned up surprisingly good results when we searched for ecommerce.
Antivirus: Our first search yielded around 120,000 hits. The database understood the context and served up images depicting computer viruses. As such, the results weren't only relevant, but also fairly creative.
For antivirus, 123RF also provided plenty of good and unique options.
Business: 28 million images on 123RF (around a fifth of their total) turned up in our search for business. Good luck sorting through these without a filter! For example, if you'd like a photo with only women in it, you can use the database's filter options. By specifying the image's color and the number of people in it, you'll quickly get to what you're after.
Email marketing: For this, 123RF delivered a bit more than 130,000 results, all of which seemed to be relevant and of suitable quality. Still, filters can be a major time saver here and will help you to sort through the many creative and interesting options offered by the platform.
Rounding things out, for email marketing, 123RF provided a nice selection of high-quality, relevant options.
Overall, 123RF doesn't only do well in terms of quantity, but also quality, often making unique images available across all of the categories we assessed via keyword search.
Score: 4.7 / 5
Selection of Videos, Audio, Vector Graphics & Animations
123RF's catalog of video footage is constantly growing. This means that those with a suitable budget can fashion entire projects from its clips. Video content is offered in three different resolutions at separate prices. There are a number of vector graphics and illustrations, all of which can be downloaded as modifiable EPS files.
Generally speaking, the quality and subject matter will be appealing even to those with high standards. Should you be looking for suitable ambient noise, peppy music for a self-filmed video, or an advertising jingle, we're confident that you'll find what you're after on 123RF.
The selection of videos offered by 123RF is solid.
What 123RF has to offer in this category is not groundbreaking, however, definitely useful for private and semi-professional purposes.
Score: 4 / 5
Now we arrive at the company's Achilles heel since its pricing and licensing conditions are complicated. The platform distinguishes between usage for advertising as well as for products intended both for sale and resale.
For the first group, several different license types are available, subdivided into a standard license, a print-only extended license, an electronic-only extended license, as well as a comprehensive extended license.
123RF's licensing structure is complicated and opaque.
Those who sign up for a subscription receive the standard license. With this, it's possible to use the selected content for marketing purposes in different contexts, however, you'll need to provide attribution for both the photographer and 123RF. For publications, the license only covers up to 500,000 editions, ending thereafter. Should an image include the comment "Only for editorial purposes", you cannot use it for advertising or sales promotion purposes.
If you instead opt to buy credits, you'll be able to take advantage of the more comprehensive extended license, which allows you to use the image on products intended for resale.
To be as legally safe as possible, we recommend carefully reading through the platform's conditions ⇱ and reaching out to support if something is unclear.
Score: 3 / 5
When it comes to support, 123RF can be reached in a few different ways: Via email, telephone, or live chat. We tested out the email and live chat options. Within a few hours, our email query was competently answered. Turning to the live chat, you first select the support team you'd like to contact. As long as they're online, you'll get swift responses.
123RF makes a good effort to be readily available for its customers, offering a number of different support channels, all of which were competent and friendly.
Score: 5 / 5
It's possible to purchase either a subscription package of images or an annual download package. With the latter, your license expires after 365 days of non-usage.
Overall, in terms of pricing, 123RF is on the more expensive end of the spectrum, and considering the relatively small amount of videos on offer, the price doesn't necessarily reflect what you get.
Below, we've produced an overview of the platform's current rates:
|10 Credits||Subscription 10||40 Credits|
|Billing||Credit Pack||Subscription||Credit Pack|
|Price per Month||$0.00||$22.42||$0.00|
|Contract Period (Months)||0||12||0|
|Photos / Month||1||10||4|
|Videos / Month||0||0||1|
Online & Print
Marketing & Ads
Online & Print
Marketing & Ads
Online & Print
Marketing & Ads
The table below compares 123RF's annual fees to those of the rest of our sample which would include the purchase of 10 stock photos per month.
Colorful, peppy, and creative all come to mind when we think about 123RF. The provider performed well owing to its wide selection of media, excellent accuracy, useful filters, responsive and helpful support, and tools for amateurs and semi-professionals. Deductions were made owing to its confusing pricing and licensing conditions.
So long as you've come to terms with the different types of licenses 123RF offers, you can take advantage of its excellent search accuracy and creative content. This makes the platform particularly well-suited for agencies or small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Some love the Malaysian provider, whereas others are deeply disappointed with it. We collated customer ratings on major review portals so that you can have a clear picture of what the average user has to say.
You'd prefer to go route one and avoid complicated licensing conditions? If so, Alamy might be appealing, since the service offers two different licenses and transparent conditions.
On the other hand, if you're looking for high-quality videos and are more interested in moving pictures, Storyblocks is better stocked.
Below, we've listed more of the best alternatives to 123RF for you: