Ethical & Legal Image Sourcing: Avoiding the Bait and Switch


Filed in: Education, For Designers  —  Read time:

We’re taking a little detour today to chat about something that’s been buzzing around the design community – image sourcing. We are teaming up with one of our favorites, Editorial Stock Images, bringing you some exclusive insights around using ESI stock images inside website templates. Now, we all love a stunning website template that pops, right? But let’s talk about the not-so-glamorous side of those gorgeous images we use. Grab your coffee, and let’s dive into the world of ethical and legal image sourcing. Trust us, it’s way more interesting (and important!) than it sounds.

Who are we?

Our journey started over a decade ago. Yep, you read that right – we’ve been in the game for more than 10+ years, crafting award-winning templates. We’ve seen it all: the ups, the downs, and everything in between. We’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt (and then probably designed a website for it).

We’re Sam and Rachel, the two Showit Design Partners behind the Northfolk template shop. But we’re not just about creating pretty designs. We’ve been sharing our secrets through our education program, Revolving Revenue, where we teach Showit designers (and a few go-getters on other platforms) to launch their automated template shops to get those passive “cha-ching’s!”

But with us, it’s not just about making a sale; it’s about empowering you to create ethically and confidently. Which is why we’re here, taking over for ESI – our editorial stock icons 🙌🏻 – to tackle a tricky topic that’s buzzing in the template world. 👀

Addressing that elephant…. 🐘

We’ve spotted a trend – designers dazzle with premium images to market their templates, only to pull a classic “bait and switch” at delivery, delivering a blank template.

Imagine opening a cookie jar to find it filled with…. broccoli. Yep – thats the feeling. 🥴

This exact “trend” is why we took out several lessons from our RR program and made them FREE. 😱 You can watch them 👉🏻 here.

And this isn’t exclusive to just newbie designers. There are experienced designers, who KNOW better, that are doing this. Or worse…. using images from paid stock memberships (like ESI) and just assuming that giving credit is enough. Spoiler alert – it’s NOT! It’s actually leaving your business open for major financial and legal consequences. 😬

So back to the “bait and switch” technique… we know what you’re saying.

“BUT I include a disclaimer telling the user this.”

When making a purchase for your business, do you read every single fine print? Probably not. Can you imagine spending your hard earned money on a beautiful template, only to install it on your site and see it stripped down to “image here” graphics? Here’s an example. Which one would catch your eye when shopping for a website? They are the same exact design, but one is actually going to SELL templates. 👀

*This beautiful design is our Memoir template for Showit. 😉

Assuming all your customers read every fine print disclosure and make the decision to purchase anyways – you are still using another creatives hard work to SELL your product, without any compensation. 👈🏼 Please go back and read that again.

The first thing we tell a designer to do if their template isn’t selling, is to update the imagery. Photography SELLS the design.

We hope you’re sitting there thinking… “well when you put it that way,” and NOT….

“BUT I see a lot of other designers doing this same thing.”

This doesn’t mean it’s RIGHT. It’s actually very, very wrong.

While customers might not understand how tacky this is at first, they will eventually. 🫣

Using a “bait and switch” in your business can impact your credibility and reputation among not only your target audience, but your creative community.

Just because you found a loop hole, doesn’t mean you should use it.

“BUT I can’t afford the commercial licensing cost!!”

We’ve been selling website templates successfully since 2013. But it wasn’t until a few short years ago that we started investing in premium stock for our designs (also partly because it wasn’t available then). And even now – our shop is pretty split between templates using royalty free stock and those with commercial use.

If budget is an issue, your ONLY CHOICE is to focus on quality templates with professionally sourced FREE images.

But here’s the thing… everyone thinks they are safe using free imagery on sites like Unsplash and Pexels. Watch our FREE training 👉🏻 here to see why you’re NOT.

🚨 Spoiler alert – the model reached out informing us that she was taking legal action against the photographer for posting her images. While we gladly removed what we could, we had been pinning this template with her images for 2 YEARS before this situation arose. Fortunately we haven’t heard from her anymore, but legal action was threatened. So don’t assume you’re automatically protected by sourcing FREE either.

Fact is, imagery for your templates is a cost of doing business.

It’s like a baker buying all their ingredients.

Our recommendation… proceed with caution until you can source commercially licensed stock imagery, like THESE from ESI. 🔥

So you might be left asking yourself

“Then what’s the purpose of a monthly membership with ESI?”

Let us share just a few ways it adds value to OUR business:

  1. Social Graphics: We might not be on Instagram much – but when we are, we would much rather navigate to our own curated stock folders than use free Canva images.
  2. Pins: We love Pinterest like Buddy the Elf loves Christmas! It’s our FAVORITE. 🤣 But Pinterest wouldn’t generate 80% of our website traffic if it wasn’t for on-brand premium imagery and videos used for our pin graphics.
  3. One Template, Three Ways: here’s the exception of how an ESI monthly membership can be used to show off your templates (unless you do yourself a favor and grab that stock license for your templates!). A few years ago (circa 2019 I think), we started addressing the question of “how customizable is this template?” with our “One Template, Three Ways” series. (example 1, example 2, example 3, example 4)

This is where we take the home page ONLY, and customize a quick demo with an alternative (sometimes polarizing) brand to show off the design, and Showit’s, flexibility.

  • Just the home page.
  • No distributing images illegally.
  • No unethical “bait and switch.”
  • You can even let your customers know… “Like the look? Snag images like these” with your ESI affiliate link!
  • And finally – tag ESI on Instagram for some extra exposure should they choose to share it!

We don’t typically believe that there is only ONE “right” way to do things… but sourcing assets legally and ethically is the exception.

As we wrap up this special edition, we want to leave you with a nugget of Northfolk wisdom: great design isn’t just about how it looks, it’s about how it’s built – structurally, creatively, ethically, and legally sound. We hope you found our takeover valuable and even enlightening. Keep creating, keep innovating, and remember, when in doubt, always honor your fellow creatives. ❤️


  1. Do not use ESI monthly membership images in your templates for sale, even if you give credit, it’s ILLEGAL.
  2. Do NOT “bait and switch” the images in your templates for sale! This is UNETHICAL.
  3. Imagery for your templates is a cost of doing business. Proceed with caution using free stock images until you can legally source premium assets like THESE from ESI.
  4. ESI Commercial Shop is your go-to spot for imagery in your products for sale.
  5. ESI Monthly membership still packs major value for a template business – just don’t put them in your products.
  6. We run a program called Revolving Revenue – the top program for Showit designers to make passive income with website templates. Did this takeover resonate? Come check us out here.




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