Where To Find Free & Royalty-Free Images For Your Content
This tutorial covers:
- Using Royalty-free images and other types of image licenses.
- Free and royalty-free image sites.
- Free icon and vector image sites.
- Guidelines for using images on your site,
- Where to find good royalty-free and free images that you can legally use in your content.
Using eye-catching images in your content can grab your visitors’ attention, drive traffic to your site, convey your message more effectively, and make your content stand out.
Using images, however, also present a challenge for website owners. Finding suitable images for your content can take time and using images without proper licensing or permissions can get you into legal trouble.
There are different types of images available online and these differences are worth knowing about before you start adding images to your content.
Some images are free to use while others may have certain restrictions.
- Public Domain images are free to use in any way you like. For example, many images whose copyright has expired are automatically placed in the public domain.
- Rights Protected images (also known as Rights Managed images) are purchased or leased for a certain period of time, and for a specific project. These images are essentially rented from a photo agency or an individual photographer, with the price negotiated for a specific use. Typically, you will have exclusive rights to the image during the negotiated time period for a fee, so competitors won’t be able to use the same image in their campaigns. Rights protected images are traditionally used by larger businesses to purchase photography, as the cost to license these can be prohibitive to most website owners and web designers.
- Royalty-free images are typically purchased for a one-time fee, after which you can use the image in almost any way you like without having to pay ongoing royalties, and the image can be used in multiple projects. Unlike Rights Protected images, however, royalty-free images are not exclusive, meaning that others can also purchase the right to use the same image on their websites.
Using Royalty-Free Images
Royalty-free images are useful, cost-effective tools for website owners. Royalty-free images, however, are often not free and their usage rights must be respected.
Royalty-free images are typically priced by image size, where the smaller the size of the image being purchased, the cheaper the cost. On some sites, purchasing images in bulk can also reduce the cost. Typically, royalty-free images can be purchased without price negotiation, or a requirement to specify what the image(s) will be used for.
- Royalty-free images may have limitations and usage rights, and these must be respected. When choosing free or royalty-free images to use on your website, always check the image site for specific guidelines that you are requested to follow, and familiarize yourself with the site’s usage policy and any limitations placed on image use.
- Don’t copy images from other websites without permission or “borrow” images from places like Google image search results. Using royalty-free images without the rights to do so on your site can be very costly – many companies monitor how and where their images are being used and will not hesitate to issue a DMCA takedown notice or pursue legal action against website owners who breach image licensing and usage rights.
Free And Royalty-Free Image Sites
Below is a list of sites where you can search, browse, and download free and royalty-free images:
We recommend starting your search for images here, as Pixabay provides access to 1.9 million+ free images, including high-quality photos, vector graphics, and illustrations (also video and music).
All copyright and related or neighboring rights to images uploaded to Pixabay have been waived. This means that you are free to adapt and use the images for personal or commercial purposes without attributing the original author or source.
Although not required, Pixabay states that it would appreciate having a link back to the site if any images are used.
Pexels provides free stock photos & videos of exceedingly high quality. All photos and videos on Pexels are free to use.
Attribution is not required, although giving credit to the photographer or Pexels is appreciated. You can modify the photos and videos from Pexels and edit them as you like.
To use the site, just search for any topic using the search box, preview the photo or video, choose a download size and click on the download button.
If you can’t find the images you are looking for in the above sites, try the sites below:
You can download images for free for non-commercial use or pay a subscription fee and get access to all images for commercial usage.
You can download all images for free and use these for personal or commercial purposes.
In return for downloading images for free, the site asks you to link back to the site. Read the site’s copyright section before downloading images.
You are free to download, copy and use the photos you find here for any purpose.
These free images were donated by photographers from around the world…”
You can download free shared clipart uploaded by users as public domain content, including vector images and raster/stock photos at no cost for your projects. The site also hosts many historical images that were obtained from the US library of congress.
Creative Commons Search allows you to easily search across multiple websites for unique images that you can use on your WordPress website. It is not a search engine, however. It is a convenient way to access image search services provided by other independent organizations.
Before adding images found using this site to your content, it is important that you first familiarize yourself with the Creative Commons licenses. Different copyright owners will require different methods of attribution in exchange for using their images. In most cases, all you need to do to satisfy the copyright owner’s attribution requirements is to provide a link back to the source material.
Crestock images offer a flexible, royalty-free license for all their images. You pay a one-time fee for the right to use the image as often as you want. A number of Extended License options are available in addition to the Standard License. You don’t have to register to search and view images and there are only a few restrictions on how the images can and cannot be used.
Deposit Photos is a great source of premium royalty-free stock photos, illustrations, and vector art.
If you are a designer, advertiser, photo editor, content manager, or blogger, you can find millions of high-quality photographs and vector images and download these on a pay-as-you basis or access all images through an affordable subscription plan.
Images are available in all popular stock photo and image themes.
Additionally, web design images include backgrounds, textures, social icons, and website buttons.
You can view a photo’s license by clicking on the license icon. Membership is free and allows you to rate, tag, collect, and comment on photos.
If you find an image you’d like to use, look for the “Request to License” link near the license on the photo page. If you don’t see this link, you can contact the image owner directly.
When you contact a photographer, it’s best to include as much info as possible about the photo and how you plan to use the photo.
A good way to facilitate getting permission to use an image is to offer to link back to the photographer’s page.
The site displays photos matching your search term. Click on any of the thumbnails to get a slightly larger image and the attribution details you will need to include for any work you produce using the picture.
If you want to edit a photo, you’ll need to restrict your search to just the licenses that allow derivatives by checking the “for editing” box before initiating your search. There is also a “commercial” checkbox that restricts search results to images with licenses suitable for commercial use.
All pictures on this site can be used without any royalty payments if they are not re-sold or used in similar stock photo databases, archives, or sites.
The images are not watermarked, they are not reduced in size, and do not have any other technical limitations.
All the images on this website are available free of charge, for business, personal, charitable, or educational use, with an option to buy larger images at reasonable prices.
Once you’ve chosen your image it can be downloaded immediately without registration.
If you opt for a free image, you can use it in the same ways as a paid-for version, so you can avoid the legal pitfalls of using images you’ve “found” elsewhere and don’t have the copyright holder’s permission to use.
The most popular categories on this site are pictures of people and business pictures. The free images are small-sized but perfect for websites or draft printed work.
If you need a larger-sized version then they are all available to buy.
As the site’s contributing artists have given their permission for you to have their pictures free of charge, you are asked to publish a credit to acknowledge the image authors where you use their image.
This comprehensive, yet easy to navigate site offers images that are free for online use, with higher quality versions available for sale.
FreeFoto.com claims to offer the largest collection of free photographs on the Internet. Link back and attribution is required. Make sure you read the “Free Use Rules” on the site before using any images.
Free Images UK is a high-quality resource of digital stock photographic images for use by all. All images in the site’s collection are free to use on websites, printed materials and anywhere you need photos for illustration and design use.
There are more than 6,000 free images in 80+ categories available. Images are completely free to use, if you do not redistribute them to other people and provide a link from your website or credit in printed material.
The free media and free background images are provided royalty-free and can be used in print, film, TV, Internet, or any other type of media for unlimited commercial and personal purposes, without the need to provide credit or link attributions.
Gimp-Savvy is a copyright-free community-indexed photo archive. The photo archive at Gimp-Savvy.com has more than 27,000 free photos and images. The images and photos found in this archive come from three main sources: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Each of these sites clearly states that their photos and images are in the public domain, but individual restrictions might still apply, so check the individual image requirements carefully.
Shutterstock is one of the web’s largest and most popular sources for high-quality royalty-free stock images, media, and design elements. The site’s catalog of downloadable files also includes vector illustrations, videos, music, and sound effects.
Shutterstock offers millions of royalty-free files, from tens of thousands of contributing artists, at affordable prices. You pay once and can use the file multiple times. The site even offers a Legal Guarantee that content used within the terms of the license agreement will not infringe on any copyright, moral right, trademark, or other intellectual property rights, or violate any right of privacy or publicity.
You are free to use the images, either privately or commercially. You don’t have to buy any of the images listed on the site, as they are all free. However, a few are available at a higher resolution for purchase.
Additionally, you are asked not to sell or give away the images themselves either individually or as a collection. And although not required, if you do find the images helpful, a link or footnote back to the source page is appreciated.
With over 1,000,000 high-quality images, Kozzi is one of the world’s largest online stock photography websites in the world. This site offers stunning high-quality images, clip art, and video clips for a very low cost.
Kozzi also features free images, images from top artists around the world, discount pricing, and over 100,000 high-quality clip art and vector images. When you download any image from Kozzi, it comes with the rights to use that image for non-commercial and commercial purposes. Also, no attribution to Kozzi or any of its contributors is required.
Images on this site are free to use for commercial or non-commercial purposes. You can also incorporate images into your derived work with no requirement to pay licensing fees. Your derived work must involve significant modification to the textures, however, and a credit to the site is not required but is appreciated. Refer to the site for other terms and conditions of use associated with the images.
If you use Microsoft Office products or their Office Web Apps, you are allowed to access and use media images, clip art, animations, sounds, music, video clips, templates, and other forms of content (“media elements”) provided with the software available on Office.com or as part of services associated with the software.
The Microsoft Images and Clip Art Library provides access to many great images, illustrations, and clip art. The site also provides filtering options that let you search for illustrations, photos, animations, sound, and image sizes.
A morgue file is a place to keep post-production materials for the use of reference. MorgueFile.com contains hundreds of free high-resolution digital stock photography for corporate or public use, divided into several categories.
According to the site, their purpose is to provide free image reference material for use in all creative pursuits. Images are of high quality and completely free. A license summary for each image can be found directly below the image. Attribution is not required.
This is a great place to look for free vector images, icons, or clip art to use on your WordPress site. The Open Clip Art Library offers access to over 7000 user-contributed clip art images available for both personal and commercial use.
All the clip art available in the library is in the public domain, so you are free to use, modify, and create derivative images from the artwork. The clip art search filter options are well-organized and easy to browse.
This site makes over 2 million images freely available via Wikimedia Commons to be used for any purpose. As stated on the site, all images listed at Open Stock Photography come from Wikimedia Commons and as such “can be used by anyone, for any purpose.”
Image files are available under a free content license or in the public domain. There are no restrictions of use beyond those relating to the use of the site’s official insignia. Licenses that limit commercial use are considered non-free.
Open Stock Photography is a mashup created to help designers find free stock photography (or public domain photography). Open Stock Photography is also a multilingual system, allowing you to search for stock photography in virtually any language.
Photo Pin is a useful site for bloggers. It uses the Flickr API to search through millions of Creative Commons-licensed photographs from Flickr that bloggers can then easily add to their posts and articles.
To use the site, just search for any topic using the search box, preview the photo and click “get photo” to download the photo as well as the proper attribution link.
PicFindr is like a search engine for stock photography. It searches the web for stock photos that are completely free to use commercially. It is a web app that helps you search various stock images, public domain, and photo community sites simultaneously.
Several licensing arrangements have recently emerged as alternatives to copyright (sometimes called “copyleft”) and PicFindr makes sense of them all by helping you find images based on what you have to do to use them, whether licensed under Creative Commons, GNU, a site-specific agreement, or something else. PicFindr can even find free images you can use commercially without requiring permission or credit of any kind.
If you intend to use an image for commercial use, be aware that some photos may require a model or property release. Pictures featuring products or logos should be used with care.
The site offers over 380,000+ free quality stock photos from more than 30,000 photographers.
According to the site, Stock Vault is “a stock photo sharing website where photographers, designers, and students can share their photographs, graphics, and image files with each other for free.”
Additionally, the site claims that its sole purpose is “to collect and archive medium and high-resolution photographs that designers and students can share and use for their personal and non-commercial design work”, and that they are in no way trying to compete with royalty-free stock, but rather to fulfill the need for “somewhat” free stock imagery.
Uncle Sam’s Photos provides users with an organized directory of many U.S. government collections of free stock photos available for personal or commercial use.
Photos published on US government websites are generally public domain and free to use. Many of the galleries listed on this site state that you can do whatever you want with the photos, but some images may have restrictions and copyrights in place, so read the site’s terms and guidelines for using images before downloading or adding any images to your site to avoid problems.
This site aims to simply provide photos for your ideas, with no catch. You can download and use any of the images on this site for free, in just about any way you like, and without registering, in exchange for providing a link back to the site whenever you use one of their images.
You may not redistribute photos individually or en masse, as photos, to any other websites or offline buyers. The photos themselves remain the intellectual property of their respective owners and you are merely receiving permission to use them in your designs, your art, and your personal and professional projects.
Photos are organized by basic colors, except for white, which is more of an “everything else” category. The site also provides a simple image search engine that allows you to do basic searches.
Unrestricted Stock provides unrestricted high-quality royalty-free stock images, videos, and vector graphic image resources, including icons and hand-drawn images that you can use in just about any way you like.
Images from this site can be downloaded and used free of charge.
WikiMedia Commons is a media file repository that makes available to users over 18 million public domain and freely-licensed educational media content, including a large library of images, audio, and video files.
Wikimedia Commons is free. You are allowed to copy, use, and modify any files freely as long as you follow the terms specified by the author. This often means crediting the source and author(s) appropriately and releasing copies/improvements under the same freedom to others. The license conditions of each individual media file can be found on their description page.
The WikiMedia Commons library can be browsed by media type such as images, photographs, drawings, illustrations, or by file type like audio, video, image, etc. You can also search images by license. Many images on Wikimedia Commons are in the public domain, which means that you are free to use these without any attribution. Some images may have a creative commons license requiring attribution. As always, be sure to check the license information below each image before adding it to your content.
Tip: If you are browsing Commons for the first time, you may want to start with Featured pictures, Quality images, or Valued images.
Free Icon And Vector Image Sites
In addition to photos and illustrations, there are many sites you can visit to search for icons and vector images.
Here are a couple of free icon and vector image sites to help you get started:
Flaticon has a huge database of free customizable icons, with millions of icons in all formats that you can use in presentations, apps, websites, catalogs, infographics, etc.
For more details, go here: Flaticon.com
Iconfinder lets you search over 5.2 million high-quality SVG and PNG icons. You can download icons in formats that work with most tools like advanced design software and presentation programs.
All icons without the crown symbol are free to download. They are covered by various licenses, however, so make sure you check the specific requirements of each icon you plan to download.
For more details, go here: Iconfinder
Additional Image Resources
Below are some additional sites you can visit for free images:
- ace-clipart.com – free clip art, photos, illustrations, and images
- antiqueclipart.com – free public domain archives of Victorian and Edwardian era clipart
- alegriphotos.com – images and illustrations offered free of charge under a Creative Commons license for commercial and personal purposes
- ancestryimages.com – free historical stock images
- aarinfreephoto.com – free images for personal and commercial use.
- adigitaldreamer.com – free stock photography
- af.mil – U.S. air force images
- ars.usda.gov – high-quality digital photographs from the Agricultural Research Service Information Dept.
- asia-insider-photos.com – public domain photographs of Asia
- animationplayhouse.com – free animated images, clipart, & graphics
- animationfactory.com – animated clipart, templates, backgrounds, and videos for presentations and websites
Using Royalty-Free Images On Your Site – Additional Information
- Many photos found on image sites may be copyright-free, but some restrictions may still apply. People have a legal right to privacy, and the use of their likeness for commercial advertising typically requires a consent agreement. If a person is recognizable in an image, a model release must be obtained before using the image for commercial purposes. In principle, if a photo is sufficiently modified so that individuals are no longer “recognizable”, it should be okay to use. In all cases, however, the final responsibility for the fair use of images rests on you.
- Regardless of where you get your images, it’s good practice to give attribution to the image source or image author either at the end of your article or under the image.
- Sometimes royalty-free image companies get acquired by other companies and the images may stop being available for free. Also, like any other online property, a site may cease to operate or be taken offline.
How To Find Images Quickly And Easily
Finding the right image for your content can be time-consuming. As well as searching through the image libraries listed above, here are some smart and effective ways to search and find images online quickly and easily for your projects:
Google scours the net indexing millions of images and displays these on its own Image Search results page.
To find an image, first do a search on Google for a keyword or keyword phrase that describes the type of image that you are looking for (e.g. “excited businessman using laptop”, etc.) …
This brings up the web search results. To view image search results, click on the Images link.
Typically, the search result will indicate if the images come from image libraries by displaying watermarks.
If you find an image that you like and can easily trace its source back to an image licensing site, then great! Just visit the site and purchase the rights to your chosen image.
If, however, you find an image in the search results that you like, but the source of the image isn’t obvious, then use the following method to determine whether the image is part of a royalty-free image collection or not.
First, search for an image on the Google Images search page…
When you find an image you like, click on it to view the source page of the image.
You can do one of two things next … either:
- Continue clicking until you find the exact location of the image then copy the image URL to your clipboard, or
- Save the image to a temporary folder on your computer.
Note: Do not upload this image to your website. We simply need the image for the next step below.
Google Image Search
To find where your image comes from, go to Google and click on the camera icon.
This brings up the ‘Search by image’ feature, which lets you search by images instead of text.
To begin your image search, you can either:
- Paste the image URL, or
- Upload an image.
For this example, we’ll upload an image. To upload an image, click on the ‘Choose File’ button or drag the image into the window.
If uploading an image using the ‘Choose File’ button, a window browser will open on your screen.
Locate the folder where you have saved the image you are searching for, select the image, and click on the ‘Open’ button.
Google will return a list of sites where your image is being used. Many of these entries will be from websites and blogs that are licensing the use of the image, not the image provider itself.
Go through the results page until you find a stock image provider. Now, you can visit the site and view the image licensing details.
Another site you can search for images on is TinEye.
TinEye is a reverse image search engine. It lets you specify an image, and the search engine then goes out and all other locations on the net that contain images matching the one you have entered. You can find other sites that perform a similar service by searching online for the phrase “reverse image lookup”.
After downloading the image to your hard drive, go to TinEye.com.
The next step is to specify the image you want to find matches for in TinEye. You can either upload your image or enter an image address.
For this example, let’s upload the image we saved earlier to our hard drive.
Click on the Upload button to upload an image…
Locate and select your image file…
TinEye will go out and search the net for images that match the one you have specified.
If the search returns multiple results, chances are that the image you are looking for was sourced from an image library. If you scroll through the results, you may find the original image filename or even the actual image library URL.
The final step is to visit the image library URL and purchase your chosen image. Typically, the sponsored section of TinEye’s search results page will list sites where you can license the image.
Note: If you click through to the stock image library URL and discover that the image is no longer available or has been removed from its library, repeat the above process to find another licensing site or search for another image.
Pic Search is an image search service that crawls the web and indexes images. Its search engine has indexed more than 3,000,000,000 images. You can edit your search by animation, color, or size to find what you need.
Pic Search is an alternative to the Google Image search website. It creates thumbnail images of the original images and provides a link to the original page where the image was indexed from. This enables users to visit the original page and obtain the appropriate permissions to use the image. Make sure that you read the sites’ licensing terms or contact the copyright holder before you download or use any pictures.
An easy way to find free images for your content, therefore, is to search Wikipedia for a keyword or phrase related specifically to the topic of your content and then click on any images that you like on the results page. Information about licensing and using that image will then be displayed.
Other Useful Image Resources
Here are some useful resources if you plan to use images on your WordPress site:
SnagIt is a complete tool for screen capture and video recording on Windows and Mac.
It lets you combine traditional screenshots, video recording, image editing, and file sharing quickly and easily. You can also customize and edit screenshots with professional-quality markup tools, trim your recordings, convert videos to animated GIFs, and more!
For more details, go here: SnagIt Screen Capture Software
Removing backgrounds from images like photos (called ‘deep-etching’) is a difficult process that requires great skill.
Versatile Pictures saves you time and money by providing a huge library of over 20,000+ high-resolution images without backgrounds that you can immediately place on top of any other image or background and resize to give you a seamlessly integrated composite image.
The images can be downloaded and used as many times as you need in your projects and are organized into categories making them easily searchable.
Commercial rights are also included with the license, so these images can be included in any work done for clients also.
For more details, go here: Versatile Pictures
The Pixabay Plugin for WordPress is a convenient and time-saving plugin that lets you access over 1,000,000 stock images from Pixabay.
You can search, resize, and insert images directly into your posts and pages without leaving your WordPress site.
The stock images returned by the plugin’s internal search database are all from the public domain and high quality.
For more details, go here: Pixabay Plugin for WordPress
Using Royalty-Free Images On Your Site
- Many photos found on image sites may be copyright-free, but some restrictions may still apply. People have a legal right to privacy, and the use of their likeness for commercial advertising typically requires a consent agreement. If a person is recognizable in an image, a model release must be obtained before using the image for commercial purposes. In principle, if a photo is sufficiently modified so that individuals are no longer “recognizable”, it should be okay to use. In any and all cases, however, the final responsibility for the fair use of images rests on you.
- Regardless of where you get your images, it’s good practice to give attribution to the image source or image author either at the end of your article or under the image.
- Sometimes royalty-free image companies get acquired by other companies and the images may stop being available for free.
- Also, just like any other online property, a site may cease to operate or be taken offline.
Congratulations! Now you know where to search for and find free and royalty-free images that you can use in your content and different resources that will help to improve your business and site visually.
Image credits: Article image sourced from Pixabay.
Updated: April 9th, 2023