How to Find Free Stock Images: Your Graphic Design Image Usage Guide

Today, in the era of multiple copyright rules, strict image usage policies and licenses, one of the most frequently asked question each designer asks himself is “Can I use this image?”  There are a lot of graphic designers who consider that a few changes to copyrighted elements make the work original and doesn’t require any permission for use or attribution to the original source. Let’s make it clear. The only work you should never ask permission to reuse is your own design. So, we would highly recommend that you open the Photoshop or Illustrator and create your own design elements and drawings which you can edit, share, reuse and distribute with clear conscious.

In order to get all those intellectual property rights and fair use policy sorted out, one needs to know what are the graphic design ethics terminology and image usage policies.

What are the key terms of design ethics every graphic designer should know?

Copyright infringement is the illegal usage or copy of the copyrighted work without its author’s permission.

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that helps creative people to share their designs for reuse via using free legal tools. Creative Commons have developed several free Creative Common (CC) licenses which provide public permission to use and share other people’s creative work. There are several license conditions which are applied to creative works CC licenses:

How to Find Free Stock Images: Your Graphic Design Image Usage Guide Attribution (by) requires giving credit to the author of the work you want to reuse.

How to Find Free Stock Images: Your Graphic Design Image Usage Guide ShareAlike (sa) allows copy, distribution, display and modification under the same terms. If you want to use the work under other terms, you need to ask permission first.

How to Find Free Stock Images: Your Graphic Design Image Usage Guide NonCommercial (nc) allows copy, distribution, display and modification for any purpose other than commercial.

How to Find Free Stock Images: Your Graphic Design Image Usage Guide NoDerivatives (nd) allows copy, distribution, display and perform only original copy of works without any modification. If you want to modify the work with the license that includes this condition, you need to ask permission.

Preview design elements are the elements (photos, graphics, patterns, fonts, backgrounds, texture etc.) used in preview design images which show how this or that graphic design template would look like. For preview design elements use only those images with a license for free usage for commercial purposes.

Source file design elements are the elements (photos, graphics, patterns, fonts, backgrounds, texture etc.) used in PSD and (or) in AI/ EPS files.  For source file design elements use only those images with a license for reuse, share and distribute for commercial purposes. The images with this type of license are less common.

CCO license is the only license that enables free distribution and usage of the copyrighted work with no restrictions for both personal and commercial purposes.

Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license allows use, share, edit and use as a basis copyrighted works for commercial purposes as long as you give attribution to the author.

Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) license allows to use, share, edit and use as a basis copyrighted works for personal and commercial purposes as long as you give attribution to the author and share the work under the original license terms.

16 Websites with Royalty-Free (CCO license) Images/Photos

One of the simplest ways to find free images with CCO license is to use the field on the Creative Commons website with a check mark “use for commercial purposes” under the search field.

You can also find free images using Google search. Type your request (e.g. “Night Club Party”), click on Settings under the search field and go to Advanced search. At the end of search settings tabs, click on the Usage rights drop-down menu. Here you can select:

  • Free to use and share, even commercially
  • Free to use, share or modify, even commercially.

This will help you narrow your results to those you can use for free, without any license or tribute to the author.

Besides the above mentioned ways of free image search, there are also websites with royalty-free images.

Pexels is one of the biggest online stock of free pictures under CCO license.

Pixabay provides over 1.3 million of free royalty photos, pictures, vector graphics, illustrations and videos. It has a user friendly interface with the intuitive search algorithm that helps you to easily find what you need.

Unsplash gives access to thousands of free high resolution photos for personal and commercial purposes with no attribution required. New photos are added on a daily basis.

Stocksnap has a lot of great free photos. It has categories and a great sorting tool that helps easily navigate the website and get what you need in seconds.

Kaboompics provides exclusive free photos and photoshoots. It helps find photos by orientation (horizontal or vertical), mode (photos or photoshoots), color and category.

Pikwizard is a new free images library which has 100,000 completely free images. One of the specific features of this website is that there are a lot of pictures of people, which tend to be rare in free stock photo sites. All of the images are free to use without attribution.

Gratisography is full of copyright free high-resolution photos with new photos added on a weekly basis.

ISO Republic is great at finding free photos by tags.

Picjumbo is another photo stock created by Victor Hanacek that provides free high-quality photos for your personal and commercial usage.

Burst is the online photo bank powered by Shopify that gives access to exclusive photo collections.

Foodiesfeed is one of the most popular websites with free food photos under CCO license.

Negativespace gives access to multiple great CCO licensed free photos you can use in your next graphic design project.

Freestocks is a simple stock of good photos you can use for your own projects absolutely free.

Picography, Lifeofpix, Imcreator, Styledstock are mid-sized photo stocks with free creative and original photos.

Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal (©Picasso)

If you want to grow as a graphic designer and improve your design skills, avoid using third-party modern design elements. Design from scratch, find inspiration for new designs in the cultural and historical heritage of mankind. Learn history, get inspiration in arts. Reshape old things and ideas into new design forms. For example, Apple created a simple but symbolic logo that, according to one of the versions, was simply “stolen” from the biblical story about the bitten fruit of knowledge.

How to Find Free Stock Images: Your Graphic Design Image Usage Guide

Via unbounce

Starbucks logo was inspired by a 16th Century woodcut of two-tailed siren or mermaid.

How to Find Free Stock Images: Your Graphic Design Image Usage GuideHow to Find Free Stock Images: Your Graphic Design Image Usage Guide

We all know a famous recruitment poster with Uncle Sam, but did you know that it’s a revamped representation of a World War I recruitment poster with a British Field Marshal Herbert Kitchener?

How to Find Free Stock Images: Your Graphic Design Image Usage GuideHow to Find Free Stock Images: Your Graphic Design Image Usage Guide

Don’t copy, use your creativity, spacious mind and imagination to create your own design elements.

If you are looking for free PSD templates of flyersbrochures, business cards, logos and other print materials, Elegantflyer has got you covered. Get unlimited access to 4500+ PSD templates now.

About the Nelly Vinnik

I'm a Marketing and Content Manager at Elegantflyer. My goal is to make Elegantflyer a place where graphic designers can find inspiration, get creative ideas and templates for their own graphic design projects.

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