Creating a good website on a budget is hard, and one of the toughest assignments is the creation of attractive, appropriate images. Many of us rely heavily clip art and stock graphics to get the job done, even accomplished artists. There are thousands of sites with such art available but they are a potential legal and ethical minefield, because you are usually required to compensate the artists when you use them on a commercial site. Sometimes it’s not just once, either. One popular stock photography site requires royalty payments each quarter for the pictures you use. Those payments aren’t low either.
What makes this article different is that the free clip art and stock graphics here are all not only free to acquire, but they are also royalty–free and rights–cleared, meaning you can use them on your site without having to pay anyone. So what’s the catch? Originally, my main point here was going to be that these images are of somewhat lower quality than their commercial counterparts. Reviewing these sites pulled me to the opposite conclusion. There’s a ton of great stuff here. About the only catch is that in most cases you are not allowed to copy the entire collection and republish it as your own. Feel free to use as many of these free clip art images as you want on web pages you have designed, however.
Browse this during your downtime and you’ll find some real gems. It is a comprehensive and well–categorized site that verges perilously close to commercial quality. I have used some of the image credits to track down artists for additional work.
Jon Sullivan has contributed thousands of his own pictures to the public domain in an act of extreme generosity. His category system is faultless and thorough. PD Photo is clean and very easy to navigate. Travel, events such as airshows and parades, and such critically important topics as cheese are covered with commercial grade photographs. A few of them are copyrighted, apparently because they use copyrighted subject matter, but he still makes them free to use; see the Copyrighted section for details.
Surprisingly high quality free clip art collection and, pleasantly, most images are in at least three formats: web-ready bitmaps, PDF, and WMF (a Windows graphic format).
A massive 25,000 free clip art collection of public domain images “specifically tailored for use in word processors” and optimized for inkjet output. It even includes notes on using OpenOffice. This free clip art collection is a labor of love. Paul Sherman, the maintainer, has gone far past the extra mile in retouching and improving many of the images while still not claiming copyright on his changes. Emphasis is on older but eminently useful images.
A treasure trove for the graphically adventuresome, these are high–quality free clip art scans from science fiction, fantasy, and the totally deranged over a period of hundreds of years.
A fun collection of free clip art to browse with a unique user interface for browsing multiple images at once. These are older graphics but Photoshop enthusiasts could have a field day remixing them.
Photos primarily from NASA, NOAA (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Do not underestimate this resource. Many of the images are stunning and go well beyond what you would expect out of free clip art.
A large, varied, and delightfully quirky collection of free clip art images from many sources, old and new. Leave extra time to browse because this wonderful site is like potato chips. You can’t just sample a page or two of this site. Many of the photographs come from the maintainers, who go by the collective name of sookietex, so you won’t find these images anywhere else. Again, highly recommended.
As befits a giant bureacracy, the name is boring. But expect to be surprised by the wealth of free clip art and images tied together from a wide variety of sources. Who would have expected the people who brought us the IRS to give us the gift of Earth as Art, with stunning, often abstract photographs that not only make great wallpaper for your computer but which could also be used as backgrounds for home page logos.