Creating a good website on a budget is hard. One of the toughest assignments is acquiring attractive, appropriate images at a good price. Many of us, , even accomplished artists, rely heavily clip art and stock graphics to get the job done. 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.
There are lots of articles pointing you to free graphics sites. These sites almost always require payment for commercial use. Gee, thanks.
Sometimes it’s not just once, either. Several popular stock photography sites require royalty payments not just on first use, but four times a year beyond that. Fees can be thousands of dollars per year, for as long as you use them. Ow.
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.
In most cases the main restriction is that you are not allowed to copy the entire collection and republish it as your own. And in the case of the Creative Commons license, you must be sure to include some kind of attribution to the creator somewhere on your website (this is good form under any circumstances). Feel free to use as many of these free clip art images as you want on web pages you have designed, however, even for sites where they are expected to (gasp!) make money.
Tens of thousands of people viewed the earlier version of this article, but I’ve learned a lot since then. While its contents are still valid I’ve added more sources of free graphics and have added a number of new sites.
Wouldn’t it be great if pro photographers gave up some of their images for the good of the world, and could maybe make a couple bucks in the process? Done and done. Freerange Stock has many excellent stock photographs you can use free, even in commercial ventures. They hope to make it back in Google ad revenues. I hope they do. Revenues are shared with the photographers.
Flickr is a huge site consisting of nothing but user-uploaded content, so it can be used in your commercial products, right? No! At least, not unless you search using the right advanced options. Flickr allows use of the Creative Commons Attribution licensing scheme, which is surprisingly badly explained on the Creative Commons main license page. Here’s the lowdown. Attribution lets you use the content commercially. You simply have to credit the original author. So use Flickr images to your heart’s content as long as you restrict your search to the right terms.
If the link above doesn’t work properly:
Probably the best known of the free image sources here, Stock.XCHNG (or possibly just stock.xchng; their usage is asn inconsistent as their URL is weird) has such slickly commercial images that you wonder how they manage to stay “in business”. With a user interface rivaling that of, say, the Corbis site, it has quality to match in its selection of 400,000 images. In many cases if you whipped out a presentation using these images no one would guess they came from a totally free source. Perhaps the best for the kind of images you would like to appear in a corporate PowerPoint snoozer (but I mean that in a good way; they are what people hope to get when they’re doing a presentation).
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.
An up-and-comer, this site is perhaps the smallest but its average image quality is strikingly high. The vast majority could appear in a magazine spread and the results would never screen low budget.
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. These are so ridiculously cool I sort of hate to give any other designers the edge, but here goes.
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.