I’ve reviewed a number of websites offering up free images for commercial use in businesses. This means the site has to:
- Supply the images without requiring any money
- Clearly state that an image falls within Creative Commons (CC) or is royalty free
For more on those terms, refer to the bottom of this review. Some sites supply exclusively creative commons or royalty free images, while other sites offered a mix of images which were free for commercial use with those that were not. It’s always important to understand the restriction on an image before using it, so please do double check images.
Why is it important to use images in your content ? There are many reasons, but in nut shell: stunning images make your written content seem more interesting. Services like Pinterest thrive on quick visual bites and prove images ability to increase social engagement, plus they are easier for users to interact with than having to read words.
General Free Image Websites
Wikimedia.org – 3/3 With more than 17 million media files available and guaranteed creative commons, this is a great place to find quality images, though many strike me as non-professional.
Flickr – 3/3 With a wealth of images and a simple advanced search for CC images, Flickr is a simple go-to for tapping into millions of images.
Morgue File – 1/3 Some great images, but you must click on each image individually to understand if it’s available under creative commons. I found about 1 in 7 images were CC, but many off these were still not available for commercial use. Morgue offers HTML for posting the image, which I found quite helpful.
Unrestricted Stock – 2/3 A mix of stock photos and vectors, this site is entirely free and everything may be used for commercial purposes according to their licence agreement. I wouldn’t say there are a ton of options on this site, but everything I’ve seen is good quality.
Microsoft Office – 3/3 Yes, this is real. Microsoft giving something useful away for free on a commercial level. The images are offered to anyone with Office.com or MS Office Web Apps, they say on their site “You may copy and use the media elements in projects and documents”. However, there are a few rules so do check them out.
Pixabay – 3/3 Tons of great images all free and in line with creative commons for commercial use. I found their search function superior to other internal image search engines.
FreeDigitalPhotos.net – 2/3 Only the small sizes of images are free, many look professional. However, FreeDigitalPhotos requires attribution on all free images used (HTML code is offered too) and your email address must be provided.
USA.gov – 3/3 By far the most random site on this list, the US government has provided a list of sites with images on offer, from national archives to NASA. They warn not all images on the sites are 100% public domain, so double check. However, I’ve sniffed about 4 sites and they are practically begging me to take the images.
StockPhotosFree.com -1/3 They say the images are “royalty free” and guarantee they can be used for commercial use. However, I’d argue the quality of these stock images are the same as what I’d take on a holiday.
Foter.com – 2/3 Great range of images, but searches for coffee brought up a surprising number of images of young asian girls in suggestive positions/situations. You can search for CC images specifically permitted for commercial use with the tick of a box. Simples.
FreeMediaGoo.com – 1/3 minimal selection, very few themes. I wouldn’t use it, despite being royalty free.
Deviant Art – 2/3 This site is full of stunning images, the community creating and curating the site enjoy fantasy, roll play, Lord of the Rings. The section of the site dedicated to CC images is a bit difficult to navigate, and they actually encourage you to use Google to search it with the query string: “This work is licensed under a Creative Commons” site:deviantart.com
FreeRangeStock – 2/3 royalty free images abound, about 50% quality to 50% novice. They try to make you jump through hoops to download images while promoting their brand via your social media accounts, just scroll down the pop up download window to ignore these cries for promotion.
Picdome.com – 1/3 Public domain pictures seems straight forward and a good idea, but searching for basic terms like “cat” and “dog” lead to no images. Very limited catalogue.
Pdphoto.org – 1/3 Public Domain Photo supplies a range of images, though I’d argue the search function is a bit inaccurate and the quality of images is not high.
Photoeverywhere.co.uk – 3/3 Images are geographic specific, free and easy to download, the photographer asks for a link as credit.
BigFoto.com – 2/3 Images based on locations around the world, they ask for a link back in return and that’s it. I’d suggest the images aren’t always as sharp as I’d hope, but they’re great breadth in the countries and local people on offer.
FromOldBooks.org – 3/3 Excellent resource for vintage images scanned from old story books. Produced before copyright laws became a hindrance, they’re free to all to use!
Animalphotos.info – 3/3 Images of animals, catagorised like a directory, all under creative commons. After looking at macaques, tuffed ducks, and red shovelers, I can say the image quality is outstanding.
CarPictures.cc – 3/3 What is says on the tin, lots of pictures of cars which call under creative commons. The quality of the images is quite good.
Openclipart.org – 3/3 Gorgeous clip art for unlimited commercial use, all royalty free. Simples.
Clker.com – 3/3 Free clip art haven available for commercial use. Don’t get hung up on the retro web design, this site has a lot on offer.
Flickr Search Engines
JohnJohnston.info – 3/3 Notably simple, pulling from Flickr. The site ensures all images also feature the simple embed code, complete with attribution link.
CompFight.com – 2/3 A search engine which can filter for only CC images on Flickr, as well as separately showing some paid for shutter stock images.
Search.CreativeCommons.org – 3/3 a great place to search for creative comms images across Flickr, Pixabay, Google Images, and Open Clip Art Library. While you can only do a search through one CC supplier at a time, it’s a great starting point.
Photopin.com – 3/3 Created to help bloggers easily attribute photos correctly, photo pin offers one of the more seamless user experiences on this list. Be sure to select the “commercial” tick box to search for CC images. However, at the end of the day they are just another site utilising Flickr’s API to present photos in an alternative view.
Alternative Image Websites with Images to Mention
The following sites are featured in other posts about “free” images, but they didn’t meet my requirements of supplying images at no cost with creative commons style permission to use them for commercial use.
PicSearch.com – Many images and some filters for file size and layout, however no clear division for royalty free of CC images.
PhotoRogue.com – Can’t find the image you’ve got your heart set on? Request another photographer take your ideal image for you and negotiate if creative commons is applicable directly.
Kozzi.com – Royalty free, on a credit pricing plan.
SXC.hu -Recently bought by Getty, these images are royalty free. Great images and a decent search function. However, the sign up process requires a home address, which some people may find a bit dodgy.
Stockvault.net – 0/3 simply an affiliate network for images, don’t use them.
Freephotobank.com – 0/3 Don’t believe the hype, this is an affiliate program and as far as I can tell – nothing comes for free.
What does Creative Commons mean?
To most people, creative commons or “creative comms” as it’s frequently shortened to, is synonymous with free media like photos, sound, and video. However Creative Commons is actually a non-profit organisation based in California, and there are varying levels of freedom associated with media submitted under Creative Commons. Check this infographic about how to correctly attribute Creative Commons here.
There are two attributions one must look out for if using images for business needs. These include Non-Commercial (NC) meaning not used for business intentions and No Derivative Works (ND) which permit only the original work to be utilised. To ensure 100% that media you wish to use is not restricted in any way, confirm the license is a CC0, which waves all rights of the creator in the public domain. Another license with limited requirements is CC BY, which means users can edit the work and use it for commercial benefit, as long as attribution to the original work is followed. For more info on creative comms, click here.
What does Royalty Free mean?
This refers to a piece of media being free of copyright, so that it may be used without having to pay royalty charges or a license fee; however, they may be a one off payment to obtain the image (this is what I noticed on many sites promoting RF images). Please note that with royalty free image “the owner still has copyright, they just grant you a license to use it without having to pay any ongoing royalties” reports Dan Barker.
What other sites exist? Please help me!
I’m sure I’ve missed out on a few favourites, if you can leave a comment I’ll be sure to add it to the list asap.
09.07.2013 – I’ve just added Deviant Art and Foter, keep the suggestions coming!