When you’re looking for inspiration or reference images on the web, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the low-quality images (and all the sites that trick you into thinking everything is free until you try to download something!). I compiled a list of my favorite resources for high-quality images that are free for personal and commercial use. (Note some of these sites may change their rules from time to time, so it’s always best practice to double check the site before using an image!)
Even though these sites all say the images are free for personal and commercial use, it’s best to never copy another artist’s artwork directly. When I use images from these sites, I don’t copy the whole composition, but rather use it as inspiration or sample one or two elements from the picture. You can use a color palette, trace an element, or just use the image to practice your drawing.
The Flickr Commons is an amazing resource for vintage and modern images of every category imaginable. Their goal is to share hidden treasures from the world’s public photography archives. So universities, libraries, and other institutions around the world contribute high quality (and unexpected) photos. It’s not the best resource when you’re looking for something very specific, but if you’re in the mood to browse and get inspired (and maybe discover some hidden gems), this is the perfect place to go. (note: make sure you use the search bar that says “Search the Commons”, not the one at the top of the page)
The British Library’s collections offers millions of public domain images, which the Library encourages you to explore and re-use. Like the Flickr Commons library, it’s not the best place to find specific images, but you can find tons of inspiring images that will probably send you down a rabbit-hole of a new drawing series (just warning you).
An incredible collection of copyright free images of plants, animals, and scientific drawings.
This collection features 3,000+ images of historical Australian life. You’ll find a ton of pictures of people, buildings, and animals in this diverse collection.
Old Book Illustrations scans and publishes a wide range illustrated books from around the world. You’ll also find a wide range of figures, animals, plants, and everything in between. You can re-use the images you download from this site, but as always, it’s best not to copy the image directly.
Unsplash is a collection of photographs by photographers around the world who upload their images and list them free for personal and commercial use. You can find images of (almost) anything you can imagine including figures, plants, and landscapes. I love their huge selection of animal images.
What do the photographers get out of it? They get exposure when someone views their profile or goes to their website. Also, though it isn’t required to credit the photographer when you reuse the image, it is appreciated. Mentioning them on social or including their name in the credits helps get exposure to new clients and opportunities. You can read about one photographer’s experience here.
Like Unsplash, Pixabay has thousands of modern photographs uploaded by photographers from around the world. They’re free to download and re-use without giving credit to the original artist, but as always, credit is appreciated.
Life Magazine released thousands of vintage images that you can use in your digital art and designs, but be careful with these — they are not for commercial use. That means no marketing and no selling using these photographs!
Did I miss any good resources? If you know of other sites that have images that are free for personal and commercial use, send me a note!
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