Finding truly free images for commercial use is a confusing pain. There are a few things going on.
First, photographers (sensibly) do not give free images restriction-free. And violating those restrictions can result in bad, expensive consequences for your business.
Second, there are incentives for photographers to give free images to businesses with license restrictions. And there are businesses that would rather follow license restrictions than spend budget on good imagery.
Third, many times photographers want to offer the general public images for free, but also reserve the right to charge businesses.
And so – we’re left with a confusing situation for honest businesses on a budget. And unfortunately, there plenty of lists of “free images” on the Internet that blindly list image websites that offer images that are not truly free.
They have license restrictions for businesses, require email registration, require watermarks, or generally go beyond the Creative Commons commercially allowed licenses.
So! I have reviewed 200+ “free image” websites and curated them into this list of 59+ image sources or search tools to find truly free images for commercial use.
Image Search Tools
The first group of free image sources are image search tools that allow you to scour either the entire Internet or the largest online collections quickly for free images.
This is one of Google Image Search’s buried but valuable features. Navigate to Google Advanced Image Search and select the Usage Rights for the images you are trying to find.
Creative Commons – the organization that provides the licensing you’re looking for – provides a “meta-search” of the largest Creative Commons license search engines. Be sure to select “use for commercial purposes.”
500px is a platform for very high-quality images. You can use their Creative Commons search function to find free images.
Flickr is still the largest repository of Creative Commons attribution images. Just search by license that’s available for commercial use. This source is usually everyone’s favorite. It’s simple to attribute as well.
A simple search engine that focuses on Wikimedia Commons’ available images.
A search engine focused on Flickr…but with additional capabilities.
Another “meta” search engine similar to Google’s abilities. Has additional tagging functions.
Another “meta” search engine but with simple attribution tools. Also available as a WordPress plugin.
Another “meta” search engine supported via advertising and links to premium services.
Another “meta” search engine with a focus on simple attribution.
Free Image Sources
Outside of search tools, there are several websites that offer free images from their own collection. While all the sites listed allow commercial-use, be sure to re-read their license information to implement attribution correctly.
These are not listed in any particular order.
This site is supported by ads & web design lead generation. Lots of high-quality images.
Ad supported website with interesting images.
Another ad supported site with decent diversity of photos.
Well-known image source with an extensive library.
Smaller, older site.
Very high quality site supported by lead generation to the creator’s agency work.
You can get photos free by email OR just do a site:http://deathtothestockphoto.com/ search in Google.
Older, smaller site with interesting textures & photos.
This site is on auto-pilot, but has a good archive. The search function is in the top left on the homepage.
They are taking old photos in the public domain.
The free photos are buried beneath ads – but they are there.
Collection from a photographers’ collective.
Personal project from a prolific photgrapher.
An interesting crowd-sourced site supported by lead-generation to a freelancers’ site.
Giant repository of the Wikimedia foundation. Has lots of public domain images.
Smallish quality collection. I have no idea how this site is supported. Kind of mysterious.
Nice collection from an ad agency in Montreal.
Great collection – no idea how they make money.
Collection from a designer’s software.
Curated selection of photos around the web. Sort of like a manual search engine.
Personal project with good images.
Small, interesting collection.
Great collection created by a WordPress design shop.
High-quality independent collection supported by ads & direct support. Great project.
An independent project with plenty of free images.
Small, independent project supported by ads.
This site sells images to food bloggers, but has a large free section as well.
Personal project with an interesting collection.
Small, ad-supported resource.
Interesting personal project.
Another interesting personal project. Plenty of quality “generic/versatile” images.
Personal project with plenty of travel related photos.
The free collection from a premium photo service. The search box is in the top right.
Rapidly growing personal project.
Small, office focused collection.
Great collection from a web designer in Poland.
Growing quality collection. Ad-supported. Very classy site.
Great personal project.
Great personal project.
Another great personal project.
No idea about this website’s background, But they have great landscape imagery.
Another mysterious but quality collection. The search box is in the rollout on left-side.
Ad-supported project from 2 designers in Latvia. Great collection.
Burst is a project from Shopify that provides Creative Commons Zero photos to entrepreneurs. It’s new with tons of interesting photos.
Free Image Tools
In addition to image sources, you can also find free to use images that are built into free design tools. The bonus here is that you can edit the images directly inside the tool.
Design app that lives up to every bit of hype. Has a large library of free images and plenty more for just $1 each.
Free design app from Buffer. Solid collection of free images that you can edit & share easily. The only downside is that it’s so popular that you’ll likely re-use the same image as many other websites.
I used this app for the featured image of this post. It’s similar to Pablo, but with a much larger image library. Most of the best features are only available with a paid plan though.
Excluded Image Resources
Lists of free image sources are a dime a dozen on the Internet. But they don’t all filter out free image sites that are not truly free for commercial use.
Here are the most commonly cited “free image sites” that are restricted, not free for businesses, or simply re-post free images from the sites listed above along with lots of ads.
Feel free to Google them & use them for personal projects though!
- Free Digital Photos
- Free Images
- IM Free
- Public Domain Pictures
- Ancestry Images
- Getty Images
Premium Image Sources
If you have a money value on your time, sometimes it’s simply not worth it to dig around for the perfect free image.
That’s where premium image marketplaces come in. They are huge, cheap and simple. You pay for an image, download it, and use it however you like. Here’s my favorites.
Disclosure – I use these sites as a paying customer. I also receive customer referral fees from these sites to support my free work.
They are the biggest brand in the space. I like how smaller images are usually big enough for my needs, but are also much cheaper.
Another big brand in the space. Anecdotally, they have much less “stock-looking” images.
Smaller collection, but also very cheap.
Rapidly growing & highest quality. You won’t find typical stock photos here.
If you are a business looking for free imagery, be sure to understand the legal landscape, licenses, consequences and benefits of imagery.
Try to find one or two sources of imagery that fits your brand & licensing needs. Use them for fast, free imagery. If you need something unique, skip the search and pay for premium imagery.
Lastly, notice how you’re going to be linking back to all these image sources. What if you could be the one to get all those links? Check out how you can take advantage of this tactic with my guide to Automating Image Link Building post.