This guide will cover 15 essential resources for free images to use in websites, videos, Instagram photos, Facebook photos, and anything else that you need to share online or in print.
1. Download Authentic Free Photography
Unsplah serves beautiful, high-resolution photos, usually with an authentic, naturalistic vibe. Today there are more than 2 million photos available to download from a community of over 200,000 photographers. All images are free for commercial use. You can credit the photographers if you choose, however, this is never required.
While Shutterstock, iStock and other paid stock photo libraries usually have a polished, artificial, studio quality, Unsplash photos almost always show real subjects in real lighting conditions, captured with a photographer’s artistic touch. Even when a paid photo library is an option, I often prefer to search Unsplash first since their photos often feel more “real.”
The Pareto principle states that more than 80% of outputs come from 20% of inputs. For many projects, I find that I am able to get almost all of the photos I need just from Unsplash! It’s that good.
Like Unsplash, Pexels tends to serve images with a natural vibe. Pexels nows offers free stock videos, which can come in handy when producing brand videos, commercials, social media content, and more. You can download all photos and videos in high resolution for free and use them commercially without the need to attribute the source.
Pexels is a smaller community than Unsplash, so there is much less selection. Still if you don’t find what you’re looking for on Unsplash, or if you need video for a project, Pexels is a fantastic supplement.
Pixabay excels at showing a greater variety of subjects than Unsplash and Pexels, although often the photos don’t feel as natural or artistic. You’re more likely to find casual photos that feel like they were taken by a customer with a phone. You’re also more likely to find photos that look staged or overly processed with strong filters and saturated colors.
While Pixabay is my least favorite of the three big websites for free stock photos, it can be useful if you don’t see what you’re looking for on Unsplash or Pexels. Like the others, you’re not required to credit your image source and you’re welcome to use the photo however you like, including for commercial purposes.
2. Find Photos of Virtually Any Subject
Wikipedia offers photos of almost any subject you can imagine. For example, if you’re writing an article about IKEA or furniture retailers, it might be hard to find a specific enough photo of this subject on Unsplash. To find a suitable photo on IKEA, just type in the subject you’re looking for, click through to an article on that topic, scroll down until you find a picture you like, click on the picture, scroll down and look over to the bottom right side of the page to view the image license. Click on the license if you need to get more information about it.
Most Wikipedia images use CC BY-SA 4.0 licenses, which stands for Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Public License. This license allows you to copy and redistribute the image in any format, and remix or transform the material for any purpose including commercially. However, you are required to give credit by citing the title and creator, link to the license, and indicate what changes you made. The easiest way to do this on a website is to create a dedicated Credits webpage and link to it in the footer.
On the credits page, you can cite each Creative Commons image that requires citation using this format:
It’s important to keep your citations simple and avoid implying that an image creator is sponsoring or endorsing your project. It isn’t necessary to note when an image is resized, but it is best to state if an image is cropped. If you have any other questions, please consult the Creative Commons FAQ.
While public domain images don’t need to be credited, you may want to cite them anyway to provide more context to your audience.
Given how specific Wikipedia’s images are, it’s a massive resource that will enable you to depict almost anything photographically on your website, blog, or social media.
3. Download Icons, Vector Graphics and Illustrations
Flaticon has more than 3 million vector icon graphics. Icons are useful for visually communicating key points. For example, when listing product features, it’s useful to display an icon, a headline, and a brief description for each feature. Or when talking about the key benefits, key deliverables, or key components of a system, it’s wonderful to be able to drive home those messages with icons that reinforce text.
When designing a website or an infographic, look around at a few references in your industry, and you’ll see icons everywhere.
While there are other websites that offer icons, I find that Flaticon is such an enormous library, there really is little point in going anywhere else. If you truly need something more custom, you’re probably better off hiring an icon designer to make icons that perfectly suit your business, products, and intended application.
There are a few ways to search for icons. If one method doesn’t work, try the others.
- The easiest way to find icons is to search for a specific object. For example, if you intend to communicate “email,” you might search for “envelope.” If you intend to communicate “sent email” you might search for “paper airplane.”
- Another way to search is to use terminology that describes a broad concept, like “communication,” “technology,” or “leadership.”
- Lastly, if you see an image that is similar to what you want, but is not a perfect fit, click on it anyway. Underneath the icon, Flaticon will display similar icons that might be suitable for your project.
- When you click on an icon, look for the text “More icons from _____ pack.” Flaticon may prompt you to register before you can see the icons in a pack, but it’s easy to register with a Facebook or other account. Once you register, you’ll be able to open the pack to see icons that were expressly designed to go together visually and to illustrate the same theme.
When you find an icon you like, I recommend downloading the icon in the SVG format. SVG stands for scalable vector graphics. SVG files are easy to upload to WordPress and other web design or graphic design applications.
It’s important to make sure that the icons you download work together harmoniously. I look for:
- Thickness (Are lines thick, average, or thin?)
- Sharpness (Are corners rounded or pointed?)
- Detail (Does it feel overly fussy or highly simplified?)
- Fill (Is it filled with black, or is it empty and enclosed by an outline?)
You don’t have to be a designer to appreciate what icons can go together, and often you can get away with a little variation. Just pay some attention to the characteristics of icon styles so that you can create a consistent look for your project and your brand.
Freepik can be overwhelming because it offers so much. The website aggregates images from dozens of stock vector and stock photo websites, creating a plethora of options.
Personally, I use Freepik almost exclusively for illustrations. Illustrations are useful for infographics, print materials, slide presentations, animations, and websites. Sometimes you just need to break the pattern of using photography over and over to avoid monotony in your designs.
To search for illustrations, look to the left of the search bar. By default, Freepik will search for “All resources”, but you can click and change this to filter search results to just Vectors and PSDs (Photoshop Data files). You can also select “Free” if you want to limit search results to free options.
Freepik has a high number of quality Premium resources, which you can download if you join Freepik’s month-to-month subscription, which is currently $8/month. This is substantially cheaper than hiring an illustrator for a custom design, and so can be a great option if you see a fantastic illustration that Freepik has designated as Premium.
When searching for illustrations, I look for a:
- Minimalist aesthetic, which creates a pleasing, modern look and eschews a children’s cartoon vibe
- Simplified color palette, so that my project will have a consistent color scheme
- Design consistency, especially by using the same designers whenever possible
If you like an image, it’s worth clicking on the designer’s profile to see if they’ve produced any other images that could suit your project. You can even add URLs to your favorite designers on your company’s brand design notes so that you can return to them for future projects.
Most Freepik images require attribution. Underneath the Download button, click “How to attribute?” A pop-up will appear. For websites, apps, and videos, click the “Copy” button inside the pop-up, then paste the embedded code on the credits page for your website or app or in the description for your video. For print materials, simply write “image: Freepik.com” under the image. Alternatively, you can place a notice like this somewhere else on your design: “Designed using resources from Freepik.com.”
4. Share Animated GIFs
Giphy is an easy way to embed entertaining GIFs into your email marketing, your website’s articles, and your social media. They’re perfect for turning boring educational materials into edutainment that people enjoy consuming.
If you’re marketing for a B2C company, and especially if your target demographic has a sense of humor, GIFs can keep people reading your emails or blog posts much longer than they would otherwise. Even in a B2B situation, some accompanying GIFs can keep your audience laughing and smiling. This, in turn, helps keep your audience reading longer and remembering more of what you’re trying to communicate.
To find appropriate GIFs, start by searching for an emotion (like “anxious” or “excited”). Giphy will show popular anxious GIFs. Next, click on one that you like and Giphy will open it in a new window.
- For websites and email, click the Embed button. Make sure the GIF is set to “Responsive.” Select the embed code, right-click, and choose Copy. Then simply paste the code into your website or email.
- For social media, just click “Copy link,” then copy and paste the link into your social media post.
It’s worth discussing:
Are GIFs subject to copyright?
GIFs have become a widely accepted cultural practice, equivalent to quoting a popular line from a TV show to briefly connect with an audience. As of 2020, there are no standing legal decisions where a GIF has been deemed to infringe on copyright. Bear in mind also that Giphy is responsible for hosting GIFs and the person who creates and publishes the GIF on Giphy is responsible for creating the derivative content. In the event that a celebrity or company decides to claim infringement, the most probable outcome is that they would request Giphy to remove the content and Giphy would comply. In this case, anyone who has embedded the GIF or linked to it would have dead links. If that happens to a GIF you shared, you would want to update your link or embed a new image or GIF to replace it.
Other outcomes are always possible. If you wish to be extra cautious, you could avoid using GIFs that depict celebrity faces. However, this would severely limit your marketing creatives, since most GIFs reference popular culture.
Given the current widespread practice of sharing GIFs, the lack of infringement cases, the flexibility of fair use laws in protecting online communication (especially for educational content like blogs), the non-substantial quantity of the work excerpted in a 1-3 second video loop, and the limited adverse effects on a rights-holder, I think the legal risk is miniscule compared to the creative rewards of enhancing your content with GIFs.
5. Get Free Product Mockups and Device Mockups
Unblast offers mockups, fonts, icons, templates, graphics, 3D models, and color schemes. Their footer provides even more options including Sketch app resources, Figma resources, and thoughtfully written articles and about design. Probably the most useful feature is their standard product and hardware mockups and their 3D models, which allow you even greater control over your designs.
For product mockups, each design resource indicates whether it is a PSD (Photoshop Data file) or AI (Adobe Illustrator Artwork) file. PSDs can be opened in Adobe Photoshop or Affinity Photo, while AI files are easiest to edit in Adobe Illustrator or Affinity Designer.
Unblast resources have exceedingly high creativity and design quality thanks to their strong community of contributors and the platform’s tight control over what they publish. Attribution isn’t usually required, but is recommended as a courtesy to provide exposure for the artists.
The biggest drawback to Unblast is that it isn’t always clear how an artist is licensing their images. Sometimes the license is displayed under the Download button. For other cases, Unblast recommends checking the author’s website or contacting the author directly to confirm if a resource can be used commercially.
Pixeden provides both premium and free PSDs that you can use to produce mockups of both physical and digital products. The biggest advantage of Pixeden is that all resources are cleared for both personal and commercial use.
Usually I will search Pixeden for something like “iPhone” or “shirt” to find relevant images. Currently there is no way to filter search results so that you only see free resources. Instead you have to roll-over each result to see whether it displays a blue “Premium” sign or green “Free sign.”
6. Find PNG Cutouts of Objects, Logos, People and More, Perfect for Collages
Clean PNG lets you download images with transparent backgrounds. Transparent PNGs can be useful for:
- Collages with multiple image elements
- A multi-layered 3-dimensional website with a parallax effect
- Elements in an animated video
- Any graphic you want to “pop out” instead of having a square border
The quality isn’t always exceptional, but you can often find several usable images for most searches. The website couldn’t be any easier to operate. Just click on the image you like, then click the Free Download button.
Clean PNG is also helpful for finding corporate logos. This can be useful if you want to advertise that you’ve worked with a corporate client or you have a certain certification.
PNG Hunter has more limited selection than Clean PNG. If you don’t find what you’re looking for on Clean PNG, I would head over here next. Like Clean PNG, you just need to click on an image and then click Download PNG.
The search algorithm is a little quirky. I recommend always typing in a specific search query (like “coffee beans”) instead of a generic one (like “coffee”). Right now, if you type in “coffee,” PNG Hunter pulls up an entire page of just coffee machines. In reality, the website has a variety of coffee related images.
Remove.bg is an essential tool if you like to take use your own photos, but you need to remove a background during your design process. The tool couldn’t be any easier to use. You simply click the “Upload Image” button, choose a file from your computer, and the website will automatically remove the background for you. All you have to do is click the Download button.
You can download a low-resolution version of your image free, suitable for use in a social media. However, if you need your image to be bigger than 700 pixels across (perhaps for a website or HD video), you’ll need to buy 1 credit.
You can purchase 1 credit for $1.99 or 10 credits for $9. (Remove.bg will also sell you 75,000 credits per month for $5,450/month… just in case you’re removing backgrounds from every image in the Library of Congress!) Overall, for a small cost, it can save you a lot of time cutting out mattes on your images.
Photos.icons8 specializes in PNG images of people. You can filter based on gender, age, ethnicity, special features (beards, tattoos, etc.), activity (dancing, talking, etc.), sentiment (cheerful, frustrated, etc.), and more. If you’re concerned about representation, these features are especially useful.
The website’s photography section also offers backgrounds and collages. If their aesthetic aligns with your brand, it could be a one-stop resource for most any photography you need — the quality of images is certainly very high. (The broader Icons8 website also offers icons, vectors, and more as paid resources.)
You can download PNGs for free, so long as you are fine with a smaller resolution. If you need more than 700 pixels across, you can buy 1 photo for $5 or 50 photos per month for $19/month. Unless the images are used as the hero image on your website homepage, or in print, the free resolution is often going to be plenty.
7. Download Images from Any Website
Next, navigate to a website that hosts images you want to download. Click the puzzle icon in the upper right corner of your Google Chrome browser. Scroll down until you find the Image Downloader plugin, then click on the Image Downloader text.
Image Downloader will show you every image on the webpage you’re currently visiting. Above and to the right of every image will be a download icon. Click the download icon to download the image you want to save in high resolution to your computer’s downloads folder.
Another way to download images from a website is to refine a Google Image search to a specific URL. To do this:
- Go to Google.com
- Type in a URL filter. For example: “site:jameshardie.com”
- Then add the keyword you want to find. For example: “plank”.
- Click on the Images tab.
- If you only want to see large format images, click Tools > Size > Large.
For more powerful control, including over the minimum image resolution, you can use an Advanced Image Search.
8. Save Images from a Company’s Google My Business Profile
Sometimes, in promoting a company, you need to access authentic, high resolution images of the business. Easily the best place to find images like this is through the company’s Google My Business profile – the business listing that appears when you search Google for the company name and the location city.
Saving these images is a little tricky. Here’s the process:
- Open google.com/maps.
- Search Google Maps for the business name and city.
- Click on the business name on the left side of the page.
- Scroll down. Under Photos, click All.
- Select the photo you want to download.
- In the upper left corner of the photo, you’ll see the business name and three dots next to it. Click the three dots.
- Choose “Report a Problem.”
- Google will open a new window. Here you can right click on the image and then choose “Save Image to Downloads.”
- The image will download to your computer, but often in a strange file format.
- Rename the file with an appropriate name and extension (business-name-city.jpg). Typing in an image file extension at the end (.jpg) is critical.
You’ll now have a high resolution image in your download folder ready for use. Please note that Google requires that you attribute images to Google Maps.
It’s easy to save images from a company’s Google My Business profile… so long as you use Google Maps.
9. Request Permission from Product Vendors
Product vendors sometimes have rich catalogues of images available for use. If you sell their merchandise, they might allow you to feature their images on your website and marketing materials.
If you don’t see an appropriate marketing email address on a vendor’s Contact page, try finding an email address using hunter.io. Just visit hunter.io, create a free account, enter the company’s domain name into the search field, and click “Find email addresses.”
You can find an appropriate email address to contact by looking for something like “email@example.com” or by searching LinkedIn to find who someone in the company’s marketing department. Worst case scenario, you’ll just email firstname.lastname@example.org and wait for the account manager to forward your message to the company’s marketing department.
Once you have the right email address, draft a message along these lines:
I’m updating a website for [company name]. [The company] markets your [*product names*].
Do you have a collection of photos or any other resources that we can feature on our website to promote your products to our customers? If so, can we possibly have a Google Drive or Dropbox link, or permission to use photos that are currently on your website?
10. Capture Screenshots on Mac and PC
Screenshots are invaluable for tutorials and online guides.
To capture a screenshot on a Mac, just press:
Shift + Command + 4 > Spacebar > Click
It’s important to press the Shift, Command and 4 keys together and to drag the crosshair on screen to the window you want to capture. Press the spacebar to get ready to take your screenshot and click to take the screenshot. If you need to abort, just press the Escape key.
Macs automatically capture a shadow with screenshots. However, you can turn this off by opening Terminal, copying and pasting the first command into Terminal, pressing Enter, copying and pasting the second command into Terminal, pressing Enter again, and finally, closing the Terminal window. You can find the commands for the latest version of Mac OS at Mac Observer.
Capturing a screenshot on a PC is a bit easier. There’s usually a Print Screen (or PrtSc) button on the right side of a PC’s keyboard. Just press this button, then open up a graphics program, paste your screenshot, and save the document.
If you don’t see a print screen key on your keyboard, search Google for “print screen [your device name]”.
11. Download Thumbnails from YouTube and Vimeo Videos
There are some occasions when you’ll need the thumbnail (cover image) of a YouTube or Vimeo video. Perhaps you’ll need it to stand in for the video on a website’s video player, or you’ll want to show off the graphic elsewhere in a social media post or marketing email.
The easiest way to capture a video thumbnail is to go to depone.dev/video, paste the URL of the video, and click “Get Thumbnail.” After the app retrieves the thumbnail, click “Download Thumbnail,” then “Save Image to Downloads.”
The tool captures the maximum resolution of the image thumbnail. Bear in mind that if you’re posting an image from someone else’s YouTube video, you should either get permission from the content creator or at least credit and link to their video. (Most people won’t complain about free links to their content.)
12. Source Photos of People to Use with Testimonials
This resource is undeniably creepy, but it can be useful. Occasionally you may need photos of people, perhaps to go with testimonial quotes or to otherwise represent customers or other people.
ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com lets you download images of people generated with artificial intelligence. An Uber software engineer created the website using NVIDIA technology and trained the network using tens of thousands of online photos.
To use the website, keep refreshing the page (using CTRL-R on a PC or Command-R on a Mac). When you like an image, right click and select “Save Image to Downloads.” After the image is saved, rename it with the extension “.jpg”. For example, you’ll want to rename “image (1)” to “your-image-name.jpg”.
Please decide on your own ethical viewpoint with regard to using photographic stand-ins, as there are different ways to look at this issue. To me, it’s essential that a testimonial quote be real, however I feel that it makes no material difference if the photo that represents a customer actually depicts the photographic appearance of the customer or is an artificially-generated stand-in “avatar” for the customer. In any case, whether you use a real photo or a representation, adding a photo next to a testimonial quote builds psychological credibility in customers’ minds. This is why it’s important to attempt to collect real photos or show avatars when real photos are not available.
13. Copy Text Symbols and Emoji
Occasionally you’ll need symbols and emoji. The most frequent uses for me include:
- ✓ next to each product feature
- ★★★★★ next to testimonials
- © in the website footer
- ™ next to a product name
- 😂 😍 😁 👍 👌 👋 for social media and email marketing messages
By far the easiest website to download these resources is FSymbols. Navigate to the website, click on the symbol or emoji you want, and it will automatically copy the symbol or emoji to your clipboard. Then paste it into your project document — done!
Emoji are grouped by category so it’s incredibly fast to find just what you need.
Cool Symbol is my next stop if I don’t find what I need on FSymbols. Where FSymbols is more like the quick reference cheat sheet, Cool Symbols is more like the dictionary. The website is organized into tabs: Symbols, Emoji, Text Art, and Font Changer. When you click on a tab, you’ll see a whole new set of tabs that organize the artwork in the format you requested. (Once you click on Emoji, for example, you’ll find tabs for Smileys & People, Objects, Nature, Flags, Drinks & Food, and more.)
As with FSymbol, all you need to do is click on the symbol or emoji you like and paste it into your project document. Easy!
If you get bogged down searching the website, don’t forget about Google. You can always type “checkmark text” into Google, copy a checkmark from the search results, and paste it into your project file.
14. Embed Tweets
Embedding tweets can break up a blog post and give readers quick access to your source. To embed a tweet, simply navigate to Twitter. Find the tweet you’d like to embed. Click on the down arrow in the upper right corner of the tweet, then select “Embed Tweet.” Twitter will generate a code. From here, just click “Copy Code.” The code will copy to your clipboard. Next, open up your blog editor and paste the code directly into the editor.
Keep in mind that the author of the tweet you embed may delete their tweet at any time in the future or delete their account. If you’re hoping to avoid updating your blog for the foreseeable future, or if you’re documenting a tweet from an account that has a history of deleting tweets, it could be easier for you to take a screenshot of the tweet rather than embedding it.
15. Take Original Photos
Don’t forget about two of your best resources for images: your own photography skills and the skills of a local photographer.
Google made this 4-minute video with commercial photographer Smeeta Mahanti to show business owners how to take fantastic photos of their businesses.
Start with a good camera. I recommend the Fujifilm XT-3, by far the most advanced photo and video camera in its price range. Currently you can buy the camera with a XF16-80mm zoom lens for $1,499. If budget is a concern, you can still take excellent photos with an iPhone or Android phone.
Write down a shot list of 20-40 subjects you might photograph: your sign, your exterior, your products, your food and beverages, your staff, and your customers enjoying your space.
Get rid of clutter — both for your photos and perhaps permanently! Get close to your subjects and shoot from different angles. Instead of centering your subjects, follow the rule of thirds and place your subject off to the side for a more dynamic composition.
Then pick out the images that stand out most to you. Use the Enhance button or other photo editing features available on your iPhone, or your Android device’s built-in photo editing tools. If you prefer, you can also use apps like Photoshop, Lightroom, or Snapseed on your phone or computer. To make your photos pop, try increasing highlights, boosting saturation, and subtly increasing contrast. Just be careful not to overdo your corrections to the point where your pictures feel artificial or overly processed.
If you prefer, you can often hire a professional photographer or videographer for a 1-2 hour photoshoot for around $200. To get the most for your investment, consider hiring a videographer to make a 2-minute brand video about your company and ask if they can bundle a 1-hour photography session with their video shoot.
Make the most out of your photos by sharing them on your Google My Business profile, other online profiles, social media, website, and print materials.
Today’s vibrant design ecosystem makes it easy to source or create almost any kind of image you need for your business. Familiarizing yourself with these 15 resources will speed up your workflow and increase your productivity.
Even if you decide to work with a graphic designer, being aware of the assets available online will help you communicate more efficiently, provide your designers with specific direction, identify opportunities to save on design costs, and even open up marketing possibilities you had never thought about before.
Try mixing up the imagery you share. Supplement your own photography with free photos from Unsplash. Create collages for social media posts using Clean PNG, Photos.Icons8 and Remove.bg. Vary the content on your website and blog with icons from Flaticon, illustrations from Freepik, GIFs from Giphy, and screenshots from your computer.
We hope this guide inspires you and focuses your attention on the resources that will prove to be the greatest value to you in your marketing.