Finding images you can use – without paying for them or worrying about copyright

Featured image: Technology photograph designed by Jannoon028 –

Information skills programme November-December 2016: Session 5

Do you find yourself needing images for use in print or online publications? Do you worry about using images because of copyright? Or struggle to find images you are confident you can use? Does uncertainty about how to attribute images you use put you off using them?

Yes? Then you’ve come to the right place.

Why worry?

Just because you have access to an image (e.g. it’s online) does not mean you are entitled to copy or reuse that image. All images are protected by copyright, unless their creator has specifically stated otherwise.

If someone discovers you are using their image, they can request you stop using it and, if they believe they have lost out financially, they can sue you, tarnishing your reputation (and / or your organisation’s) and generally cause you a lot of stress. Many of the best images are created by people who make a living from selling their images – so there’s a good reason for you to pay if you need a really good image. However, there are many images out there you can use for free and without infringing copyright if you know where to look.


This is a selection of some of the best sources for images. Most of them operate a freemium model where some content is free free, but other content or advanced features are paid for.


Canva is an online design tool, with free templates for everything from posters to Facebook and Twitter media,  newsletters to infographics. As well as free templates there are many free photographs, illustrations and icons. The downside to Canva is that when you search for content to use, the free content is mixed up with a lot of paid for content, so there’s a lot of scrolling involved. The free/cost badges are obvious so you can clearly see what content is free and what isn’t. I really like Canva and it’s what I use to create all the library posters.


The real selling point of Freepik is its vector images – easily editable graphics – of which there are a huge number and variety, including some really quite complex designs. These vector images are all editable, so you can modify or only use a part of the design, as long as you have access to a vector graphics editor, such as Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape. As well as the vectors, there are also photos, icons and, if you use Adobe Photoshop, PSD files.

The download process is very simple in Freepik and attribution requirements are very clear with attribution text or html to copy and paste available. One thing I initially found confusing on Freepik were the badges used to identify different types of content. S = selection – exclusive content designed by Freepik. Premium members can avoid crediting selection images to Freepik, but anyone can use them as long as you credit. The little crown icon is the one that means the image is only available to premium members.


The great thing about Pixabay is that all the images are Public Domain images – so you don’t need to include an attribution with your image. If you want an image you can use without attribution – start here!

Pixabay includes a large database of photographs, generally of good quality, along with a few illustrations and vector graphics, and also some video clips.

Flickr & Google Image Search

If you can’t find what you are looking for elsewhere, both Flickr and Google Image search allow you refine your search by the images’ license type.

The quality of images you will find will obviously be very variable, but there is a huge volume of images available. You should always check that the license of any images you come across allows you to do what you intend to do with the image. The most common licenses you will come across will be Creative Commons (CC) and Public Domain.

This graphic comes from the larger infographic – How To Attribute Creative Commons Photos by Foter

Attribution / crediting

Although free, many of the above sources of images require you to credit the image’s creator – the main exception being Pixabay images. In general, credits simply need to follow the instructions on the image source.

What wording should I use?

If the site you download the image from does not give you an attribution to copy, these guidelines for Creative Commons licenses are good to follow.

Where should I put the attribution?

Ideally, the attribution will go directly next to / under / above the image. However, the where and how you are using will make a difference. Generally, use your common sense – it should be obvious to anyone looking at your work what you have taken from somewhere else.



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