Essential Keystrokes is…

where I share my favorite tips, tools, reviews and commentary on web design, marketing, blogging, new media and related topics. For more about this site and the voice behind it, check out my About page.


SubscribeFollow me on TwitterLinked In Stumble Upon What I Digg Email me

27 Free or Inexpensive Royalty Free Photo & Illustration Sources

By Char

Whether you are a web designer, print designer or web publisher (i.e. blogger), there is always a need for good quality eye candy to help convey your message, bring together your brand or just liven things up.

Many people are still under the impression that you can just google a term, look at the corresponding images and copy and paste the image you want (or worse yet,  hotlink the image) or that if you find an image on someone else’s site, you can just use it. But you really shouldn’t.

If you want to do things the RIGHT way, you need to do one of the following:

  1. take your own photos (be sure to get a model release if taking the photo of anyone other than yourself)
  2. use someone else’s image but link to your source giving them credit for the image
  3. download your image from a free image source (below) following their terms of use guidelines
  4. purchase your image from a royalty-free or rights managed image source (below)

There is no way the following list is comprehensive, however, these 27 sites are sources for free or inexpensive royalty free photos and illustrations that I have used and/or recommend.


bikeTake your own photos and jazz them up using a free service like for images you know you can use anyway you want! is a huge community of designers and art enthusiasts who regularly post their creations. You can find just about anything – photos, textures, backgrounds, illustrations, fonts and more – some are free, some require payment. is one of the largest collection of user generated photography on the web. You can literally find anything on Flickr. The key to using Flickr images is understanding the various usage terms. Leah at Working Solo wrote a great, easy to understand post on how to use Flickr images. offers images that are free for web use or can be purchased if you need the high resolution version. No registration is required and you can sell your own images as well. is not the most intuitive site to navigate, but it does have more than 21,000  free photos and textures for personal or commercial use. is one of my favorite places to get free, fun, one of a kind images for your blog posts. Start with one of a huge variety of basic images, add your own words and phrases, and end up with an image that can easily convey 1,000 words. serves as the afterlife for a large volume of free high resolution digital stock photographs and reference images for either corporate or public use. Think of it as digital photography heaven and rather than destroying what they don’t use, many photographers submit their “leftovers” to Morguefile for others to use. Individual images have different usage requirements, so please read everything before using. is a great source of free editorial and news images. Ideally, it is for bloggers but their images can be used in other media. Now that has a WordPress plugin, adding news quality images to your post doesn’t get any easier than this. contains free photos for personal or commercial use. You do have to register in order to download, but you may also upload your own photos for others to use (but you are not compensated). is a lot like in the sense that the images are free for download, no registration is required and you can share your photos, too.

Stockxchng (aka a large selection of free stock photos and some illustrations. Terms of use request you give them credit as the image source. As a part of the group, Stockxchng also offers premium images.

VERY INEXPENSIVE IMAGE SOURCES is a relatively new service from my perspective  having just recently found it. Their inventory of more than 2 million images is certainly a good place to start when looking for art. Like many of the other sources in this category, you purchase credits in blocks (roughly $2 per credit) and images run anywhere from 1-6 credits depending on their size. has an inventory of over 4 million images ranging from free to $5 or so. If you buy credits in bulk, they can be as low as 20 cents an image. If you sell your own images the payout is between 50% and 80%. New photos are being added constantly – there are already photos from the Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl Parade from 2009. The site is also available in a choice of languages.

Fotalia offer access to more than 4 million images, vectors and video via individual purchase ($1-$5 each) or via subscription. Very similar to many services in this category, Fotalia allows you to upload your own images for sale and has a community aspect. is one of the sites I use most. Very high quality images and a huge selection make iStockphoto my first choice when looking for photos, vector illustrations, flash, video or audio files for projects. Most images run $1-5 and you buy credits in blocks. You can submit your own images for sale and they have a very active community of artists, designers and marketing pros. Get free images with the Free Image of the Week featured at iStockphoto, too. I usually download these whether I think I will need them or not – because you just never know when they might come in handy. is very similar to iStockphoto in that it carries some of the most reasonably priced, highest quality royalty-free stock images in the $1-10 range. It has a fantastic selection of photos, animation, and illustrations. You may sell your own images, too. specializes in free to inexpensive user submitted vector graphics. While the collection is much smaller than most I have referenced, the quality is pretty good. Sister sites include Flasheezy (Flash files for download) and Brusheezy (Photoshop brushes).

INEXPENSIVE SUBSCRIPTION ONLY SERVICES – need to dress up those boring PowerPoint presentations? AnimationFactory has more than 500,000 animated clip art (use sparingly), PowerPoint templates, backgrounds and videos. Subscriptions run from $60-200 per year and give you access to unlimited downloads. (Bonus – use this link for 25% off your subscription) has more than 10 million pieces of royalty-free clip art,  photos, vinyl-ready images, Web graphics, illustrations, fonts and sounds available via subscription. Subscription rates are for one week up to one year. is not quite as big as many of the others in this list but they do have some great designs – especially if your audience is in the 15-30 range. You can search for royalty-free stock vectors, vector illustrations and t-shirt designs. Buy stock vectors one by one or have access to all of them via subscription. has millions of downloadable royalty-free clipart images, photos, objects, web graphics, sounds and fonts by subscription. Their images tend to be more on the whimsical side. A monthly subscription is $19.95, however right now you can get the whole year for $29.95 – which is a great deal if this is the type of art you find yourself looking for on a regular basis (perfect for bloggers, teachers, and such)

MID- TO HIGHER PRICED, COMMERCIAL & PRINT GRADE OPTIONS is a high end source for royalty free and rights managed images. They primarily serve design firms, however their web quality images are affordable for most corporate uses at apporoximately $50 an image. In general their rates are $50-$500 per image depending on resolution/size, usage, and release level. Interesting trivia – was founded and is owned by none other than Bill Gates. features an extensive library of rights-managed and royalty-free photography, illustrations, video footage, and audio from more than 90 publishers located all around the world. Images start at $50 and go up from there and are available on CD or via download. was the first stock photography company to put its catalog and images online in 1995. Considered to be the premier source for many newspapers, media outlets, and Hollywoood, GettyImages also has affordable stock photography and footage beginning at $50. Subscriptions are also available. is rapidly establishing itself as the name in stock imagery.With a variety of niche sites, there are Jupiter Images sites to fit just about any budget, photography style, rights usage and media type. They recently acquired also caters to the higher end digital media market, however they recently launched their value images which start at $15 and many of their professionally shot royalty-free images can be purchased for use on the web starting at $50. Images are available for download or on CD. offers subscriptions by time frame or by number of image downloads. You can choose a 25-A-Day Subscription for the greatest savings (get 25 downloads every day) or select an On Demand Subscription for the greatest flexibility (use downloads whenever you need them for up to a year). You can sell your own photos on Shutterstock which is different from most of the providers in this price range.

These are my tried and true favorite resources – and one reason I put this list together is to make it easier for me to refer back to them – but I’d love to know if I missed any that you use and recommend.

Categories : Graphic Design



Hi Char,

Definitely bookmarked. I’m sure I’ll come back to this post again. Thanks.


How can you *not* name


Thanks David!

Dirk – I did name – it’s real name is stockxchng and it is listed above. Anyhow, thanks for stopping in and I hope the list is helpful.


This is a very useful list! also offer a free daily image, by RSS, which is a good reminder service (I always forget to go to istockphoto for the free images)


Very comprehensive list. Some I have used, others new to me.



great list Char, thanks!


Wow you have been busy!
I never knew most of these existed and usually just buy from Istock

many thanks for sharing!


Yep, great list; thanks for compiling these. I’m a little surprised you didn’t get into talking about the Creative Commons (although perhaps the link you gave did; I haven’t clicked it yet).

I get pretty much all my images for my blog from Flickr’s Creative Commons search (click the ‘advanced search’ button, and look at the bottom), and everything else from Stockxchng (which you have on the list). Love those guys.

I’m looking forward to exploring more of these – thanks again!


This is a very useful list. We have a young blog and have so far only used Creative Commons licensed flickr photos.

The hotlinking thing disturbs us a bit. What we have have done with the couple of photos we’ve used from flickr users was download the photos, upload into our own wordpress blog (we don’t know really where the photos go, but they’re there), then when the photos are displayed, we hyperlink to the source as our way of attribution. We don’t do any more attributions beyond this.

Is this similar to hotlinking? Are we doing enough attributions?


Adam – the article at Leah’s site that I linked to gets more into the Creative Commons issue. I didn’t really address it much here but recommend you read Leah’s article.

Friend – hotlinking is where you copy the image location from another site and insert it into your post so that the original source is actually serving up the image. If you save the image to your own computer then upload and attribute, you are usually ok.


Great list, Char.

On the question of attribution, I personally think that this means naming the source in the publication (blog, print or other) where the image or artwork has been used.

Like A Friend (above), I download CC-licensed photos from flickr then upload to my WordPress blog and link to the original flickr page, but I also name the source directly underneath the photo.


Very good list, found your blog via Twitter! I hope it’s ok to tell you about our image agency, YAY Micro! :-)

YAY Micro is a new microstock (=low price) image agency. At our site ( you’ll find over 500 000 RF-images, the price is €1 for small images and €10 for high-res images. We also offer subscriptions for high-volume users.

We offer 50% commission, and €1 commission on sub-downloads.


This is what I have been looking for. Thanks for compiling an excellent resource. Oops, I used to take pictures straight from google. Now I know better. Thanks. Bookmarked.


I’ve used several of these, I usually just end up at iStockphoto if I can’t find something descent on flickr. Plus a lot of your free options are great for web graphics but a little low quality for high dpi design.

Still, great list. Consider it bookmarked.


As I am a relative new blogger (and still working on the site) I was looking for a list where to get photo’s that go well with my posts. Thank you! I have bookmarked the list and will check out each of the sites.

Leave a Comment


Team Training NE Celiac Family