The last thing you want is to get sued for ‘Borrowing’ an image for your site. Here’s a list of free public domain image websites

Public domain images are defined as images for which the copyright has expired or never existed in the first place. They are free to be used by almost anyone for personal and commercial purposes. Museums, individuals and libraries like the Oxford’s Bodleian Library are releasing thousands of public domain images online, making them more freely available to the public.

Free public domain images are an important cultural resource for everyone. But when you’re using them in design jobs you need to be extremely vigilant about double and triple checking that they really are in the public domain and can be commercially used by yourself and your client. The laws regarding public domain images are different in every country, so before using any public domain images, check that it’s defined as a public domain image in both your country and the country that your client is a citizen of.

In this article, we’ve complied a list of mostly US-based free public domain image websites that can be freely used by anyone worldwide.

 1. Wikimedia Commons

One of the largest public domain images resources. Most of images can be used freely but some of the images have certain restrictions. For more information about this, click here. Wikimedia Commons doesn’t guarantee the correctness of the licensing for each image, so make sure to triple check the copyright status of the image.

2. USA.gov

Here you can get linked to all the photo archives of different US government organizations like NASA, US Fish and Wildlife, and the Library of Congress. It’s a lot to go through but it’s going to be one of the more reliable sources out there for finding public domain images.

3. Flickr Commons 

Lots of archives and libraries worldwide partner with FlickrCommons and contribute their own public domain images so it’s great resource for finding public domain images from all over the world, not just the US. FlickrCommons’s images contain no known copyright restrictions, but as always it’s not a guarantee so do your research.

4. Public Domain Pictures

This one includes a lot of high-quality free public domain images, though some photos are only available with a premium membership to the site. Some photos require that your credit the author, and you should make sure that a release was obtained by the author or yourself  for images of people or property.

5. PD Photo

Higher-res version of some of these public domain photos are available for a small fee. The photos of  people, property and products don’t include a release so take care when using those images.

6. Old Book Illustrations

Really nice collection of public domain illustrations scanned from old books and vector illustrations that can be modified and  distributed for both personal and commercial projects.

7. Public Domain Clip Art

Public domain clip art and photo collection. Like any other public domain images sites it provides no warranty on the copyright status of their images.

8. Public Domain Vectors

Has a pretty high quality collection of public domain vectors that are available to download in .eps, .svg, cdr, .ai formats.

9. 1 Million Free Pictures

The author of this blog is the original creator of all of the photos on this site and has released them all into public domain. Please note that no releases have been obtained for the images that contain people, works of art, property or trademarks.

 10. Free Stock Photos

This collections of stock photos and clip art contains both public domain images and images with other licenses, so make sure to check the license of each image.

11. PD Poster

This one has a great collection of cool old public domain posters.

12. Picdrome

Really nice collection of public domain photos, has a great texture gallery. Hi-res versions of the photos are available upon request.

13. My Public Domain Pictures

This collection of images has been created and released into the public domain by the members of this site. Their photos of people, property and trademarks don’t come with releases and as always any user of their content are responsible and liable for how the images are used.

14. Freetems

Contains a large collection of public domain photos, graphics, music, videos, ebooks, and audiobooks.

15. The Public Domain Review

This collection is a really well-curated selection of public domain photos, illustrations, art, audio, films, and texts.

16. Dazzle88

Niche collections of public domain images that have been selected specifically for graphic designers who might want to use them in commercial projects. Sorted into packs of 1000+ images. Custom orders welcome!

17. Public-Domain-Photos

A decent-sized collection of public domain photos and clip art.

18. PDPics

Collection of public domain pictures  contributed by the owners of the site.

19. Photos Public Domain

Unless stated otherwise, the photos on this site are in the public domain and can be used commercially.

20. Pixabay

Huge collection of high quality public domain photos and clip art published under Creative Commons public domain deed CCO.

21. EveryStockPhoto

Everystockphoto.com is a great search engine that lets you filter for public domain image licenses. It runs its searches through a number of reputable public domain image websites.

Conclusion

Some of these free public domain image websites will take time to look through and research properly, but there’s a lot of amazing images in them that are worth finding. Just remember to keep these things in mind while you’re sourcing your images:

  1. Does the license of the image allow you to use/distribute it in the way that you intend?
  2. Is the quality of this image suitable for both print and web uses?
  3. Are these images defined as public domain by images by the copyright laws of both countries that my client and I are citizens of?
  4. Have I double checked that this image is truly in the public domain? (run it through a search engine before using it.)
  5. Does this image include trademarks, products, property, works of art or people? (If so make sure that a release has been obtained or that you obtain one yourself.)

Public domain images can be a gray legal area, and that’s why some designers prefer to use licensed stock imagery as a safer and more convenient alternative. If you do use a free public domain image commercially, you may want to check with a trademark/copyright attorney before doing so. However if you do your research properly, you can find some great free public domain images to use in your projects.