Whether for a blog or a small business, you usually need to include graphics in what you do. No matter how compelling your words are, that graphic helps you to get attention and set the tone.
There are hundreds of millions of graphics on the internet. But just because you can find it, that doesn’t mean you can use it! Copying an online graphic and using it for your own needs may be an easy way to go, but it’s not okay: not only is it stealing someone’s work, it could get you into trouble.
Instead, you need to look for free graphics, which are works that the creator has released into the wild. (Better yet, if you are in the position to be able to pay for your graphics, it’s great to support these artists and photographers.)
Here’s a quick primer on understanding graphics, including the various file types and terms you will encounter. Here’s information on citing sources for your graphics, and here’s a blog images deep dive that goes into how images can impact a web page and where to find images to use, plus more on the importance of citing images.
Sometimes I buy graphics, and sometimes I look for free sources. I have a folder on my computer called “Purchased Images” where I keep it all. Any time I add something to my Purchased Images folder, I make sure the file name is descriptive and that it includes the source where I got it.
For example, I wanted to insert an image of a piggy-bank and I found the perfect image on the GraphicsFuel website. I saved it to my computer with the name “Piggy-bank-money-free-license-CC0-GraphicsFuel,” then edited it a bit to make a smaller version to use here. This file name lets me use key words to find the file on my computer, and then when I use it I’ll know where I got it from so I can can give proper credit. (Even though some of these sources do not require attribution, it’s nice to do that whenever it’s reasonable for you to do it.)
The free graphics list
Below is a list of some sources for free graphics. Most of this list was compiled for me by a writer with whom I’ve had the honor to work, Lee Purcell of Lightspeed Publishing. Thanks, Lee! [I keep coming back to this to add more, so bookmark it to get the latest.]
Creative Commons hub. Many shots that are released with a Creative Commons license are available for use.
Flickr. Many free-to-use images, but look carefully as it differs for each image. “Request to License” option available for many images that don’t offer a Creative Commons license.
GoodFreePhotos. I’ve found some very good photos on this site, including some that are remarkably high-res.
Graphics Fuel. These folks often have nice backgrounds and icons. Some is free, some is for sale, and I have generally found it all to be of fine quality. They have excellent mockups that are layered Photoshop files so you can add your logo or other art to scenes. (Yes, Photoshop files can be opened using AffinityPhoto.)
Mighty Deals. This site has free and low-priced graphics and fonts, but also things like plugins and scripts for use in Photoshop, Illustrator, WordPress, and more.
NASA Goddard Photostream. Excellent source for dramatic science and space expedition images, all available through a Creative Commons license (attribution required). Also see Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The Noun Project. While most of the other sources listed here are for photography, The Noun Project is the best place to go when you want icons. Want to see about 100 icons for almost any noun [or other type of word] that you can think of? This is the place for you.
Old Design Shop. A delightful, impressive collection of high quality vintage images from old books and other sources, privately collected by an artist made available through her blog.
Pexels. This is a nice source for high-res images on a wide variety of topics, all using the Creative Commons Zero license (CC0) — which means you can use and edit the images to your heart’s content and not worry about attribution. There are also links to stock images from other sources, which makes this a nice curated source of images. [Honestly, this is quickly becoming one of my favorites.]
PikWizard. This site offers a collection of high-quality images with a user-intuitive search feature. Like many other sources of free content, your search results may include both the free images plus those that are from other sources that are not free (when you hover your cursor over the image it will tell you if it is from another source, such as Adobe). As long as pay attention that you are downloading the free PikWizard images, this is just fine. They offer some editing capabilities, but as I do my own editing I cannot comment on that.
Pixabay. I like this site as it has images that may be more suitable for business and every-day things. I mean, I love images of famous paintings or of distant galaxies, but that might not be the best image to go with my blog about strategic planning.
Videezy. This site mostly has video clips, but I wanted to include it here as it is such a good resource.
Wikimedia Commons. Offers over 16 million media files, including famous paintings that are in the public domain. Copyright status is generally defined for each work.
If you’re still not finding what you are looking for, here is a pretty nice list of resources. It’s long, but well categorized.
Sometimes you get what you pay for
When I can’t find the right image and am willing to buy one, I have two go-to places that I list below. Always be sure to read their license carefully. For example, DepositPhotos has a “use it within a year or you lose the license” clause (or at least they did the last time I looked).
DepositPhotos. I have found many great images on this site at budget prices. However, note that they have changed their rules so that there is one for personal use and a different license for business use. If you will use images for your business or clients, then be sure you have the business license.
Tweaking your images
No matter where you get your images, you will need a way to tweak them: crop, re-size, or otherwise edit the graphic to make it exactly what you need.
I use Photoshop*, but it is usually complete overkill for anybody who is only in it to tweak images for a blog. If you google for graphics editors you’ll find many lists, and frankly I’m not sure what to recommend. So I will trust the list from the good folks at Pexels (see above), whose stated mission is to Empower Creators. So here you go: Pexel’s blog post about online graphics editors.
[*Update August 2017: I switched from Photoshop to Affinity Photo and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. Someday I’ll write a blog post about that!]
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