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10 Best Public Domain Image Websites

Aug 06,2019• Proven solutions

Finding an image you like on the Internet doesn’t take long, since almost every website you can stumble upon, contains at least one picture. This doesn’t mean that you can just download any photo and use it in your blog, online marketing campaign or for any other purpose. Moreover, stock image websites like Getty Images or iStock let you purchase the right to use a photo commercially. As a reaction to an expanding stock image industry, many photographers, museums and cultural institutions are choosing to forfeit their rights and to publish public domain images. So, in this article, we are going to take you through the ten best public domain image websites where you can download pictures for free.

What Are Public Domain Images?

By definition, public domain images are photos, vectors or clip art that are available to anyone because their copyright has either expired or they never had a copyright owner. Consequently, anyone can use these images for both commercial or private projects without having to purchase the rights to do so. An image can enter a public domain under the following circumstances:

  • Scientists, educators or artists can use the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license to dedicate their images to the public domain
  • A picture’s copyright is no longer in effect
  • A photo was never the subject to copyright

It is of utmost importance to check if an image is within the public domain before you use it publicly in order to avoid potential legal complications.

How and Where to Find Public Domain Images?

A simple google search will reveal hundreds of websites that let you download public domain and royalty-free images. Which source you’re going to use depends on the type of image you’re looking for, since some websites are dedicated only to photography, while others feature impressive collections of public domain images of artworks. In addition, you’ll only want to download public domain images from the websites that offer information about the author because using a public domain image without crediting its author is strictly prohibited. 

Best Websites for Downloading Public Domain Images

We’ve searched the Internet and we utilized our results to compile a collection of the most reliable websites that grant its users access to vast numbers of public domain images. Let’s take a look at some of the best websites that let you download public domain images.

1. Pexels

Public Domain Images from Pexels

Graphic designers and all other creatives in constant need of a fresh supply of public domain images don’t need a special introduction to Pexels. The stock image platform is dedicated to photography and video, so you can’t use it to search for vectors or clip art. Even so, you can use Pexles to search for public domain images based on a particular keyword or browse through its collection of free images and discover photos spontaneously. Clicking on the Popular Searches tab will enable you to see the images from Light, Nature or Animals and it will shorten the amount of time you have to spend looking for a photo you want to download.

Pros:

  • Neatly organized website
  • Free and easy sign-up
  • Offers a huge selection of free public domain images and videos according to the CC0 license
  • Hand-picked High quality Images

Cons:

  • Some categories should contain more images
  • Optimizing the search terms can be difficult

2. Pixabay

Public Domain Images from Plxabay

Besides offering an impressive collection of royalty-free photos, Pixabay also lets you search for public domain vectors, illustrations, and videos. The website hosts more than a million high-resolution photos and videos you can download for free. To make things even better, becoming a member of the Pixabay’s community and creating an account on this platform won’t take more than a few minutes of your time. Pixabay also offers advanced search tools that enable you to combine searches, search for the author of an image or group search terms. In addition, you can also browse through the photographers that contribute their images to the platform on a regular basis.

Pros:

  • Powerful search tools and various filters
  • Huge collection of public domain images

Cons

  • Customer support could be better

3. Wikimedia Commons

wikimedia commons

This is probably the largest website on the Internet where you can download public domain images. There are more than 49 million images, illustrations, vector graphics and videos available that can be downloaded for free. Some media files on Wikimedia Commons have certain restrictions, but these restrictions are mostly related to image citations, which means that you can use them only if you credit the author. Such a huge selection of media files can be overwhelming for the newcomers to the Wikimedia Commons platform, but once you grow accustomed to the website’s interface discovering images becomes a straightforward process.

Pros:

  • All images are available in high resolution
  • Nearly all images can be used without any restrictions

Cons:

  • Getting used to the website’s interface takes time
  • The number of search results can be overwhelming

4. Flickr Commons

Flickr commons

For more than a decade Flickr has been a popular online destination for photographers in need of a platform that enables them to present their work. The Flickr Commons is a project that unites more than a hundred institutions in an effort to create a library of public domain images. The project makes available a stunning amount of historical photographs and it grants you access to highly esteemed collections of photographs. Flick Commons is perfectly suited for researchers and scholars in need of public domain photos, they can use in their essays or research papers.

Pros:

  • Unlimited access to historical photos
  • Extends the knowledge available to the general public

Cons:

  • Doesn’t offer videos or illustrations
  • Search results are poorly organized

5. Unsplash

Unsplash public domain image

With a library that contains over 800,000 photos, Unsplash is easily one of the largest websites that offer public domain images. All pictures on this platform are organized into different categories, which makes finding a photo you want to use in a commercial or non-commercial project a relatively simple process. Alternatively, you can insert a keyword into a search bar and Unsplash will show you the results within seconds. However, the images you can find on this platform are similar to those you can purchase on stock photography websites, although some of them have an artistic touch that is hard to find on the majority of stock photos.

Pros:

  • Excellent source of high-resolution photos
  • Quick and easy search

Cons:

  • Unsplash is dedicated solely to photography
  • Limited amount of available public domain images

6. From Old Books

In case you are searching for images from old books you should look no further. This is a private collection of 2,600 images that are hard to find anywhere else on the Internet. You can browse through woodcuts, old texts or old holiday images, which makes this platform an excellent choice for anyone interested in rare images that were featured in old books. All pictures you can find on the From Old Books website are free to use on non-commercial projects, but you must pay a small fee if you want to download a high-resolution image you can use on a commercial project.

  • Images are organized into categories
  • Access to rare images

Cons

  • Some images are not free
  • Rudimentary website design

7. Morguefile

Morguefile public domain image

Morguefile is a website that offers stock footage to its users, but some of the images can’t be downloaded for free. That’s why you must click on the Free Photos tab before you start searching for public domain images on this website. The website hosts nearly 400.000 photos, videos, and vector graphics, but you must make sure that a file you want to download is within the public domain before you download it. The only downside is that the images aren’t organized into categories which can make finding the images you’re searching for more difficult than it needs to be.

Pros:

  • Creating an account on Morguefile is free
  • All free photos can be used on commercial projects

Cons:

  • Images can be organized better
  • Fewer free images than on other public domain image websites

8. Public Domain Archive

As the website’s name indicates, this is an archive of public domain images you can download for free and use in commercial contexts. All photos are organized into categories like abstract, free stock photos, people or wood which makes the search simpler. However, these categories don’t contain more than a few hundred photos and some of them offer as few as five pictures you can download. All photos are in high resolution and ready for professional use. The download process can be completed effortlessly in just a few quick steps. New images are added on a weekly basis.

Pros:

  • Professional quality of images
  • All images are free

Cons:

  • A limited selection of photos
  • Doesn’t offer vector graphics

9. NYPL Digital Gallery

NYPL Digital Gallery

NYPL Digital Gallery is an excellent resource for anyone who is not interested in stock photography. The New Your Public Library has made hundreds of thousands of historical images available to the public and you can use it to browse through items, collections or divisions. Before you enter a keyword you should click on the search only public domain materials tick box to ensure that the search results are going to display only images that can be used without restrictions. Additionally, the NYPL Digital Gallery lets you browse through its collection of digital books while its collections of photographs include the work of some of the highly esteemed American photographers.

Pros

  • Public domain images are available in different resolutions
  • Offers valuable research materials

Cons

  • Some images are subject to copyright
  • Only aimed at scholars and researchers

10. Viintage

Viintage is a gold mine for graphic designers as it grants them access to hundreds of vintage posters, book covers, and images. However, the amount of public domain images this website offers is limited and if you want to download the images from the collections of works created by famous artists from the late 19th and early 20th centuries you must purchase the premium version of Viintage. The website lacks some basic search options as it only allows you to type in the search term into the search bar. The images are not organized into categories which further complicates the process of finding a public domain image you’re looking for.

Pros:

  • Offers a collection of rare vintage public domain images
  • A great resource for graphic designers

Cons:

  • Most images on Viintage can’t be downloaded for free
  • Search tools are far from perfect

How to Cite Public Domain Images Properly?

If you’re planning on using a public domain image in a blog or on your website, you must cite the source from which you acquired a particular image. The image citations should include the following information:

  • The title of the image
  • Author’s name
  • Information about the institution at which an image is kept
  • The source from which you acquired an image

In case you don’t have access to all of these information or if the information is simply not available you should include all details about a public domain image you have the access to. Furthermore, there are several styles of image citations that depend on the source from which an image was acquired.

Conclusion

Spending large sums of money on images you can use in commercial or private projects is not always necessary. The public domain images are widely available and they can be used in a broad range of contexts. Which website that lets you download public domain images do you like to use the most? Leave a comment and share your opinions with us.

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Liza Brown
Liza Brown is a writer and a lover of all things video.