Best Free Stock Image Databases

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Three reliable sources that anyone can use. No more worrying about copyright infringement.

Screenshot of search results for term 'Egypt' in Smithsonian database

In the internet landscape, copyright infringement is abundant. And it makes sense — most people have not been given the tools to do otherwise. Even as an artist myself, I understand that not everyone has the means or ability to purchase or create stock images!

So, in today’s post, I’ll share my secrets with you. We will walk through three excellent ways to legally and ethically get free internet images!



The famous museum has been expanding its mandate in recent years. About ⅓ of their collections are included in the database, with images and objects spanning millions of years to the present. Most images are very high-resolution and well-lit. Best of all, many images can be decoupaged and altered for your needs. If you’re a fan of Vox’s animated collages, these are the types of copyright-accessible images that can be used: All you have to do is check the “Open Access Media” box. Check out the database, by clicking here!


Looking for more modern stock images? Unsplash is my go-to for stylized, gorgeous images. Everything on this site is usable, and each image is ultra-crisp and very trendy. Think moody closeup of dewy succulents; a drone shot of a tropical beach; or a hipster drinking a latte while working. These are often sized appropriately to be printed or used as computer desktop wallpapers — in other words, these are massive images. As a thank you, it’s good etiquette to credit photographers whenever you do use one of their images. After all, that exposure encourages more photographers to continue uploading more great photos.


Sometimes both the above options won’t have highly specific images. Flickr, on the other hand, arguably is the most substantial database to choose from. Many smaller museums and hobbyists upload extensive collections. However, you do need to be careful to use Flickr ethically: you will need to add specific filters to your search in order to ensure you’re pulling usage-approved images from creators. The good news is that this is less tricky than it may seem from the outset. Before you search, you will need to figure out what licensing permissions are needed for what you have in mind. Luckily, Flickr already has a copyright cheat sheet on their creative commons home page to familiarize yourself with copyright and how to navigate it on their site.

Overall, I hope you takeaway a few lessons on searching and using . When it comes to ethical use of internet images, these are just a few of the options available online. Do you have a trick up your sleeve or a special database I didn’t mention? I’d love to hear it in the comment section, below!
If you’re interested in more posts like this one, check out these other posts in my visual literacy series

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