The adage ” a picture is worth a thousand words” is as true today as it was at the beginning of the twentieth century when it first came into common parlance, principally in journalistic circles. In today’s cyber world the appropriate use of images can transform an ‘okay’ website into a great one.
As website owners, where do we turn to get our images? To the web, of course, and there is no shortage of choice out there. For those with the necessary financial resources, there is a multitude of excellent stock photography websites to choose from but they can be very expensive.
Fortunately, for those of us who are more cost-conscious, there are also a large number of websites offering totally free images. In fact, there are so many such websites that it becomes all too easy for us to become distracted and spend far too long looking for that perfect image. In the hope of eliminating some of that distraction, the following are, what I consider to be, the 7 best free image websites that are available to you today.
My Criteria for Selecting these Image Websites
On the assumption you want your image search and download to go quickly and seamlessly I adopted the following criteria for including each website in the list:
- High-quality images. Perhaps obvious but worth noting.
- At least 50,000 free images available in a wide variety of categories. The greater the choice available on any given website, the better are your chances of finding a suitable image in a shorter time. There are many excellent websites with smaller, more specialized portfolios, with some featuring the work of a single photographer. You can indeed find some great images on some of these websites but the problem is that many of them have very limited (if any) search features. This results in you literally have to scan through every image in the hope of finding what you are looking for and this can be very time-consuming.
- The images are totally free. I am referring here to the difference between ‘free’ and ‘royalty-free‘ images. If an image is described as royalty-free it does not mean that no payment is required for its use. It simply means that rather than a fee (royalty) having to be paid every time the image is used, the image can be used multiple times (in accordance with the terms of the granted license) in return for a single payment. In this article, the websites I mention have images available where no payment at all is required.
- If the website offers paid as well as free images then the two are clearly distinguished. In addition to free images, the majority of the websites in this list have either their own ‘premium’ images, which you can purchase on-site, or have images with sponsored links that take you to a third-party website to purchase the image.
- The website has a good search function and is easy to navigate. The larger the number of images on a website the greater the need for a search function that allows you to type in a few keywords in order to bring up a small number of highly relevant images. Without such a feature it would be like the proverbial ‘looking for a needle in a haystack’.
- The website has its own standard user license. This avoids your having to deal with the actual owner of the image and/or with a variety of different licenses. You don’t have to actually sign the user license but there is a statement to the effect that by downloading an image you acknowledge the terms of the license and agree to abide by them.
- All images can be adapted and used commercially. Without such a blanket right (usually contained in the website’s user license) you would need to check and comply with the conditions and requirements attached to each individual image and which would be tedious and time-consuming. This is the principal reason I have not included Creative Commons in this list.
- Attribution may be required on some of the websites on the list. In such a case you will need to acknowledge the photographer on your website and sometimes even include a link to his/her profile. The attribution link is usually supplied as you download the image. While involving a little more work, it is a small price to pay for an otherwise free image that might be exactly what you are looking for.
The 7 Best Free Image Websites
In alphabetical order:
Free Images is owned by Getty Images, which many (most?) consider the ‘Rolls Royce’ of stock photography.
The search function is not great but certainly adequate and there is a very wide range of categories.
As well as over 300,000 free images, the website displays a large number of sponsored images that can be purchased through links to iStock and which is, perhaps not surprisingly, also owned by Getty Images.
Search results display both free and sponsored images but you can filter for free only.
No sign-up is required and downloads are a simple two-click affair, including your image size selection, typically five choices from original size through to small.
Attribution is not, typically, required.
Freepik is a European based website founded in 2010.
It has an extensive and varied portfolio with both free and premium images but it is easy to filter for free images only. In case you are tempted by some of the premium images, Freepik does have some very attractive membership plans available. There are also sponsored images with links to Shutterstock.
It also has an excellent and very accurate search function, just keep feeding in your keywords.
No sign-up is required and downloads are quick and easy although, because attribution is required, you do have the additional step of downloading the attribution link.
The free images are available for download in their original large size only so some resizing will be required.
Originally founded in 2014, Pexels was recently acquired by Canva, the graphic-design tool website.
The Pexels website currently has over 400,000 free images in a wide variety of categories. It doesn’t offer premium images for sale although it does display, very unobtrusively, some sponsored images with links to Adobe Stock.
The search function is okay but not great.
Membership is not required and downloads are super easy. Images can be downloaded in a variety of sizes, including custom.
Attribution is not required.
Founded only a few years ago, PikWizard already has well over 100,000 free images available for download and its portfolio is growing rapidly.
PikWizard does not offer its own premium images for sale but you will find images with sponsored links to Shutterstock and Adobe Stock scattered throughout your search results. It is not possible to filter for free images only although the premium images are clearly marked.
It has a good search function which brings up accurate results.
Membership is not required and downloads are very easy requiring only one click if you download the image in its original size.
For immediate download each image is only offered in its original size but, unusually for a free image website, PikWizard does offer a free image editing tool (Design Wizard) one function of which allows you to resize your selected image to your own custom requirements. Design Wizard also offers a multitude of other editing functions, including cropping, adding text and shapes, and you can even upload your own images to superimpose over the image you are editing.
Attribution is not required.
Originally founded in Germany in 2010, it wasn’t until 2012 that Pixabay adopted its current format of an online community of photographers offering their images for free to the public. Pixabay was recently acquired by Canva, the graphic-design tool website.
With well over one million images, Pixabay has one of the largest portfolios available for free download at the current time.
Pixabay does not offer its own premium images for sale on the website but search results do pull up images with sponsored links to Shutterstock and Canva. It is not possible to filter for free images only but the sponsored images typically appear at the top of search results and are clearly identified as such.
Membership is not required and downloads are easy and offered in four different sizes. A nice touch here is that you are shown not only the image dimensions in pixels but also the actual file size in KB or MB. Most websites only show the image dimensions and you have no idea how large a file you are downloading.
The one thing I am not impressed with on this website is the image search function which frequently shows no results for keywords that almost always bring up a variety of images in searches on other websites including those with smaller portfolios. It is particularly frustrating when a search (e.g. “elderly couple with computer”) brings up no free images but a big selection of images with sponsored links to Shutterstock. Having said that, I consider the search function to be adequate to include Pixabay in this list.
Attribution is not required for downloaded images.
Based in the United Kingdom but operating out of Bangkok, Thailand, RawPixel has only been going for a couple of years and with a free image library hovering around 50,000 it only just makes this list. However, that library, though relatively small, is very diverse and contains some stunning images. I also like the fact that they donate 10% of their membership income (they offer premium as well as free images) to the charity ‘Hope for Children’.
RawPixels is the only website on this list that requires membership for free image downloads but the signup process is fast and requires minimal information. Also, as a free member, you are only permitted to download a maximum of five images per day.
RawPixel offers both free and premium images and an image search brings up a selection of both. It is not possible to filter for free only, at least when making a search.
Downloads are easy and you are typically offered the choice of either Jpeg or Tiff as well as a range of three sizes, original, large, and ‘web’.
The search function works well and delivers accurate, relevant results.
RawPixels does require you to acknowledge the source of the image by adding a link to their website.
Founded in 2013 and operating out of Montreal, Canada, the website has a portfolio of over 1,000,000 free images in a wide variety of categories.
Unusually for a website offering so many free images, Unsplash does not have a premium option nor does it show images with sponsored links to third-party stock websites. In other words, everything you see is free.
Membership is not required and downloads are really easy, requiring just a single click. The images can only be downloaded in their original size so some resizing will almost certainly be required.
The search function is okay, not great.
Attribution is not required.
Tips for Using Free Images
The principal downside to using free, as opposed to paid for, images is that there is a much greater chance of the same image being used multiple times on other websites. You can minimize this possibility in several different ways:
- Some free image websites indicate how many times an image has been downloaded in which case look for images with fewer downloads and, in particular, if you have a choice between several otherwise suitable images select the one that has been downloaded least often.
- You mostly want to avoid images that appear on your competitors’ websites so check out those competing websites before adding any new image to your website.
- Do a reverse image search, through a website like Tineye, and which will show you how many times any given image appears on the web.
Still Cannot Find that Special Image You are Looking For?
From time to time, you will inevitably come up empty-handed when looking for a free image in which case you may have to consider a paid option. Now the choice of websites is even wider, including some of the websites included in this article, but there are also some really expensive options out there that you are likely going to want to avoid.
Getty Images, iStock, and Shutterstock, to name but a few, have huge portfolios of amazing images but they are very expensive, particularly if you are looking to purchase the occasional single image. They each offer a monthly subscription option, which reduces the per-image cost considerably, but now you are committing to a regular monthly payment which you likely won’t want or need.
There are a number of very good image websites that offer less expensive payment options. My favorite and the one I use whenever I can’t find a suitable free image is Canstockphoto which offers three purchase options:
- Single image, starting at $2.50 for a small (800 x 533 px) image, and which should be more than adequate for most website needs.
- Weekly, monthly or yearly subscriptions which produce per image costs varying between $0.14 and $0.55 depending on the number of daily downloads.
- Credits packages, which start at $9.00 for 12 credits and go up to $200.00 for 360 credits. A web-friendly ‘small’ image costs just 2 credits which means the single image cost varies between $1.50 and $1.11 depending on the package you purchase. The credits never expire and can be used as quickly or slowly as you choose. This is how I purchase images, when necessary, and I usually purchase 40 credits for $50.00, which translates to $1.25 per image.
If you want to check it out you can do so here:
There are a number of online programs that include extensive and excellent image galleries in their membership. Most of these online programs themselves involve monthly fees so it would not make economic sense to join these programs just for their free image galleries.
On the other hand, if you were, for example, looking for a graphic design tool program you might want to take look at Canva. It is an excellent program in its own right but it also has a huge and rapidly growing image portfolio. Canva does offer free membership, which includes a part of its image gallery, but the paid membership, which offers more powerful design tools, also unlocks many more, premium quality, images.
If you are considering getting into affiliate marketing then Wealthy Affiliate, which provides training in affiliate marketing, as well as website hosting, domain registration, website building tools, and excellent technical support, also gives you access to its image gallery with over 1,000,000 pictures.
Do you have experience with any of the websites on my list? Have you used a free image website that I don’t mention here? If so please share your experience with our readers in the comments box below. If you have any other questions or comments on this article please leave them below and I will get back to you as quickly as possible.
Thank you for reading this article and happy image hunting.