Finding free commercial use stock images can be tough. You don’t want to get in trouble, but you want awesome images for your website or product. I get it. And lucky for you, there are plenty of great sites which offer totally free images for you to use.
What are the best free commercial use stock images websites? We believe the top site for finding free commercial use stock images is Pexels.com. Unsplash.com is also a top-notch site with beautiful free images. Gratisography.com, Freepik.com, Google Image Search, and Pixabay.com are also great resources.
If you are looking for the best free stock image resources, you’ve come to the right place. But once you found your images, you can go even further by editing them. Let’s dive into all of our nitty-gritty photo tricks of the trade.
The best websites for free commercial use stock photos
There are a lot of great websites for free commercial use images. On the other hand, there are also a ton of spammy websites filled with banner ads galore. You’ll know when you see one and you should click away in a hurry.
Over the last few years, free image websites have sky-rocked. I’ve been to a good majority of them and I can tell you without a doubt, these are PRIME.
Pexels.com. This website is every website creators darling right now. Pexels is seriously good. The photography is modern and beautiful.
Most of the images look like they’ve come from a magazine editorial. I often prefer these images to stock photo websites that you pay for. The difference can be striking. As a website designer, I have used Pexel photography on more websites than the overpriced shutterstock websites.
What’s awesome about Pexels is the images are truly free. You won’t have to worry about someone coming back and suing you for copyright. To be clear, you don’t own the images, but you can use them anywhere you want.
Lastly, Pexels also has an API. So if you are building an application that selects images, Pexels would be a really great fit here for very little cost to you.
Unsplash.com. Unsplash is the best kept secret around. It’s not nearly as popular as Pexels, but the photography is amazing. It’s also commercial free use. The best part: there are over 400,000 beautiful images to choose from. If you can’t get creative with that many photos, you’ve got no business getting creative!
The thing I like the most about Unsplash is the creative artistry in the images. There are so many unique images that are well shot by world class photographers. This isn’t your cheesy catalogue of 90’s, recycled photography. Quite frankly, Unsplash probably has the most beautiful photography on the web for free images. Like Pexels, I use Unsplash on a ton of sites.
You shouldn’t waste any time on looking for commercial free images. Check out Unsplash now.
Gratisography.com. This is a commercial stock free image site that hasn’t hit mainstream yet. There are some really good images here for you to search. The reason it’s lower on the list isn’t because it’s lesser photography, it’s because Gratisography is more forward in their promotion of pay per photo sites. They are peppered everywhere.
On the flip side, Gratisography has some great images that you can use in your project for free. You won’t be disappointed with their selection.
Freepik.com. Last, but not least, just different, we have Freepik.com. To some, this will actually be the best resource. Freepik has images like the aforementioned above AND they also have PNG’s, Vectors, PSD’s, and Icons. Many graphic designers use this site.
With every commercial free site, there are downsides. And with Freepik, most of the content requires attribution (giving credit to author). Now, for blogs, this is not big deal. Just give a little attribution under the image and go about your day. But for commercial project, this will be a stain on the product.
As I said above, it will best the most amazing resource for some and it won’t work at all for others. I recommend checking out their content and seeing if it’s a fit for your project(s).
The best stock image website for unique images
Being that we are only going to choose one lucky winner here for weird, we want a stock image website that casts a wide net. Which is why we select Pixabay.com for this one.
The images on Pixabay are free for commercial use and they have some really quirky things. I’m constantly searching for weird things that Pixabay oddly has. Like the time I needed an image of a triceratops skeleton!
It’s not everyday you need a crazy image like this. But when you do, Pixabay comes through from time to time. I make weird images—it’s what I do—and so I thank you Pixabay for your contribution.
Runner up. Skuawk
Skuawk is so good. We love their images. It’s a hipster site, so you are bound to get some weirdness sprinkled in there.
The thing I most like about Skuawk is the inspiration I draw from it. The images are varied and categorized really nicely. This makes it a breeze to find cool ideas. If you are a blogger or a site creator, you need to skuawk.com in you repertoire.
The other thing I HAVE TO MENTION about skuawk—they have an amazing music player for work. Holy smokes. I love this thing.
Their music player is totally free (there is a premium version) and it gives you more than a handful of cool ambient sounds. Piano bar, jazz club, rain, ocean lounge, workspace, and a few others. It’s so good. I just launch it in my browser and get to work creating.
I don’t know about you, but when I am writing, I cannot for the life of me concentrate when people are singing. My old desk-mate could listen to Frank Sinatra all day and write blogs. WHAT? I love Frank as much as anyone, but I can’t write original words while I have “Fly me to the moon” humming in the background. Can’t do it.
So, Skuawk is perfect for me to turn on and provide a little ear candy when I’m writing for you, wonderful readers. Oh, oh, almost forgot. With Skuawk, you can turn on multiple sounds at the same time and layer them. Woaaahhh. Right now, I have rain and a fireplace going. Dang! Eat your heart out Apple Music.
Runner up’s runner up. Startupstockphotos.
startupstockphotos.com is a cool little site. It’s photography is mostly based on startup company images. If you are building a website a need some images of people working, office space, engaging people—this could be your jam.
If you are looking for a variety of different content, this probably isn’t it. But, I had to mention it as I’ve used this site for some vanilla images. Not a bad site to make you look “bigger than you are.”
Can I edit commercial free stock images?
In short, yes. Unless the author/photographer specifically states that you aren’t allowed to manipulate the photos, you can make changes to the image. This allows you to get really creative. I use this method for nearly all my posts when I’m looking for interesting ways to modify an otherwise “stock image”.
The image to the right is a stock image I downloaded from Pexels to use on the site. The image on the right is a simple modification I made to enhance the interest of the picture. All the difference!
What did I use to do this? Great question. I used GetStencil.com’s image and social media tool called Stencil. It’s awesome. Absolute game-changer. It’s not free, but it’s not expensive. It’s around $9 at the time of this post.
There are a lot of blogging tools that I use, but this one I use a lot. It allows me to make changes directly in my WordPress editor. Not having to leave WordPress for all my graphics is a true time saver.
You’ll have upload files, media library, and then a stencil tab. Create your image and then drop in your media folder. You can even post it to social media from directly in Stencil. Woah.
Now, to be fair, you can also do this with a product called Canva. And it’s really good and robust. And it’s more popular. But it’s not Stencil for the following reasons:
- They charge by the asset (this get’s expensive…really expensive)
- Their social sharing isn’t as good
- It’s a bit slower in my experience
- Stencil has seamless integrations with Buffer
- You pay for Canva monthly and you STILL have to pay per asset (gross)
- Stencil is like Marvel’s Black Panther. Iron Man was all anyone talked about for 10 years (Canva) until Black Panther showed up and stole the show (Stencil). Was that a stretch? Maybe… 😉
Best free option to edit photos? Figma.com.
Figma is BADDDD to the bone. In my past life, I was a UX/UI designer and I used Sketch and Adobe nearly everyday. These are seriously powerful design suites. When a friend showed me Figma’s free tool, I scoffed. “Psshhh… step aside bro.”
But honestly, I played around with it for 10 minutes and I ate my words. I was floored at the power of this free tool. It’s incredible.
All you have to do is spend an hour or so and learn how to use Figma and you’ll be off and running. You’ll be designing insanely cool graphics. Image what you could do with all of those cool free images? You have my secret treasure trove of image sites and now you have the best free design tool on the web. Get to it Picasso!
Oh, almost forgot. Check out the video below for some Figma instruction.
How to search for commercial use photos on Google?
All of the websites mentioned above are great. But, if you want the worlds biggest repository, you need to search Google images. It’s enormous and they have billions of photos. Hard to compete with that.
The best thing about Google Image search is that you can filter out specifically what you need. It’s really easy to do as well. And the best part of the filter is that you can search by “reuse with modification”. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used this search feature to find something wacky.
Have I found an insane photos of Abe Lincoln that I doctored up? You bet. Have I found hilarious pictures of animals hanging form their tales? True indeed.
The main thing you want to make sure is when you are searching for images, you go into tools and select “reuse with modification.” This means that the image author has specified that you can change/alter the image to suit your need. Now, some of the images are old and have fallen out of copyright dating parameters. And others are just generous copyright licenses.
How to search for commercial free/reuse with modification
- Go to Google.com
- Click on the Images tab
- Search for an image in the search bar
- Click on Tools
- Click on Usage Rights
- Click on Labeled for reuse with modification
If you are not planning on modifying the image, then you can also click Labeled for reuse.
Google Images are a treasure-trove of goodies. I have used these image searches time and time again for the quirky and eccentric. It almost never lets me down.
Are free stock photos really free?
The websites that I have listed above are in fact free usage rights. You can feel good about that. They are popular and known for their “free” use. In fact, there are hundreds of photographers who rant about how Pexels is ruining the entire industry.
But, I feel like I have to say this even though it’s implied: NOT ALL PHOTOS ON THE INTERNET ARE FREE.
I know you know this. I know I know this. We all know this. But I needed to get it out.
If you want to be absolutely sure that the images you are using are truly free, then you need to ensure that they don’t have a license attribution term like Creative Common License (CCL). Creative Commons is a non-for-profit that grants simple creative licenses for media products. There are terms associated with the type of Creative Commons License.
You need to be sure that the CCL doesn’t have a restrictive parameter. The most common restriction is not for commercial use. If you aren’t profiting off the image or using it conjunction with a business, you are probably good to go. Almost all of the Creative Commons Licenses require some attribution. This is important. You are required to give credit where credit is due.
On the other end of media licensing is the CC0 license (Public Domain). This is when an author dedicates their work to the public for free use. This means the work is free of any restrictions on use.
As you can see, it’s really important to search the rules for author attribution. While the web is big and you aren’t likely to get caught if you miss a few attributions, we always recommend you give credit where credit is REQUIRED. The websites we listed above are attribute-free. Phewww.
What is the difference between royalty free the same as copyright free? No, they are actually quite different. Royalty free usually implies that you will get to use the product (image) in exchange for a cost, usually a one-time fee. On the other hand, Copyright free simply means the product doesn’t have a copyright attached to it. Unless otherwise noted, copyright free doesn’t have any restrictions.
Do I have to give attribution for images on my website? We get this question a lot from blog owners who claim their blog is just a “hobby.” Well, my car is just a car but I still have to obey the rules of the road. If the author of the image states that you have to give attribution (typically Creative Commons), then you need to give attribution.
If you aren’t sure, look for a terms and conditions on the site. To quickly find what you need, press Control + F (Find) and type in “attribut” or “Creative Commons”. Yes, attribute is misspelled, but we are looking to pull in words like attribute, attribution, etc. You should see some language if there are any restrictions.
Here is the process on Pexels.com.
Is Pixabay really free? Yes. Pixabay is really free, but there are images that are advertised which have a cost. This is how Pixabay stays in business. The free images drive you to the site, the paid images keep the lights on.
You should be aware and look out for these. For example, all the images on the top here will take you to Shutterstock which requires your credit card. All the images on the bottom are free.