When it comes to finding great photos for your next design project finding an image that fits is basically 60% of work. Whether it’s for your desktop wallpaper collage, Facebook cover photo, a quoted image for social media posting, an image for your blog post or a more complex web and interactive design, you will always look for a CC0 image that is free for commercial use without attribution. This will help avoid any potential lawsuit and keep the stress of your budget.
There are thousands of free stock photo websites out there with copy/pasted libraries. Most of them don’t even have active communities but simply crawl or clone each other’s libraries. And it’s not uncommon to find an extremely popular stock photo website with a huge library that provides poor usability. Finding ones that don’t suck is a hefty task.
Free stock photos make the base of any web design and are most commonly used in HTML/CSS website templates or various CMS theme demos to help clients visualize the high-fi mockups of the end-design. When working with high-end clients on web design solutions, lack of interaction can make the push in the positive direction as your designer vision can be fully presented. Therefore it’s advisable to look for a top web development company to seed function into your 2D representation and achieve the desired “WOW” effect. Moreover, you should use suitable design collaboration tools to keep your whole team on the same page.
We’ve made a non-exhaustive list of free stock photo websites that provide good usability and ran through some pros and cons of each. So let’s dive in.
Pexels is a great website that offers exclusively CC0 photos you can use for anything on the web.
Pexels offers great usability – their designers have understood the importance of search bar over categorized menu navigation and placed it in the first fold as a dominant element.
Aside from classic search, users are offered some sort of categorization for free browsing to help inspire users browsing their image library for ideas. Aside from browsing by most popular search tags, you can browse images by color which is great for designers looking for CC0 images to include in their design of which they know nothing yet but the color brief. Another great thing done by Pexels development and design team is the implementation of resizing functionality. Yes, you can download images by their standard usage formats as well, but Pexels offers an additional option to simply input either width or height of the desired image and you will be able to download the resized image, with same aspect ratio, to the dimension set.
If you are a blogger or otherwise content writer and editor, you know the struggles of formatting an article. You need to inspect the width of an article body, download a CC0 image, open in some sort of a photo editor, crop it to that size and export it in compressed .jpeg format just so you would have an optimized image and ensure the page loads well. It’s a process, and Pexels offers a quick solution to simplify it,
Pexels has a huge library, updated on a daily basis and even though its CC0 library is smaller than some other competitive website, the usability it provides is much much greater than the rest of the competitors.
Pixabay is not a fresh player on the block. Since its initial public release back in 2010, Pixabay has amassed a huge CC0 image library with a categorized selection. Aside from the well-known search bar in the first fold, Pixabay enables its users to browse their image library through 20 different categories.
As it is with Pexels, Pixabay offers browsing images by color and popular search tags as well as by size and orientation. What separates Pixabay from the other CC0 image websites is that, aside from photos, it offers a selection of illustration, vector graphics and videos with CC0 license. This is great for designers working with more complex designs that require some form of fluid interaction or storytelling.
Pixabay has indisputably one of the largest CC0 image, vector graphic, illustration and video libraries out there. Plus its content is available in 26 different languages which makes it usable for both designers and regular users looking for their next cover photo on Facebook or a wallpaper for their desktop.
Unsplash started out as a Tumblr blog just a few years ago, believe it or not. People behind it had a simple idea of having an online space for their CC0 images to use every day without having to list bookmarks to each photo they like on a different website. Their mantra was “10 free images every 10 days” and it started out as such.
Basically overnight, Unsplash boomed with traffic and download as it started building user retention early on and grew pretty much organically. Unsplash is so popular today that it has its API integrated into over digital products powered by Trello, Adobe, Tencent, Google and such.
A dominant search bar occupies the first fold as the main starting point for navigation and browsing, but Unsplash offers other browsing methods as well. Through their “Explore” tab, you can browse through a series of editorial and search tag-based image collections.
Unsplash is a great source for CC0 images and a cool inspiration library. Their mantra of 10 free images every 10 days drives huge user retention but it lacks the categorization by size, color, and orientation. It’s the perfect source of inspiration and wallpapers for any device type but not when you are looking for something design specific.
Burst by Shopify
Shopify recently launched their CC0 image website, Burst. Shopify is one of the most popular e-commerce CMSs today that allows users with less to no coding or design experience to set up and launch their online stores. If you have any problems working with Shopify, there are helpful Shopify courses to get started. They have a vast library of on-click themes to be chosen from and setup but the design is largely governed by the user provided images and product photos.
Shopify recognized this problem and saw the opportunity to improve their customer retention by opening up a stock image library with HQ photos. Aside with a dominant search bar in the first fold, users can browse through a series of collections ran by their editorial team. The downside is that you can only opt for HighRes or LowRes photos – you cannot categorize or personalize the photo by its color, orientation or size.
Shopify understands the struggles small online store owners face every day when promoting their products over social media. They understand the role of visuals in the promotion and advertising and have opened their users a series of guides, tips and photo kits to educate them on how to accomplish their business goals. If you are a small online store owner, then Burst by Shopify is your library of choice.
Stocksnap surely offers a huge library of CC0 images to its users. It curates images from several other websites and it tracks users page views and downloads to compile trending, best rated and most downloaded images. It’s your go-to site if you wish to take out the legwork from continuous browsing.
As with other aforementioned websites, a dominant search bar in the first fold is your main starting point for browsing images. Aside from that, StockSnap prides itself with the most versatile base of image categories on the web. You can find almost anything in their category sitemap.
StockSnap has hundreds of weekly image uploads and is one of the most populated CC0 image websites out on the web – it’s great for designers as well as for regular users looking for their next desktop wallpaper. However, although it has a vast category base, it still lacks further download options such are image resize and compress functionalities.
Some honorable mentions
Gratisography prides itself as “the world’s quirkiest photo collection”. It is true that they have a much smaller CC0 photo library than previously mentioned websites like Unsplash and Pixabay, but the website does offer some of the weirdest photos you may use for inspiration in your next design project. Their aim is to provide a curated list of free CC0 images that don’t appear to be “stocky” and their editorial team is working hard to achieve this.
Rawpixel has one of the most diverse CC0 image libraries out there, still, non-comparable with the Stocksnap categorization and library size. What makes Rawpixel stand out from the crowd is that aside CC0 images, it offers vector graphics, PSD mockups and other public domain content such is Japanese wood panel art.
Morguefile is a somewhat strange CC0 image website – it doesn’t have a library size like Unsplash nor does it have the top quality of Gratisography, but the website offers some of the weirdest “stocky” images out there that you won’t find on any other sites. For instance, if you are looking for a free CC0 photo of a kid brushing its teeth, Morguefile is probably the first site you should visit.
Have you heard about Martin Vorel? He is the creative force behind Libreshot. The photo collection prides itself on some of the most amazing architectural photos and elegant selections of various business and tech photography.
ISO’s Republic mission statement is “to provide high-quality images for bloggers, designers, marketers and social media teams”. And when you look at their curated collections, you will see that their community is focused on achieving just that. The website is smaller than Unsplash but the image quality, versatility, and usability in web works is much greater.
Pikwizard is the latest addition to the stock photography family. It holds over 100,000 high-quality images, with 20,000 completely exclusive to the site. There is no attribution required on any of these images. What makes Pikwizard stand out, however, is its high-quality images of people, which are few and far between on the best stock photography websites. It also features a great graphic design tool, Design Wizard. You can take each image from Pikwizard and edit it in Design Wizard, which makes it twice as fun.
This list is non-exhaustive, but we hope it provides enough insight for you as a simple user or a next power designer to research, opt for and bookmark. Is there a website we missed that you’d like to include on the list?
Max is a SaaS enthusiast and loves actionable content that provides direct value.