Whether you’re new to print-on-demand or you’re simply in a creative rut, this free images for print-on-demand resource list is sure to spark some inspiration.
Finding free pictures or artwork that are high-resolution and have no copyright restrictions can be challenging. But don’t worry, in this article we’ll also discuss all the possible legal limitations and how to avoid any copyright issues.
And make sure to read until the end for an awesome hack on the fastest way to find copyright-free images.
But first, let’s get started with Quick Designs in Printful’s Design Maker.
Printful’s Design Maker allows you to experiment with free trending design templates, fonts, and clipart with the 340+ premium products offered in our catalog. But when time is of the essence, Quick Designs is here to save the day.
Our Quick Designs consist of pre-made text and clipart compositions that are ready to use as is. Or, you can personalize them in no time by changing the wording and colors to exactly suit your tastes.
To use Quick Designs, go to our Design Maker, click Quick Designs in the Design tab, and then look through the categories or enter a keyword to find the ideal graphic design for you.
To learn more about all the amazing features our Design Maker has to offer, check out this article on 8 Things You Didn’t Know Printful’s Design Maker Could Do.
Public domain images are photos, clipart, or vectors whose copyrights have expired or just never existed. These images are free for use by anyone, either for personal or commercial purposes, sometimes even with no attribution required. Artwork typically falls into the public domain 70 years after the author’s death. So imagine how many free images are out there!
There are several reasons an image may enter the public domain.
the copyright expired
the copyright owner failed to comply with copyright renewal rules
the copyright owner purposely placed it in the public domain, known as a “dedication”
this type of work is not protected by copyright law
If an image has a copyright, you may still be able to use it under fair use terms. Keep in mind that even for public domain images, trademark or privacy rights may apply, so always check your source. Plus, public domain images can have different types of licenses with varying usage rights. For almost limitless freedom of use, check for a CC0 license.
Public domain images that an artist purposefully places in the public domain have what is called a CC0 license (CC0 1.0 Universal, Creative Commons Zero license), also known as a Public Domain Dedication. This means the images have no known copyright, trademark, or privacy rights, and you’re free to use them without any permission from the artist. In other words, you can knock yourself out!
Keep in mind: even if an image has a CC0 license, it may still belong to the site providing them. This means that you’re not allowed to resell or distribute the images themselves without placing them on a product. But you can freely use them to create designs, logos, and prints for personal or commercial purposes.
Now, let’s explore some of our favorite sites that offer public domain images with a CC0 license.
This is probably the most user-friendly and extensive public domain picture resource out there. RawPixel collates, scans, and enhances images from international museums, antique books, and their own original collection of artwork.
With a free account, you get unlimited access to their public domain collection of CC0 licensed content and 5 photos per day from their free collection. If you’re using the free images, you’ll need to add considerable artistic value to make it your own original design. Check out RawPixel’s FAQ section for more info.
The Heritage Type library offers free vintage illustrations for your creative projects that you can download without even signing up. Just check out how neat these animal people look. Heritage Type’s retro illustrations are great for cute sticker ideas, t-shirt printing, posters, home decor, and anything else you can imagine.
Source: Heritage Type
With our background removal tool, you can easily make these illustrations pop on your prints.
By the way, if you’re already overwhelmed by the number of free pictures out there, check out our article on 50 T-Shirt Design Ideas for some inspiration.
A lot of museums worldwide offer free photos on their websites, but the Smithsonian wins in terms of quantity, quality, and browsing ease. They have over 4.5 million high-res images all with a CC0 license (which you can see at the bottom of each pic when you click on it).
Don’t forget to check out their 3D collection with cool mammoth skeletons, Bell X-1 rocket planes, and everything in between. I’m sure you’ll find something to create stunning print-on-demand designs.
This website is simple and clutter-free—you just enter a word or catchphrase in the search engine and it’ll load as many photos as your browser can handle. Museo is currently connected to the Art Institute of Chicago (55,000 images), Rijksmuseum (716,000), Harvard Art Museums (236,000), and the New York Public Library Digital Collection (901,000).
From bugs, birds, and reptiles to fungi and marine algae, this photo collection is any nature lover’s dream. You can find over 260,000 high-res copyright-free graphics, pics, and illustrations for your print-on-demand business.
Here’s another iconic library that’s generous enough to share free photos for download on their Flickr account. You can find over 1 million beautiful illustrations from the 17th–19th centuries, as well as manuscripts and more.
Check out this array of love-inspired images from 19th-century books in their Valentine’s Day collection, or browse these fun vintage advertisements. These pics would work great as part of a mixed-media t-shirt design.
Although it’s a bit smaller than other collections (they currently only have over 6,000 images), Wikipedia’s Featured Pictures is a great resource that’s only going to grow with time. Just look at their stunning East Asian art or their unique literary illustrations.
Any image submitted to Wikipedia has to go through their strict featured picture criteria, so you can be sure they’re high-res and CC0 licensed.
A free stock photo differs from a public domain photo in that it can’t be used without alteration. This also means it doesn’t have a CC0 license. These photos are still free, you just have to add a (significant) personal touch to them.
Unsplash, for example, offers comprehensive guidelines as to what they mean by requiring alterations.
By using Unsplash’s service you agree not to: “Sell copies of Photos without first significantly or meaningfully updating, modifying, or otherwise incorporating new creative elements into the Photos beyond simple retouches, resizing, or other minimal changes so long as they are not done by automated means (i.e., selling unaltered, slightly altered, or altered by automatic script copies of the Photos), including selling them as prints or printed on physical goods.”
First, always make sure you have the legal authority to modify the image by checking with the owner.
Now, how do you go about altering a stock image and what classifies as significant modifying, altering, etc?
Here’s a little example I’ve created with an original image, and then an acceptable vs. an unacceptable alteration.
Notice how I changed the text, and font, and replaced some of the design elements—not only the colors. I also gave the frog sunglasses and a handbag, plus, I drew a new mouth. I hope this gives you a better idea of what “significant modifications” means.
Now, let’s dive into the free stock image resources on our list.
Unsplash is a website where professional photographers share their work with the world for free. You can search by category or even see what topics are trending and what keywords people are searching for.
Pexels is a free stock image resource that’s easy to browse in “freemium” mode. Like Unsplash, each photo is tagged with relevant keywords so that you can find exactly what you’re looking for.
Created in 2010, Pixabay has established itself as one of the top resources for images, illustrations, vector graphics, and video. You can browse over 4 million high-quality photos that are royalty-free.
The cool thing about vector graphics is that no matter how much you resize the image, it won’t decrease in quality.
MorgueFile offers free photos by creatives for creatives. Here you can find unique takes on landscapes, nature, and portraits. It’s a great site for finding rare photos and ideas that stand out from the crowd.
If you’re looking for truly quirky ideas, Gratisography is the site for you. Browse their categories of free pics encompassing animals, whimsical, urban, nature, people, and business. From a boxer dog wearing boxing gloves to a flamingo riding a skateboard, you’ll surely find something that tickles your fancy.
Stockvault has over 140K free stock photos, textures, backgrounds, and graphics to help you succeed in the print-on-demand industry. No attributions required—just alter the images to make them your own and you’re ready to go!
Pro tip: If you’re designing t-shirts, make sure to check out this article on Bestselling T-Shirt Designs and What Mistakes to Avoid.
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Vecteezy is the biggest vector graphics resource out there. This site is a savior when you want to create large designs for t-shirts, hoodies, or epic posters.
But there are some limitations based on which license you choose:
Free License – only 5 downloads per day (attribution required)
Pro License – up to 200 downloads per day (no attribution required)
Canva, just like Printful’s Design Maker, is a perfect tool for designing visual content with no experience required. Besides free templates for marketing purposes, you can find plenty of photos for your prints in their print section. Just make sure you apply the filter “free” unless you want to pay for designs.
Although this is a fantastic list of free photo resources, it’s not entirely comprehensive. Here’s a quick hack for finding images for your print-on-demand business that are free for commercial use.
Open Google search, type any keyword or phrase into the search engine, and click on Images. Now, click on Tools and go to Usage Rights, then select the option Creative Commons License. Bam, now you have pages of photos relating exactly to your search result—all free to download, modify, and use for your print-on-demand business.
Now that you have all these amazing resources at your fingertips, go ahead and dig up some gems. Create a mood board with your favorite clippings and experiment with different fonts, colors, and graphic elements. I’m sure you’ll have a new collection for your print-on-demand store in no time.
Zoe Amora Iranzo-Lauriņa
Zoe is a creative writer, multilingual translator, and certified yoga instructor with a passion for learning, traveling, and global cuisine. When she's not typing away at her PC, you can find her teaching yoga in the park, reading on the couch with her cat, or plunging in the Mediterranean.