7 Best Public Domain Image Websites in 2022
There are millions of beautiful photos available on the internet, but how do you know which are available for public use?
Trying to find a free image with no usage restrictions can be confusing. Make a wrong guess and you could pay a hefty fine for copyright infringement.
In this article, you will find all the answers to your public domain questions, and get a list of the 7 best places to source copyright-free images.
If you’re short on time and want an easy solution to find quality, royalty-free photos try PhotoDirector image editing software. It comes with a built-in library of 4,000,000+ royalty-free stock photos from Shutterstock and iStock.
- What are Public Domain Images?
- What is the Difference Between Public Domain Images and Royalty-Free Images?
- Best Royalty-Free Image Source
- 7 Best Public Domain Picture Websites
- Public Domain Archive
- The Public Domain Review
- New Old Stock
- Wikimedia Commons
- How Do I Find Public Domain Images?
- Are NASA Images Public Domain?
- How Do I Know if an Image is in the Public Domain?
- Is It Okay to Use Public Domain Images for Commercial Purposes?
- What Should I Do If I Can’t Find Public Domain Images for My Project?
- What are Creative Commons licenses?
- Should I Have Any Concerns About Using Public Domain Images?
- Where Do I Find Public Domain Music?
- Where Do I Find Public Domain Videos?
What are Public Domain Images?
Public domain images are photos, graphics, or clip art that are available for anyone to use, free of charge. These images have no copyright, either because the copyright expired, or it never had one to begin with.
In the United States, copyright protection usually expires 70 years after the author’s death.
Sometimes an author purposefully forgoes copyright protection, intending for their work to be public domain from the start. The Creative Common Zero License (CC0) is attached to these images and means they can be distributed, copied, and used for commercial or personal use without asking for permission or attribution.
What is the Difference Between Public Domain Images and Royalty-Free Images?
Public Domain images are also called “Copyright Free” images, because, as the name suggests, they are copyright free. This means they don’t cost anything and they have no restrictions on usage.
However, some images on sites labeled as public domain actually require attribution or have particular limitations on usage.
Royalty-Free simply means there are no ongoing payments (royalties) due to the author. These images might cost money to use, but only as a one-time payment, instead of a payment every time you use the image. There could also be restrictions on usage. Royalty-Free images could very well be free of charge and free of limitations, but each one is different.
It is important to read the licensing agreement before using a public domain or royalty-free image.
Best Royalty-Free Image Source
As you can see, using royalty-free images can be dicey if you don’t know the rules for use upfront. That’s why a trusted royalty-free stock library is vital.
PhotoDirector 365 is a photo editing software for Windows and Mac with over 4 million royalty-free stock images from Shutterstock and iStock from Getty Images.
There’s also a PhotoDirector app available for iPhone or Android. The mobile app also includes access to images supplied by Unsplash.
Use any of the images found on PhotoDirector with complete peace of mind. None of the images have attribution or usage requirements, meaning they can be used for commercial use. You can even edit the images using PhotoDirector before posting to social media or using on your blog/website.
And while images from Shutterstock and Getty Images usually come with a high sticker price, all images are included in your PhotoDirector subscription.
7 Best Public Domain Picture Websites
1. Public Domain Archive
The stunning, high-resolution photographs on Public Domain Archive are ready for professional use, completely free, and easy to download.
The photos are organized into three categories: Modern, Vintage, and Weekly, with the Weekly category added to, well, weekly.
There is no search function on the site, and the categories are pretty broad, so finding an image of something specific is difficult. It’s laid out more like an art gallery – to browse and admire and maybe download a beautiful image that strikes your fancy.
2. The Public Domain Review
The Public Domain Review is an online journal dedicated to interesting and curious finds from art and literature. All the images are vintage and have fallen out of copyright protection. They are free to use and download for any purpose.
The Public Domain Review contains over 100 collections of images from art, design, books and even old movie stills. There’s also a keyword search function.
The Public Domain Review is full of compelling vintage works, but is not the site to use for images of everyday objects or anything after 1940.
Unsplash was created by photographers who provide beautiful, high-resolution photographs for free under the Unsplash License.
The Unsplash License allows for commercial and non-commercial use, but does not allow selling the photographs without significant modification.
The photos on Unsplash are organized into very specific categories and there is a keyword search function, making it easy to find an image from their 2 million plus image gallery.
Although attribution is not required, Unsplash does ask after each download that you consider giving credit to the photographer.
4. New Old Stock
New Old Stock is for content creators looking for vintage photography free of copyright restrictions.
There is a keyword search function, which is helpful since the photos aren’t organized on the site.
When you click on a vintage photograph, you are redirected to Flickr. There you get a full backstory of the photo, including where and when it was taken and the source where it was found. It also lists any copyright info and how to attribute the photo.
The photographs on the site claim to be in the public domain, but there is a disclaimer that some photos might not be available for commercial use, and to let the site know if any of the images are actually under copyright protection.
Choose from over 1 million hand-picked, high-quality photographs, with new pics added every day.
Pexels photos are completely free and free to use for personal and commercial means. No attribution is required, but is appreciated.
Images are neatly organized and easily searchable. There’s also a Popular Searches tab, and a Leaderboard page showcasing the most popular downloads from the last 30 days.
Pexels asks users to not sell the images without modification. Photographs containing easily identifiable people should not be used in a negative way.
6. Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons is the largest website for downloading public domain images. There are over 50 million high resolution images, illustrations, vector graphics, and videos.
Fans of Wikipedia will like the familiar design of Wikimedia Commons.
The sheer number of search results can be overwhelming, and some of the photos require attribution. Searching with PD before your keyword will bring up only public domain images.
Pixabay has over 2 million high-resolution photographs, vectors, illustrations, videos, and even music to use for free with no attribution necessary.
The site boasts advanced search tools and multiple ways to explore its content. Browse specific categories or photographers and filter searches by color, size, and orientation of image. There’s also an Editor’s Choice search to view the best of the best.
The Pixabay license is similar to that of Pexels, in that content is free to use for commercial and non-commercial use, but not to sell without modification and not to show identifiable people in a negative way.
A login is required to view images at full resolution.
Best Royalty-Free Image Library for Your Projects
As you can see, even when you use a public domain image website, you can’t guarantee that all images will be copyright-free. Many of the sites require photo attribution and have usage restrictions. Some even have a “use at your own risk” attitude toward sourcing images.
With the PhotoDirector royalty-free stock library, you can use any of the millions of images for commercial use, completely worry-free.
Use a photo on your blog, upload a pic to social media or even use it in a social media ad for your company.
PhotoDirector 365 and the PhotoDirector app will also allow you to edit the images in amazing ways with effects like object removal, sky replacement, animated stickers, face slimming, and many, many more.
A monthly subscription starts at just $4.58 a month, which not only includes the photo editing software, but access to the Shutterstock and iStock royalty-free image libraries. That’s amazing considering both Shutterstock and iStock cost $29 a month if you get a subscription through their sites.
Public Domain Image FAQs
1. How Do I Find Public Domain Images?
Try a Google search for public domain images, or visit one of the sites listed in this article.
Always make sure you read the fine print on the homepage of any site to double-check usage restrictions, attribution requirements, etc.
2. Are NASA Images Public Domain?
NASA has its own image and video library for free use. Most NASA images are considered public domain, but a long list of rules and guidelines apply.
For instance, using the NASA logo or an image of an astronaut are not allowed without consent.
Using NASA images in an advertisement is allowed, as long as NASA itself is not seen to be endorsing a product. For a full list of guidelines, visit “Usage Requirements” at the bottom of the NASA images homepage.
3. How Do I Know if an Image is in the Public Domain?
Copyright notices are no longer required in the U.S., so just because there isn’t a notice listed on an image, does not mean it lacks a copyright.
You can search for the image in the Catalog of Copyright Entries. You can find out if a work published after 1925 is in the public domain, who registered the copyright, and what the copyright covers.
Any image created by an employee of the US federal government as part of his/her job is in the public domain.
Also, any image that has been dedicated to the public domain by its creator with a written notice stating as much, can be considered free to use.
4. Is It Okay to Use Public Domain Images for Commercial Purposes?
In theory, public domain images are supposed to be available for commercial use, but there are caveats.
For example, if a public domain image includes an identifiable person – even if that person is dead – it can’t be used for commercial purposes without permission.
5. What Should I Do If I Can’t Find Public Domain Images for My Project?
Download PhotoDirector 365 on your desktop or the PhotoDirector app on your smartphone and browse millions of images, graphics, photographs, and clip art to find the right image for your project. Use any image on PhotoDirector however you’d like, no strings attached.
6. What are Creative Commons licenses?
All Creative Commons licenses allow creators to maintain their copyright while allowing others to use their work. The Licenses also ensure that the authors get credit for their work.
There are different levels of Creative Commons Licenses, most notably, some that allow commercial use and some that do not.
There is also the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) License, in which the owner of the work forfeits all rights, including attribution. All works with a CC0 license are considered public domain.
7. Should I Have Any Concerns About Using Public Domain Images?
Yes, if the image is not from a reputable and trusted site, it has a chance of not being public domain.
You are responsible for verifying images are actually part of the public domain and can face legal consequences if used incorrectly.
8. Where Do I Find Public Domain Music?
There are plenty of public domain music sites out there, but just like the image sites, you have to be careful to read the fine print. Many of the sites contain music with a mix of different licenses and usage restrictions.
Royalty-free stock music sites are safer, but expensive. They run around $30 a month, and can charge more for commercial use.
An editing software like PowerDirector 365 comes with a vast royalty-free stock music library for only $5.83 a month, and gives you the option to edit your video or slideshow with amazing cinematic effects.
9. Where Do I Find Public Domain Videos?
For a list of the best sites to find public domain videos, check out 7 Best Public Domain Video Websites for some great options.