Best Search Tools for Images

Try these search tools (aka search engines) to search for images. Remember, images are a form of intellectual property. Images have value: they may be copyrighted even if they mistakenly show up in a search for royalty-free images.

Pic of mountains w/ a valley and stream

What are the Best Search Tools for Images?

There are loads of very good search tools for finding images on the internet, including

In order to reuse an image you find on the internet, you need to ensure the copyright license associated with it permits reuse. Publishing copyrighted information without permission is unethical and can result in fines and legal consequences.

Images, like other forms of intellectual property, have value.

Some copyright licenses prohibit any reuse without some financial remuneration to the writer, speaker, knowledge worker . . . who created the image. Other licenses — including some Creative Commons licenses — permit reuse yet require attribution.

Thus, it makes most sense to use search tools that enable you to filter your search for images that can be reused for your purpose, whether that’s for personal use, educational use, or publication.

Creative Commons

Given an image’s copyright license weighs so heavily on whether an image can be used, you want to use search tools that enable you to search by license.

Creative Commons was established in 2002 to help writers, speakers, knowledge workers select the copyright they wanted to associate with their texts:

Creative Commons Search provides a powerful search engine you can use to search for images on your topic filtered by

  • Commercial Use
  • Noncommercial Use
  • Modify or Adapt Use

U. S. Government Websites

Next, you might look at U.S. Government
Most U.S. government creative works such as writing or images are copyright-free.The government has a range of websites with images, including

Wikimedia Commons

Another great place to try first is Wikimedia Commons.  
Use any of the photos, audio, videos, and other media freely.

Finally, check out Google Images 
As you might surmise, Google has a terrific search tool. Go to Advanced Settings and then under Usage Rights choose to filter you search with license type you seek (e.g., Creative Commons).

Strategies for Finding Images for Noncommercial Purposes

After you’ve exhausted the search tools outlined above, things get tricker: loads of websites promise free images, and yet once you use those to find what you want you may find you’ve been redirected to a website that sells images

Flickr: The Commons
Provides access to some cultural heritage institutions’ images with “no known copyright restrictions.”

Find and download free stock photos – for personal and commercial use.

High resolution digital stock photography  – almost all have no restrictions. 

Pixabay sells itself as a free service for free photos, illustrations, vector graphics, and videos: “Pixabay is a vibrant community of creatives, sharing copyright free images and videos. All contents are released under the Pixabay License, which makes them safe to use without asking for permission or giving credit to the artist – even for commercial purpose

Indeed, Pixabay has some beautiful images. Yet often inside Pixabay you’ll be redirected to iStock Photos, which has a sales portal for images. And even over at Pixabay you need to register with your email to download in select sizes.

Pictures from Old Books 
More than 3,8000 free images from old books. 

Public Domain Images.  High quality copyright friendly images with no restriction on their use. 

Wylio ;
Searches Creative Commons content on Flickr with resizing tools, photo attribution tool, code generator. Free for basic searching. A small fee to use some of the tools.

Yahoo Images 
Search and then use filters to limit results to certain types of licenses.

Wellcome Collection.
Welcome Collection is a free museum and library that aims to challenge how we all think and feel about health. Search the collections – many items provide free online access. Search the library catalog or images. Licenses are displayed for each image.

Open Audio – Music and More

Audio Archive 
Download or listen to free music and audio – from the Internet Archive.  From Hip Hop mixtapes to sermons to libraries of sound to audio books to  alternative news programming, to Grateful Dead concerts, to Old Time Radio shows, to book and poetry readings, to original music uploaded by our users. Many of these audios and MP3s are available for free download

Creative Commons music releases – some for listening, some in the public domain

“Royalty free download” with attribution for multimedia projects.

Search for samples, CC license

A collaborative database of Creative Commons Licensed sounds. Browse, download, and share sounds.”

Library of Congress Audio Recordings Search 
Collections of audio recordings from Library of Congress

National Jukebox From Library of Congress –
Create playlists of hisotical sound recordings including 10,000 recordings made by the Victor Talking Machine Company between 1901 and 1925.


Internet Archive: Moving Image Archive
Provides access to digitized videos and clips, including cartoons, commercials and classic films, many public domain or available via Creative Commons license.

Latest Thinking (open access research videos)
Researchers present short overviews of their recent academic publications – “The academic video… a new form of communication which meets all the demands of academic publishing while being equally attractive to a broader audience.”  Includes links to publications. All videos licensed under CC-BY 4.0 

Life of Vids 
Free videos, clips and loops, no copyright restrictions.

The Public Domain Project 
“Download thousands of historic media files for your creative projects. Completely free & made available by Pond5.”

refseek Educational Video Sites
Guide to the 25 best online resources for finding free educational videos – Most resources on this site are free – and most can be used without registration. 

“Videvo offers free stock videos and motion graphics for use in any project. You may use these video clips free of charge, in both personal and commercial productions. Video clips that carry the Creative Commons 3.0 license must be attributed to the original author.”

Wikimedia Commons 
Free and open-licensed images, sounds, and videos.

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