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Design Basics: Clip Art and Photographs

Updated on January 23, 2015
Lee Hansen profile image

Graphic designer, digital artist and paper crafter. See 1000s of unique designs on her web sites (see Profile page) or Zazzle (imagefactory)

There are millions of graphic resources on the great big interweb, so how do you know which are okay to copy and use without payment?

This article features tips and guidelines for sourcing and using free visual media content (illustrations and photographs) you find online, in books, or in collections on CD-ROM.

Much of the art you can find using today's search engines is probably not okay to copy and use for publishing or design except for personal use. Most online images aren't available for commercial use without a license. Moreover, there are numerous sites that copy and republish content without permission without listing a legal source.

While it's not impossible to find unique fair-use images and public domain photos PLUS (rarer and highly valued) vector graphics for your own personal, noncommercial work. the rules for publication need to be followed when you decide to use someone else's content in any manner whatsoever that's not private and personal.

Sample clip art free for personal use

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Baby pacifier soother, pinkPink cherry blossomsBalloon birthday bearBeach scene with chair and umbrellaPink flamingo
Baby pacifier soother, pink
Baby pacifier soother, pink | Source
Pink cherry blossoms
Pink cherry blossoms | Source
Balloon birthday bear
Balloon birthday bear | Source
Beach scene with chair and umbrella
Beach scene with chair and umbrella | Source
Pink flamingo
Pink flamingo | Source

Hunting for Treasure: Finding Great Resources

Cutting through the junk-le is not so hard

Thousands of GIFs and JPGs are available online - many offered free for personal use. But there are lots of duplicates, unlicensed copies and poor quality images that show up in the results of any online search.

Today's search technology is friendlier than it was even 5 or 10 years ago; many search engines now display results along with text links to the publishing source page(s). However the site or blog where you find a graphic may not own the copyright, so be cautious if you're planning to use online content for a commercial project. Google, Bing and numerous display sites don't check copyrights, they only locate visual assets and provide a link to the source.

If you search for illustrations by keyword, you'll discover links that lead to tiny pictures, or to lists that ultimately connect you to endless directories - arrrgggh. This process can be time-consuming and tiresome when you're tracking down a single good picture or graphic image. You get the picture (no pun intended).

If you're using search engine results or common sharing site collections to find a creative element you want to use, be sure to check the creative owner's terms of use to insure you don't violate the rules of copyright law.

Sometimes all you need to do is ask for permission from the owner/artist to use the resource. Permission contingencies may require attribution and/or a link to the copyright owner's web site or Creative Common license. In all cases you must clearly show the source and the site's terms of use.

It's your responsibility to determine whether you can reuse a piece of art or written material you didn't create, and if so, to review and understand the terms of how you're allowed to use it.

File Formats and Sizes

What type should I use - bitmap or vector?

Bitmaps are the file types most people see and use if they're browsing or searching with a computer. Photographs, JPGs, GIFs and PNGs use this format.

Vectors are line art illustration source files or CAD resources from which you can create bitmaps of any size, from very small to billboard size, without pixelation or loss of detail.

Designers work with both file types depending on how the project will be published (online, in print or both). Many professional illustrators and digital artists work with a combination of editors to produce their final work. When I create digital art I almost always begin my project in Illustrator.

Bitmap Images (raster images) and Photographs

GIF, JPG (low resolution) Bitmaps

For online viewing you only need a low resolution (72 dpi - dots per inch) bitmap (raster image) graphic. You can't make bitmaps larger without them getting jaggy or blurred, but you can make them smaller without losing quality.

GIFs and JPGs display well on web sites, blogs, in word-processing documents and on handheld devices. Most newer browsers and devices display PNG and SVG images.

TIFF, PNG, JPG (high resolution) Bitmaps

Bitmaps in large sizes or higher resolutions work best for printed projects. Try to use a file with at least 100 dpi for office or home printer projects. For commercial print jobs, you'll need a 300 dpi graphic or photograph. At that resolution the image can be processed using special software to make it very large without blurring.

Learn to use Illustrator to create or modify vector art

Adobe Illustrator CC Classroom in a Book
Adobe Illustrator CC Classroom in a Book

The most recommended reference for learning Adobe Illustrator CC like a professional. Now that the software is in the cloud, it's available for use by subscription at a much lower cost than previous versions; more new designers can learn how to use it to create original graphics.


Vector Files: Infinitely resizeable drawings

Artists create vector images (AI, WMF, EPS, DWG) using software such as Adobe Illustrator, PaintShopPro or Fireworks. A few use AutoCAD for complex wire frames and architectectural renderings.

It's easy to generate bitmap files including GIFs, JPEGs, BMPs, PNGs and TIFFs from vector sources in any DPI or dimensional size; they're "lossless" when enlarged to any dimension you need. Billboard artists use vector art to design scaled down versions of those huge roadside posters you see in most states in the USA.

EPS, AI, WMF, SVG, DXF Vectors

Because vector graphics are infinitely resizeable, they are perfect for print design, signmaking and publishing. Vector images don't display in their native source format on web sites and blogs. You'll need a program or post-processor to export or modify the sources in order to create a bitmap graphic (GIF, JPG, PNG) for print or online publication Many artists use Adobe Illustrator to create digital artwork and then save it in a variety of sizes, formats and resolutions.

Guidelines for Use of Visual Media Content

Okay Display but Not for Sale or Distribution

Guidelines for copyright respect the artist who created the original work; terms of service apply to all graphic media, video, music and fonts you find online.

Before you publish a found graphic or font from any collection that's not your own work, be sure to review the Terms of Service (TOS) provided by the owner/creator or publisher. Always follow the requirements to avoid legal problems or complaints. If you can, perform a graphical search to locate the original source. I use TinEye for this type of research when I'm checking for copyrights.

Many legal sharing sites permit use of low-resolution images for personal use but do not permit commercial use, online posting or redistribution. Most photographers, writers and artists request that you post a text link to their site to credit them as the copyright owner and original artist if you use their creative work, even if you alter it. Others may require registration or license before you can copy and/or use content for any purpose.

Never develop a collection of visual media or fonts to sell or distribute without permission from the copyright owner(s). Don't use it to design and print onto products you sell unless the terms of use clearly state you may do so.

Always get permission from the owner if you plan to use their work for a commercially printed item, to illustrate an article, or to make goods for sale.

Some resources permit commercial use and/or derivative works based on public domain status. For example, there are many images available in WikeMedia, Library of Congress and in other collections that make use of Creative Commons Share/Share Alike/Attribution copyright form or are old enough to be exempt from copyright.

How to save, copy, change and use clip art

Saving the pictures you've found online is easier than you think with a Windows PC.

Simply position your mouse pointer over the item or image, then right click with your mouse. This will pop up an onscreen dialog box; choose Save As from the options to create a copy on your computer's hard drive or to removeable media.

You can use the existing filename, or name the image with a descriptive name that will help you identify it later. Remember where you saved your treasured find, so you can find it later. Better still, create a folder or directory to store your graphics, and organize them in sub folders by category or artist name.

Be sure to check terms of use and copyright information for any resource you find and save if you plan to share your final design or publish it in any manner.

Public Domain Pictures

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Lady back tattoo, public domain Public domain photo baby with laptop computerBeach stones heart picture
Lady back tattoo, public domain
Lady back tattoo, public domain | Source
Public domain photo baby with laptop computer
Public domain photo baby with laptop computer | Source
Beach stones heart picture
Beach stones heart picture

Photographic Resources

Photography showcase and sharing sites are a treasure trove of pictures to use for projects, ideas, collages and crafts. Many photos are available in sizes that are big enough to use as a computer wallpaper or screensaver, or to make a calendar, poster or greeting card. Artists often use photos as model references to create illustrations; copyright rules apply even when you make art from a photograph.

Finding Free Photographs

You can find wonderful photographs online that have been released into the public domain. If you're using a photo for personal use you can generally use any photo or graphic you find online.

I frequently use the resources at Wikimedia, Morguefile and the US Library of Congress for my art and design work illustrations.

Contributing Morguefile and BurningWell photographers grant liberal use of the photos they post and make available to the public. Certain collections of photos posted at Flickr are licensed to use for commercial projects, but others are only for viewing. Always confirm you aren't infringing on copyrights if you plan to publish, distribute or sell anyone else's work, or if you create any artwork that incorporates or is based upon a photograph that isn't yours.

If you find a photo but need to modify it, you can find editing tools online to do that, too. Check out well-known applications like Picasa, Phixr or Pixenate if you don't have software installed to make basic size, color or proportional changes to your pictures.

Back Up or Transport Files with External Media

Digital Media Storage Keeps Your Hard Drive Uncluttered

If you've ever had a hard drive crash you know how painful it can be to lose years of work and precious files. I back up all my files and projects to external media that I can protect from possible disaster or system failure.

I copy essential files, documents and photos to external media - CDs, jump drives, flash memory cards and portable hard drives at least once a month. I do this more often if I'm working on many designs in a given week.. And to make sure I don't lose my hard work and files in a disaster (fire, flood, burglary) I store my portable media in a fire and water resistant home safe box.

More Legal Creative Uses for Clip Art

Not Just for Print or Web Design

Much of the graphical content you find online is ideal for making fun and frugal paper crafts, quick print labels, party lists, decorations and signs for your own home or classroom projects.

Your creative options aren't limited to publishing, web design or paper crafts. You can use "found" photos and graphics for many different types of creative projects including sewing, quilting, iron on transfers, plastic crafts, stickers, wood burning, embossing and 3-dimensional crafts.

There's no need for top quality or high resolution unless you need a very large image. I love to mix together new and old illustrations, headlines and photos in my digital collages. Sometimes I resize the elements, other times I simply crop or print and cut out what I like from the source.

You can use JPGs, PNGs and GIFs in most word processing programs. Many applications feature cropping, flipping, resizing and other features. If you need to first resize or otherwise alter the graphics, try MSPaint or PhotoShop or an online image editing application.program.

You can also simply print, cut and glue online images to make paper collages, decorative crafts, greeting cards or decoupage creations. Review

© 2007 Lee Hansen

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  • teelover profile image

    teelover 3 years ago

    Thanks, great selection!

  • profile image

    willekejoy 4 years ago

    I happen to enter your lens with the help of Google search. To my sheer luck I got what I was searching for. Thanks

  • profile image

    MiamiYachtCharters 4 years ago

    Nice lens with so much information. Thanks!

  • sellybelly lm profile image

    sellybelly lm 4 years ago

    My new favorite lens. Thank you so much for all these resources!

  • profile image

    gpoppa 5 years ago

    Had to bookmark this. Thanks for the great resources.

  • profile image

    DMVAgent 5 years ago

    terrific design! it was very nice ... i love it, thanks for sharing this :) this is a very helpful lens ..

  • Rangoon House profile image

    AJ 5 years ago from Australia

    Wow! This definitely has my blessing on St Patrick's Day!

  • joykennel profile image

    joykennel 5 years ago

    I've bookmarked this as well. LOTS of terrific info--thanks for a great resource!!!

  • SquidooRocks55 profile image

    SquidooRocks55 5 years ago

    Good Clipart is hard to find. Thanks for sharing.

  • profile image

    anonymous 6 years ago

    Very useful information, thank you for such a great and cute site, I've bookmarked it for future use as I'm an artist so this will help greatly.

  • LittleLindaPinda profile image

    Little Linda Pinda 6 years ago from Florida

    Thank you so much for all of the sites and information. GREAT!

  • profile image

    happynutritionist 6 years ago

    Wow, definitely bookmarking this huge resource, thanks for including my humble photo page. This is a great one-stop resource...thanks for putting it together.

  • profile image

    michelleweb 6 years ago

    Cool Stuff. Like The Sneaker Clip art

  • LauraMarie LM profile image

    LauraMarie LM 6 years ago

    Cool lens. I especially took notice of the information on copyright :)

  • profile image

    LetLoveBe 6 years ago

    Wow, what a lot of great info. I learned something about copyright. Also, I had been wondering about making my own clip art when I couldn't find the right image. I will definitely use this page again.

  • MagpieNest profile image

    MagpieNest 6 years ago

    Excellent, lots of sites I haven't come across before.

  • profile image

    anonymous 6 years ago

    Hi there,

    For great free high quality cartoons and images please check out my clipart site Ranges are expanding all the time.

    Thanks, look forward to seeing you there.


  • sorana lm profile image

    sorana lm 6 years ago

    Excellent idea for a lens. You have some great links here. Blessed.

  • profile image

    WallpaperMan 6 years ago

    I liked your lens

  • profile image

    Calgary12 6 years ago

    Nice lens and i should totally agree with you with this view here. Its insane, that is what i can say concerning this post. Because this def is what the whole thing is about right? Keep it up!

  • profile image

    thevintagemoth 6 years ago

    Hi! Could you add my site to you list of free clip art theme sites? I post free vintages daily. Thanks very much!

  • profile image

    Donnette Davis 6 years ago from South Africa

    Oh my hat~!! The light just went on, the penny dropped... and I feel really silly.. so YOU'RE Lee Hansen Clipart - I have been visiting your site for a good few years, when I first started homeschooling and writing books for my kids, and then training manuals and workbooks, then to setting up websites... and no wonder I find I have OCD with your lenses.. Thank you for sharing your amazing talen and resources with us.

  • profile image

    PhotoshopWarrior 6 years ago

    Love <3 the sneakers clip art

  • netsole profile image

    netsole 6 years ago

    very interesting lens thanx for sharing

  • glitterfrog profile image

    glitterfrog 6 years ago

    Awesome resource! I am forever looking for good, free graphics to use and you seem to have them all collected right here in this lens. Great job!

  • ravi551854 profile image

    ravi551854 6 years ago

    thanks to you for this very important info

  • ravi551854 profile image

    ravi551854 6 years ago

    thanks to you for this very important info

  • sara0129 profile image

    Shamim Rajabali 6 years ago from Texas

    Just what I wanted to know. Thanks

  • profile image

    anonymous 6 years ago

    Wow. I don't even know where to begin. Thank you for the time you put into this lens.

  • Steve Dizmon profile image

    Steve Dizmon 6 years ago from Nashville, TN

    Thanks for the work you have put into this valuable resource.

  • Barb McCoy profile image

    Barb McCoy 7 years ago

    Great resource! We are going to be adding some of your suggested links to our list for our videography course that we are doing in our homeschool.

    Adding to my favorites, lensrolling to several of my lenses, and blessing.

    ***Blessed by an Angel***

  • KokoTravel profile image

    KokoTravel 7 years ago

    Nice resource... thank you!

  • onlinebusiness11 profile image

    onlinebusiness11 7 years ago

    Wow! This lens is chock full!

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    anonymous 7 years ago

    Awesome,informative lens! Blessed by a Squidoo Angel on 12/23/2010. Have a great day & wonderful Holiday!

  • aesta1 profile image

    Mary Norton 7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    Appreciate everything you share here.

  • sudeep13582 lm profile image

    sudeep13582 lm 7 years ago

    just another awesome lens

  • davemin profile image

    davemin 7 years ago

    a great lens, so full of really useful information, it has been very helpful, as have your other lenses , thanks for sharing

  • profile image

    anonymous 7 years ago

    Really great lens! I am a part of Las Vegas Web Design and I really connect with this lens. More power!

  • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

    ElizabethJeanAl 7 years ago

    Great resource!


    5* and favored


  • profile image

    Newbie_101 7 years ago

    Yet another great resource! I'm truly enjoying your pages, and I have no doubt my visitors will too. Keep them coming and best wishes to you.

  • profile image

    anonymous 8 years ago

    Wow. There is so much here! Thank you for sharing these great resources!

  • profile image

    drossart 8 years ago

    Love all the links and information.

    Thank you,


  • hayleylou lm profile image

    hayleylou lm 8 years ago

    Great info, thanks so much for making this lens, 5 stars and a fav

  • SpellOutloud profile image

    SpellOutloud 8 years ago

    Lots of good links here! Favoriting it so that I can find it when I need to look up some sites.

  • profile image

    poutine 8 years ago

    This lens is extremely useful.

    A big 5

  • profile image

    TheBeans 8 years ago

    Thanks for all the great information. I am currently trying to decide on the best place for images and Clip-Art. You have provided experienced advice and have re-enforced my belief that doing a little research before jumping in is always the best approach. You have saved me a lot of time and effort Thanks again!

  • Dianne Loomos profile image

    Dianne Loomos 9 years ago

    Thanks for these great resources! I love clip art.

  • profile image

    rdsholtis 9 years ago

    I'm updating my family website, and this is a treasure trove of goodies!! I'm usually frustrated with the options for our webpage, or as I like to call it, electronic scrapbooking. This site really helped me to have many more options. Thank you so much!

  • jade25 lm profile image

    jade25 lm 9 years ago

    I,m new and looking all over for graphics.Thanks for all these choices in one place.

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    anonymous 9 years ago

    This is perfect for making invitations and programs. Thanks!

  • profile image

    Inkheart 9 years ago

    Very nice lens! I was looking for this. I'll be bookmarking.

  • delia-delia profile image

    Delia 9 years ago

    GREAT lens! I lensrolled it to my copyrights lens...5*s

  • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

    ElizabethJeanAl 9 years ago

    What a great resource! I always have trouble finding the clipart I need. With this lens favored, it will be a snap.



  • profile image

    ThomasC 9 years ago

    Great resource, I starred, lensrolled, favorite, and blessed this lens!

    Lensrolled you to my Free vectors lens!

    Great Job


  • mosaic lm profile image

    mosaic lm 9 years ago

    Yes! Useful! 1001 free fonts is one of my favorite places. :) Favoriting this...

  • clouda9 lm profile image

    clouda9 lm 9 years ago

    I love this collection! Thanks for sharing all the great links!

  • Wendy Leanne profile image

    Wendy Leanne 9 years ago from Texas

    Awesome lens. Thank you for visiting my "You Can Use My Photos Lens." I lensrolled you to it as well.

  • kephrira lm profile image

    kephrira lm 9 years ago

    Hi, great resource. Take a look at The Art of Alchemy and Christian Art for posters, framed prints, gifts and more

  • profile image

    anonymous 9 years ago

    Wow! There's a huge amount of information. I wanted to thank you for featuring my lens here. I am always happy to share my clip art and it's good to find like-minded people.

  • profile image

    TeganTempleton 9 years ago

    Great resource...the kids will be downloading for days!!

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  • GreenRevolution profile image

    GreenRevolution 9 years ago

    Hi, Pastiche! This is a very nice lens jam-packed with great clip art and graphics that any Lensmaster can make use of. Thanks for sharing these valuable resources with us. Great stuff! 5 *****!


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  • profile image

    TheNewGreenWayToHealthyLiving 9 years ago

    Cool lens!!

  • Dianne Loomos profile image

    Dianne Loomos 9 years ago

    You've got some really nice links here. Thanks! 5*s and favored!

  • profile image

    alicesy 9 years ago

    Excellent Lens. I like the quality insight you have provided here about Clip Art and Graphics - Free For All. Keep up the good work.

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  • profile image

    beachbum_gabby 9 years ago

    wow~ thanks for the cool downloads, I have downloaded some of the graphics. :) 5* for you

  • profile image

    photoalbum 9 years ago

    At there is a large collection of free artwork. You can upload your artwork and build an online digital scrapbook.

  • HealthBug LM profile image

    HealthBug LM 9 years ago

    Complete resources on Clip Arts and Graphics that anyone here at squidoo requires for his lenses. Your professional touch is evident. Resourceful and informative lens.

  • profile image

    daviddorf 9 years ago

    Resourceful , Thanks for sharing..

  • profile image

    marywhitewhite 9 years ago

    Very helpful, Thanks for sharing.


  • profile image

    romyraut 9 years ago

    Thank you for so many resources on clip arts.

    have bookmarked your lens, definitely useful.

  • profile image

    sstoark 9 years ago

    Arent there any legalities associated, I was doing this website recently and was restricted by the client to use any graphics from the web.

  • profile image

    dtbs 9 years ago

    fun lens! favorite! thanks for sharing this info! please check mine out at----------------> Kava Kava.

  • profile image

    LeeCS 9 years ago

    Great lens! Thanks for bringing it to us! Please feel free to check out my site about cheap auto insurance, how to obtain cheap classic car insurance and car insurance for females 5 stars for your wonderful lens!!

  • Valery504 LM profile image

    Valery504 LM 9 years ago

    Wow! thank you that is really useful - favorited and 5 stars!!!!


  • funwithtrains lm profile image

    funwithtrains lm 9 years ago

    Very helpful lens, thanks!

  • profile image

    swimswithfishes 9 years ago

    Very informative lens! I love Clip Art & animations & use them often on emails and discussion threads! Rated you 5 stars, favorited you & lensrolled you. I will be back often I am sure for info on new sites! Cheers! Swims

  • profile image

    AlexZuw 9 years ago

    Comprehensive lens and an excellent resource

  • blue22d profile image

    blue22d 9 years ago

    Thanks, enjoy your lens very much and all the tips and info. Hope you will check out my lenses as well. Five stars to ya.

  • Tiddledeewinks LM profile image

    Tiddledeewinks LM 9 years ago

    Wow! 5 *'s

  • Niamh2 profile image

    Niamh2 9 years ago

    Really impressed with this collection. powerPoint eat your heart out!

  • lisawillard lm profile image

    lisawillard lm 9 years ago

    WOW! Great info and lots of it.

  • profile image

    anonymous 9 years ago

    Wow! Good resources. Most artists and designers also need these like clip arts for their works.

  • chefkeem profile image

    Achim Thiemermann 9 years ago from Austin, Texas

    Finally - the lens I've been looking for! I lensrolled you to all of my 22 lenses. You're the best! *****

  • beeobrien lm profile image

    beeobrien lm 9 years ago

    THANK YOU! Yes I know I'm yelling.

  • profile image

    Manora1 9 years ago

    Awesome lens. Great information about best graphics online with many links. Well try and keep it on. Thanks for sharing the information. I like this lens and have bookmarked to refer again. 5* with full credit. Please step into a similar informative and interesting site about Free Inventory Control Software on Free Inventory Control Software to surf more information about Free Inventory Control Software.

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    Stephen Carr 9 years ago from Corona, CA

    Very good lens I shall use! Thanks!

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  • profile image

    missvicki 9 years ago

    UNBELIEVABLE!!Thank you for putting this information together. It really took a lot of work.

    Very informative.


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    lydiastath 9 years ago

    What a very informative lens i greatly appreciative it.

  • bjslapidary profile image

    bjslapidary 9 years ago

    What a great lens. I have lens rolled it and given you 5*s. Please check my lens out too. Thanks.

  • Music-Resource profile image

    Music-Resource 9 years ago

    Hi Pastiche, Nice Clip Art and Graphics lens. This is a great resource. ~Music Resource~