Design Basics: Clip Art and Photographs
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 useClick thumbnail to view full-size
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).
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
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.
Favorite Clip Art Collections
- Clip Art and Crafts Images for Personal Use
Digital art in color or black and white created by Lee Hansen. Site content free for personal, educational, noncommercial use.
- Picture This Clip Art and Borders
Original artist-created themed single image drawings in full color and black and white; thousands of quality bitmaps to use for any noncommercial use or for commercial use with a license.
- US Library of Congress
Digital Collections and Services: Access to print, pictorial and audio-visual collections and other digital services at the Library of Congress
- Open Clip Art Library
The Open Clip Art Library is an archive of user contributed clip art that may be freely used. All graphics submitted to the project must be placed into the Public Domain. PNG and SVG graphics available, searchable tagged archive.
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.
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.
Basic Copyright Information
- U.S.Copyright Office
U.S. Copyright Office is an office of public record for copyright registration and deposit of copyright material. This page links to all FAQ sections about copyright protection law in the USA.
- Choose a Creative Commons License for Your Work
With a Creative Commons license, you keep your copyright but allow people to copy and distribute your work provided they give you credit.
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.
Public Domain PicturesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Public Domain Photo Resources
- Wikimedia Commons
Public domain images (plus sounds and videos) that are freely available for use based on item-specific reuse licenses
- morgueFile free photos
Morguefile.com free stock photos to use for commercial or personal projects.
- BurningWell.Org - Public Domain Images and Photos
Copy and use public domain photos and images donated by photographers from around the world.
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.
Store files on a removeable hard drive
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.
© 2007 Lee Hansen