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Design Basics: Clip Art and Photographs

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.

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.

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Learn to use Illustrator to create or modify vector art

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.

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.

  • 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.

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 Photo Resources

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.

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.

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

Leave Your Mark, er Comment

teelover on February 11, 2014:

Thanks, great selection!

willekejoy on August 26, 2013:

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

MiamiYachtCharters on February 25, 2013:

Nice lens with so much information. Thanks!

sellybelly lm on February 10, 2013:

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

gpoppa on October 19, 2012:

Had to bookmark this. Thanks for the great resources.

DMVAgent on August 22, 2012:

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

AJ from Australia on March 16, 2012:

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joykennel on March 07, 2012:

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

SquidooRocks55 on March 01, 2012:

Good Clipart is hard to find. Thanks for sharing.

anonymous on January 09, 2012:

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.

Little Linda Pinda from Florida on January 04, 2012:

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

happynutritionist on December 15, 2011:

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.

michelleweb on November 10, 2011:

Cool Stuff. Like The Sneaker Clip art

LauraMarie LM on October 27, 2011:

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

LetLoveBe on October 23, 2011:

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 on October 16, 2011:

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

anonymous on October 11, 2011:

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 on September 14, 2011:

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

WallpaperMan on August 22, 2011:

I liked your lens

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thevintagemoth on July 10, 2011:

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

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PhotoshopWarrior on June 21, 2011:

Love <3 the sneakers clip art

netsole on May 28, 2011:

very interesting lens thanx for sharing

glitterfrog on April 25, 2011:

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 on April 14, 2011:

thanks to you for this very important info

ravi551854 on April 14, 2011:

thanks to you for this very important info

Shamim Rajabali from Texas on April 10, 2011:

Just what I wanted to know. Thanks

anonymous on April 08, 2011:

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

Steve Dizmon from Nashville, TN on February 26, 2011:

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

Barb McCoy on January 20, 2011:

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 on January 08, 2011:

Nice resource... thank you!

onlinebusiness11 on December 30, 2010:

Wow! This lens is chock full!

anonymous on December 23, 2010:

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

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on October 16, 2010:

Appreciate everything you share here.

sudeep13582 lm on September 29, 2010:

just another awesome lens

davemin on June 04, 2010:

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

anonymous on June 03, 2010:

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

ElizabethJeanAl on March 31, 2010:

Great resource!


5* and favored


Newbie_101 on February 11, 2010:

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.

anonymous on January 04, 2010:

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

drossart on October 14, 2009:

Love all the links and information.

Thank you,


hayleylou lm on October 07, 2009:

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

SpellOutloud on September 06, 2009:

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

poutine on May 17, 2009:

This lens is extremely useful.

A big 5

TheBeans on January 25, 2009:

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 on December 05, 2008:

Thanks for these great resources! I love clip art.

rdsholtis on October 26, 2008:

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 on October 08, 2008:

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

anonymous on September 14, 2008:

This is perfect for making invitations and programs. Thanks!

Inkheart on September 04, 2008:

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

Delia on September 02, 2008:

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

ElizabethJeanAl on August 31, 2008:

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



ThomasC on August 27, 2008:

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

Lensrolled you to my Free vectors lens!

Great Job


mosaic lm on August 20, 2008:

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

clouda9 lm on August 20, 2008:

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

Wendy Leanne from Texas on August 14, 2008:

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

kephrira lm on August 10, 2008:

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

anonymous on July 27, 2008:

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.

TeganTempleton on July 10, 2008:

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

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GreenRevolution on July 08, 2008:

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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TheNewGreenWayToHealthyLiving on July 05, 2008:

Cool lens!!

Dianne Loomos on July 03, 2008:

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

alicesy on June 30, 2008:

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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beachbum_gabby on June 29, 2008:

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

photoalbum on June 29, 2008:

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

HealthBug LM on June 26, 2008:

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.

daviddorf on June 25, 2008:

Resourceful , Thanks for sharing..

marywhitewhite on June 25, 2008:

Very helpful, Thanks for sharing.


romyraut on June 25, 2008:

Thank you for so many resources on clip arts.

have bookmarked your lens, definitely useful.

sstoark on June 25, 2008:

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

dtbs on June 24, 2008:

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

LeeCS on June 24, 2008:

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Valery504 LM on June 23, 2008:

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


funwithtrains lm on June 02, 2008:

Very helpful lens, thanks!

swimswithfishes on May 19, 2008:

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

AlexZuw on May 13, 2008:

Comprehensive lens and an excellent resource

blue22d on May 10, 2008:

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 on May 01, 2008:

Wow! 5 *'s

Niamh2 on April 29, 2008:

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

lisawillard lm on April 28, 2008:

WOW! Great info and lots of it.

anonymous on April 20, 2008:

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

Achim Thiemermann from Austin, Texas on April 13, 2008:

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

beeobrien lm on April 12, 2008:

THANK YOU! Yes I know I'm yelling.

Manora1 on April 11, 2008:

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.

Stephen Carr from Corona, CA on March 29, 2008:

Very good lens I shall use! Thanks!

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missvicki on March 27, 2008:

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

Very informative.


lydiastath on March 25, 2008:

What a very informative lens i greatly appreciative it.

bjslapidary on March 09, 2008:

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

Music-Resource on March 08, 2008:

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

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