Lisa Vollrath is a prolific mixed-media artist whose work includes altered books, art journals, collage, gluebooks, and paper crafts.
Looking For Free Images & Collage Sheets?
Like many mixed-media and collage artists, I've amassed a huge collection of stock photos to use in my work. Assembling a large number of images can get expensive quickly if you start purchasing vintage photos and postcards to scan. If you're looking for contemporary imagery, it can take hundreds of hours of shooting photos to get a wide enough range to be useful.
That's where free images can help you out. If you're just looking for images for your personal work, there are many sites that offer free images, collage sheets, and other goodies that might be useful to paper artists.
Big Free Image Sites
The sites listed below each offer tons of free images specifically for creative use. If you're looking for quantity, start here. Remember to check any copyright or usage restrictions on each site or sheet before downloading using free images.
- Free Printables at Go Make Something
GMS has hundreds of free image sheets, including collage sheets from many holiday countdowns, those designed for the dollhouse and miniatures site at About.com, and some that are project specific. Pack a lunch, because you'll be here a long time.
- Collage Images on Flickr
This group is solely for people to post copyright free images for collage work. Lots of good vintage images are added to this pool daily.
- Vintage Illustration on Flickr
This group focuses on illustration images from before 1970. Many images are still under copyright protection, so are probably best for personal use only.
- Mid-Centry Illustrated on Flickr
This group focuses on advertising images from 1945-1965, most of which are still under copyright protection. These images are probably best for personal use only.
- Liam's Pictures From Old Books
Liam Quin posts lots of scans from vintage books on this site. Last time I looked through them, there were particularly good selections in the Christmas and Halloween sections.
- Old Book Illustrations
Like the title says, this site contains tons of scans from old books, most of which are in the public domain. Scroll down the front page for some convenient keyword categories.
- The Vintage Moth
The Vintage Moth posts lots of free vintage images. Check the blog sidebar for categories.
- Magic Moonlight Free Images
Magic Moonlight posts lots of nice vintage postcard images.
- The Graphics Fairy
This site is a treasure trove of vintage images and collage sheets.
- Antique Clipart
A large collection of public domain Victorian and Edwardian era clip art.
Check Before You Download
Before you download any free images or collage sheets, be sure to check the copyright information, usage restrictions, and angel policies.
- Many free images and collage sheets are offered for personal use only, which means you can't use them for any commercial purpose. This could prohibit you from using the images in work you want to sell, or from displaying them on sites that are supported by advertising.
- Some images, particularly photographs, may be offered free for any use with credit. If you can't figure out how to credit the photographer on whatever you're making, you shouldn't use their images.
Always respect the rights and policies associated with the images offered online. It only takes a few people misusing them to push the owners to make them unavailable, which hurts everyone in the long run.
It goes without saying that if you should violate the usage rights on images, you open yourself up to legal action, which may mean lawyers and courtrooms, and almost definitely will mean the filing of a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) complaint against your display of anything that violates those rights online. DMCA complaints could get you in a heap of trouble with your web hosting company.
Many government departments and agencies maintain large online image collections. Again, be sure to check the usage and copyright information posted on each site.
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration
NASA maintains a small online gallery of beautiful photos of space, including some from various missions.
- Library of Congress
While not everything posted on the Library of Congress site is available for free, some images in the American Memory collection are copyright-free.
- New York Public Library
The New York Public Library site contains thousands of images, many of which are in the public domain.
- Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian site is home to a treasure trove of old photos. Many of these images are in the public domain or copyright-free.
- Great Images in NASA
Another NASA online image archive, which contains more space images than anyone will ever need.
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Naturally, the Fish & Wildlife service site is a good source for beautiful wildlife photos, and images of people doing all sorts of stuff outdoors.
- Naval History & Heritage Command
This site holds a large selection of vintage military images.
- Library & Archive Canada
Just so this list won't all be from the US: this Canadian site holds another large collection of images.
Tips For Successful Printing
To get really beautiful, vivid color, don't waste your time printing your digital images and sheets with your home inkjet printer. Have them printed on a color laser printer.
- Load them on a flash drive and take them to your local copy shop or office supply center. Most places like Office Depot, Staples, and Kinko’s will be happy to print them for you, on your choice of paper.
- Upload them to a printing service. Those same office supply centers will all let you upload your files from home, place your order online, and pay with a credit or debit card. Next time you’re out, you can go pick up your printed sheets.
If you’re not sure what to ask for, here’s the information I would give any print shop if I wanted them to print my sheets for me:
- Print on a color laser printer.
- Print on 32lb color laser paper with a brightness of 98. I use Hammermill laser print paper with those specifications, but there are other brands that will fit the bill.
Stock Photography Freebies
Many photographers share their work on free stock photo sites. Be sure to check the terms for these if you're doing anything other than personal, non-commercial work.
- Free Flower Photos
Dozens of photos of flowers, free for any use.
- Free Images
Over 6,000 modern photos. Good for business, medical and technology images.
- Free Stock Photos
Thousands of photos, free for personal or commercial use with credit to the site. Good for modern travel images.
- Free Foto
Thousands of photos. Good for travel images, especially of Europe.
More Free Collage Images
These sites offer a smaller selection of collage images and sheets.
- Free Collage Sheets by Art and Images by Kim
It looks like new sheets haven't been added in quite a while, but there's still a small selection of colorful images to be found on this site.
- By Vintage Design
A large number of mostly vintage sheets, all shown in thumbnail on one page.
Where Do You Find FREE Images?
Vicki Hollander on May 29, 2020:
Thank you so much. I'm new to collage and have been thirsting for where to find copyright free images so as not to get inadvertently in trouble.
I'm so grateful for this article!
Terrie Lynn from Canada on July 23, 2017:
This article is very helpful thank you for writing it. I am going to try some of these for images.
Lori Phillips from Southern California USA on April 04, 2017:
Great resources! Thanks!
ketage from Croatia on November 16, 2015:
Great list of resources, I am working on a new recipe book and will use some of these resources for backdrops and graphics to make the book more aesthetically pleasing :)
peachy from Home Sweet Home on June 16, 2015:
wow, these sites gives lots of awesome links to great images
RadaFrancis LM on June 07, 2012:
great lens! Thank you for posting all of the free resources :)
June Campbell from North Vancouver, BC, Canada on December 29, 2011:
This lens is a wonderful resource. Many thanks.