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Graphic Design: Finding and Using Images

A guide to support research and assignments for LCC students taking Graphic Design courses.

Image resources for Graphic Art and Design


Dr. Marilyn Spock, NYC. Image courtesy Flickr Commons.

Graphic artists and designers often use images differently from other disciplines. While artists and art historians look to other artists and art movements, graphic artists and designers use images as raw material to manipulate. As a result, graphic designers need access to images from a wider range of resources; resources from which they can easily copy, cut, and paste.

There are millions of free, and copyright free, images available for use in graphic arts projects. The list below links to many excellent sources. Be sure that you read the conditions of use for each site before you use any images, as some of these sites have multiple types of images available.

Flickr Commons Project -- A joint venture of Flickr and the Library of Congress, The Commons on Flickr is an easy-to-use interface that promotes access to publicly-held photography collections, and provides a way for the general public to contribute information and knowledge. Contributors include the Library of Congress, the George Eastman House, the National Maritime Museum, the Getty Institute, the Foundation Gulbenkian, the New York Public Library, the Center for Jewish History, and the National Archives UK, among many others. Massive collection!

MorgueFile -- A public image archive "for creatives by creatives." Free images for inspiration, reference, and for use in creative work, be it commercial or not!

Creative Commons -- The Creative Commons allows digital content creators to license their work for use by others online, and to search for work that is available to use. There are multiple creative commons licenses so be sure you search for images appropriate for your use.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Image Gallery -- Includes links to the NASA Image Exchange, the Dryden Image Gallery, the Kennedy Multimedia Gallery, the Earth Observatory, Great Images in NASA (GRIN), and the Planetary Photojournal.

Library of Congress Prints and Photograph Collection -- This site offers millions of digital images from the Prints and Photographs Division’s holdings including architecture, design and engineering, among other categories. A motherlode for US historical material, including Civil war photographs, cartoons, advertising, historical buildings, stereographic cards, and baseball cards.

American Memory Project -- Created by the Library of Congress, American Memory is a gateway to rich primary source materials relating to the history and culture of the United States. The site offers more than 7 million digital items from more than 100 historical collections, including African American history, Native American history, literature, conservation, and maps.

Public Health Image Library (PHIL)  -- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a searchable database of photographs, micrographs, and illustrations relating to public health. Most images are public domain, some are copyrighted and require permission for use.

Everystockphoto -- A search engine for freely licensed photos, from many sources presented in an integrated search. These come from many sources and are license-specific. You can view a photo's license by clicking on the license icon, below and left of photos. Currently, membership is free, without advertising, and allows you to rate, tag, collect and comment on photos.

Copyright & Fair Use

Fair use is generally defined as the allowance to use copyrighted material in a fair manner without obtaining permission from the copyright holder. For educational purposes (research papers, classroom presentations, etc.) always cite the original work! This may take the form of in–text citations, a references page, an addendum to presentation, etc. If you are planning to use your work beyond the classroom (educational), on the web, for commercial (for-profit) purposes, etc., you should obtain permission from the copyright holder for all copyrighted works used in your work (including derivative uses); not obtaining permission is a violation of US copyright.

There are four factors that impact the justification for Fair Use (Section 107 of US Copyright Law).

1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes. This refers to:
Whether the work is for educational use, whether there is profit from the use of the work, whether the use is credited (cited), level of access to the work, whether the use is for criticism, commentary, or news reporting, how derivative the use of the work is.

2. The nature of the copyrighted work. This refers to:
Whether the work is published, how creative the original work is, whether the work is fiction or non-fiction.

3. Amount and substance of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole. This refers to:
How much of the original work is used, how important the portion used is to the original work.

4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. This refers to:
Whether the use will impede or prevent the copyright holder from profiting from their work.

A good rule of thumb is to check a website for specific guidelines on permissions. Websites with image content that is copyrighted will usually state the parameters that they consider fair use for their content. Read this information to better understand how to cite the content you are using. Again, always cite your sources.

This page was adapted from the site on Visual Resources developed by Dan McClure and Tricia Juettemeyer at :

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