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Should I use free stock images for commercial use?

August 24, 2023

They say a picture can tell a thousand words, and we believe that to be true. The use of imagery is extremely important, especially throughout web design, social media, email marketing and other digital marketing channels. Images can immediately evoke feelings, and providing you choose the right ones, can really help the end user identify with your company.

Whilst using your own imagery may be preferred by many businesses, we think using free stock images shouldn’t be so quickly dismissed. In this blog, we explore why you should consider using free stock images for commercial use and we provide you with our top tips to choosing the right ones for your next campaign.

What is stock imagery?

Stock imagery is the supply of licensed photographs, illustrations or other images for purchase, and in some cases for free. Some of the most common paid sources include iStock, Shutterstock and Getty Images

Often, stock imagery sites will offer packages, such as annual subscriptions, or bulk downloads. However, there are also ways of finding free images through websites such as Flickr, Pexels and Pixabay.

Why should you consider using free stock images?

A lot of businesses may immediately dismiss the use of stock imagery, but it can be a hugely successful and cost effective tool to use for your digital marketing campaigns, as it can suit businesses that are working on a budget. 

The best way to use free stock images for commercial use is to make sure you spend your time carefully choosing images that are appropriate to your content and to create a ‘lightbox’ as you search. Complimentary photography can make or break a campaign and by creating a lightbox, it lets you collect various images into a folder for you to compare and choose images that work well together.

When should you avoid using free stock images?

There are times where you should avoid using free stock images for your campaigns. For example, it can go wrong if the imagery chosen is inappropriate or conveys the wrong message. This is why it’s extremely important to invest the time in carefully choosing the right image. Some stock imagery sites are chock-a-block full of photos that are irrelevant – we can’t believe anyone would ever use them in a serious design!

Our top 5 tips for using free stock images for commercial use

1. Avoid using cheesy images

By cheesy images, we mean the very obviously staged photos. It’s worth keeping in mind that a lot of the most popular stock imagery sites are based in the US, which means you’re probably going to have to sift through a few obviously staged images to find the right one for your campaign.

2. Don’t search for an image for the sake of it

Don’t go wasting your time and searching for an image if you really don’t need one as sometimes you can find yourself looking to fill a gap. This is where you’re more likely to use an irrelevant image and in these cases, it’s sometimes better to leave white space alone.

3. Choose an image that will compliment your content

It’s important to try and choose an image that will compliment your campaign content. Sometimes you don’t have to be all that literal with your images either as conceptual photography can work if the image is engaging.

4. Don’t be afraid to edit your images

If you choose a free stock image that’s not quite right for your campaign, try modifying the image to suit your content. Whether this is simply cutting out a background, cropping the image or getting a professional graphic designer to work their magic on Photoshop, don’t be afraid to get creative with it.

5. Try before you buy

If you’re unsure whether you should buy a licence for a particular stock imagery site, you can always try out the watermarked versions of the images first. It won’t be of any quality, but it gives you an idea of what the finished campaign will look like, without buying a licence first. Just make sure when you do buy and licence and download the image, don’t let a watermarked image creep into your final design!

Why not let our experts handle your campaign creatives?

If you’re still unsure whether you should be using free stock images for commercial use, then we can help. We’ve curated imagery for a wide variety of clients as part of their digital marketing campaigns and web design, and so have a wealth of experience in guiding you in the right creative direction. Get in touch with us today to see how else we can help.




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