(This post contains affiliate links. Read my full disclosure here.)
Any collage artist knows the pain of needing a specific image or graphic that would be PERFECT to complete their piece of art…and not being able to find it.
Having a large ephemera collection makes it easy to avoid that trauma, but where does a DIGITAL collage artist get her images from?
Well, the majority of my digital ephemera and vintage photograph collection was actually sourced from online resources that share public domain graphics. If I didn’t have them I’d be in BIG TROUBLE.
The key to my collection is the fact that they’re PUBLIC DOMAIN images, meaning they’re free for anyone to use for any purpose, including commercial use.
But what IS the “public domain”?
Table of Contents
[…] the realm embracing property rights that belong to the community at large, are unprotected by copyright or patent, and are subject to appropriation by anyone (source)
This means that the images (or texts) are no longer held under copyright by any person or corporation, and any individual person can use them for any purpose, including commercial use. You can edit them, change them, resell them or make them available for free on any site.
This is EXACTLY what I want for my art, since I need to be able to edit images to fit into my collages (and then later sell prints featuring those images).
Historically, collage artists have been able to use almost any image they want in their pieces since it’s transformative. And for paper collages, that’s probably still fine. However, digital collages that are posted online have the potential to run into bots that automatically scan for copywritten images– and then send take-down notices to the artist’s hosting company. Better to just avoid that and use graphics that are either public domain or have explicit commercial use rights.
Remember “royalty free” too
There’s also “royalty free,” which means that the original copyright owner still holds their copyright license, but other people can use the images for any purpose, including commercial use. You may have to pay a one-time fee to use it, but not always.
For instance, Canva has a lot of graphics available for subscribers to use, even for commercial usage, but you have to be a Canva Pro member to do it.
If you plan on selling your art, it’s very important to make sure that every image element is either public domain, royalty free, or available for commercial-use (and you have bought the rights to it). I tend to only use public domain images because it’s easiest to remember, but you may want to experiment with different licensed images depending on what kind of art you make.
That said, if you want to JUST use free public domain images, here’s 10 of the best resources for finding free public domain or commercial-free images to use in digital collages:
Great for: Vintage photographs, book illustrations, old book pages and papers, maps, paintings, advertisements, newspapers.
My favorite resource! It has excellent photographs, book scans, and documents. I mostly use the photos, but have found some cool scans from old science and map books before. Most photos are from before 1930s. Be sure to go to the left sidebar and select “available online” to filter to only those entries, otherwise you’ll pull up a bunch of stuff that isn’t available unless you go to the library in person.
>>> Need some help? Here’s how to search and filter for photographs and other graphics on the Library of Congress website.
Great for: Vintage graphics with transparent backgrounds, pre-made art journal backgrounds.
My go-to for anything non-photographic. (Though they have a lot of photos as well.) I’ve found lots of great background images, doodles, floral elements, and vintage images that have been clipped out of books. All images are commercial-free/public domain and are tagged with keywords. I’ve also had great luck just looking through specific creators’ uploads, if I liked one of their images.
Great for: Photos of “textured” things like fabric, piles of paper, tiles and mosaics.
Unsplash has a lot of high quality photographs, particularly of modern technology and people, with a bright, minimalist aesthetic– which means they get used a lot as featured images on blogs. That said, there’s plenty of photos that aren’t massively overused. I’ve found good images of letters, patterns, plants, etc. that I’ve managed to incorporate into my collages without looking like every other blog out there.
Great for: Vintage photographs, music sheets, costume illustrations, maps of New York City.
Very similar to the Library of Congress’s selection of vintage and antique images and book scans, with a focus on New York-related objects. They have a huge selection of scanned music sheets and stereographs, as well as some excellent maps and even restaurant menus. Be sure to select the “public domain” ticky box when you search to make sure you only see those results.
>>> Here’s 5 of my best tips for getting the most out of the NYPL Digital Collections.
Great for: high quality images of sculptures, jewelry, fabric and quilts.
A newer addition to my resource list, this digital collection includes pictures and scans of physical items (such as statues, paintings, and jewelry) as well as books and images. I like using their fabric scans in particular, since it gives a collage an added textural dimension. Very easy to search and download images as well.
Great for: Paintings and illustrations.
A similar range of items to the Smithsonian, but more focused specifically on art. Some great illustrations here in particular! A little confusing to search through, since they separate things out by individual collections, but the filters seems to work pretty well. Honestly, I keep forgetting that this exists– I need to check here more!
Great for: Modern images of animals and people.
Pexels has a very similar selection of stock images to Pixabay, all royalty free. Their search has some cool options, like being able to sort by trending topics. They also have a lot of videos, which could be an interesting thing to incorporate into a collage.
Great for: Vintage photographs and antique paintings.
The Wellcome Collection has digital copies of lots of art and photographs collected between 1890 and 1936 by Sir Henry Wellcome (and his agents). Some really neat, unusual images here which are free to use, but most have an Attribution license on them which can make it a little more complicated to use as you’d have to keep track of which specific image elements you put into a collage. Still, it’s work checking out just to see what’s there for grabs.
Great for: Vintage photographs, maps, manuscript scans, and modern images.
This is a specific part of Flickr which is a collection of images under various usage licenses, so be sure to double-check. Some images have a “NoDerivs” license, which means you can’t change it; others have a non-commercial license, etc. I tend to just search under Public Domain Mark or Public Domain Dedication. Many museums and libraries host their digital collections on Flickr, which can means it’s a little faster to search through multiple databases at once.
Great for: Scientific images, antique and modern portraits.
This is a companion section to Wikipedia– it’s where the public domain images they use for Wikipedia entries are stored, and it’s available to the public as well! I mostly use this if I need photos of specific people or images of specific art pieces. Be sure to check the reuse guidelines, since some photos have more restrictions on what you can do with them.
Want more? Wikipedia has a whole page of resources for public domain images!
Whatever site you use, I recommend organizing your images so you can both keep track of their usage rights, and so you can find what you need for your collages.
If you found this post useful, please share with a friend!
- Getting organized: Digital collage elements, photos, and…
- How to find REAL vintage photos online for junk journals |…
- Where to find modern junk journal ephemera online (for…
- Where to get free fonts for digital art (and how to upload…
← Previous Post
Next Post →
The Graphics Fairy has been offering free public domain vintage images and ephemera for over 10 years. With thousands of images to choose from, you'll enjoy spending a few hours (or more) looking for the perfect images for your creative journals. These public domain images are free for personal and commercial use.Where can I get free ephemera? ›
The Graphics Fairy has been offering free public domain vintage images and ephemera for over 10 years. With thousands of images to choose from, you'll enjoy spending a few hours (or more) looking for the perfect images for your creative journals. These public domain images are free for personal and commercial use.What does ephemera mean in junk journal? ›
Handmade junk journal ephemera is anything you've made to go inside your journal, such as: Tags and journal cards. Pockets, tuck spots and bellybands. Flip-outs and fold-outs. Notepads and mini notebooks.Do junk journals have to be vintage? ›
What can be used to create a junk journal is pretty much endless. Some people, like me, create junk journals to look old or vintage and use papers and materials that are coffee or tea-dyed to look old. We also really love to discover things like old ledgers and advertisements to use as well. The older the better.What can I use for ephemera? ›
Vintage advertisements, greeting cards, board game pieces, playing cards, photographs, seed packets… there are so many different types of retro ephemera! Old paper products are pretty affordable and the possibilities are endless for how to use them.Where can I find free vintage printables? ›
Another great website to download free vintage printables is picryl.com. Everything you search here is already part of the Public Domain. Be aware that when you go to download the images on this site, they will ask for a small donation if you are selecting a “high resolution” download.How to find vintage ephemera? ›
- Second-hand bookshops. By definition, second-hand bookshops are the best places to look for interesting paper. If you're ephemera hunting, please don't enter the hallowed halls of an antiquarian bookseller looking for precious books to cut up. ...
- Charity shops.
- Paint store.
- Flea markets.
Etsy seems to be a good choice. Although I haven't sold there before, I've heard good things about it. As for junk journals, I've seen them sell for several hundred dollars a book at the high end. I'm sure It would take a bit to reach that level, but it might be worth aiming for.Can you make money from junk journals? ›
Junk journals regularly sell for hundreds of dollars on eBay and Etsy. Not all of them, of course, but the ones that do sell for a lot of money are basically something that absolutely anyone could do with a little time and effort.What are the rules for junk journal? ›
There are no rules and it can be anything you want! I personally love it for recording my thoughts with doodles and random moments using recycled paper cutouts and stickers. My personal favourite thing to do with my junk journal is stick tickets from special places to record good days.
In bookbinding or journal crafting, a signature is a set of pages nested inside one another the creates one small section of the book. Each signature is usually 4 to 7 pages in total, and is individually stitched into the book. Each journal is made up of many signatures stitched into the book together.When should you throw away old journals? ›
Read through one old journal a week. If it's full of entries that will do you no good, or is a reminder of a sad or bad part of your life, toss it in the recycle bin or have a bonfire/journal burning party. Who wants all that negativity stored so closely? Do away with it forever.What is a true junk journal? ›
A junk journal is a book or journal made up of scrap pieces of paper bound together. Beyond that there are many many variations and interpretations. In fact, some people don't even use scrap pieces of paper. The beauty of a junk journal, much like a bullet journal, is that it can be whatever you want it to be.Are photographs considered ephemera? ›
Ink blotters, product labels, trade cards, decals, placemats and napkins, wrapping paper, packaging and product boxes, shipping and postal labels, envelopes, stamps -- all ephemeral bits of our human lives. Even photographs are considered to be ephemera.What are three examples of printed ephemera? ›
- trade literature, such as price lists, instruction leaflets, advertisements, and trade cards;
- educational ephemera like syllabi, lecture notices, and examination papers;
- documents issued by institutions and societies, such as brochures, menus, membership cards, and circular letters; and.
Original vintage images and illustrations are found in old things, and the best place to find old things are (in no particular order), antique malls, second hand stores like the Salvation Army or Goodwill, estate sales and garage sales, at flea markets, or at library used book sales.How do you get ephemera? ›
Obtained from defeating a Corpus Sister, provided she has an Ephemera herself, regardless if she is Vanquished or Converted. Sisters have a 20% chance to appear with an Ephemera depending on the Warframe who created her.What is the drop rate of ephemera Warframe? ›
Ephemera. Kuva Liches have a 20% chance to be created with an Ephemera equipped that corresponds to the Progenitor Warframe who created them. These Ephemeras can be equipped on Companions, Archwings, and Necramechs. Players will receive a Lich's Ephemera regardless of whether they Vanquish or Convert them.What ephemera is valuable? ›
Some types of ephemera, such as bookplates, political buttons, paper currency, postage stamps, valentines, and early printed broadsides have been prized for years. Stamps in particular developed specialized journals and collecting guides, clubs, and “a trade” well before the end of the 19th century.