What Are Royalty-Free Images? + How to Use Them

What are royalty-free images? This guide will help you understand royalty licensing and how to properly use royalty-free images in your next blog post.

With the internet at your fingertips, you have access to photographs, illustrations and stock footage any time you need them. However, there are certain precautions you need to take before these assets can be used. 

We’ve created a comprehensive guide to help you answer the question, “What are royalty-free images?” and learn how you can use them comfortably (and legally) in your next business project. If you’re in need of royalty-free images for a project, check out our photo collection

What Is a Royalty-Free Photo?

Royalty-free images are a unique category of images that come with a license. Businesses can purchase a license for a one-time fee and use their chosen image as many times as they desire. The perk of royalty-free images is there isn’t a need to renew the license for the photo once you’ve purchased it. 

Royalty-free doesn’t mean that the buyer has exclusive rights to the image, but that other businesses and individuals — or anyone who purchases the license — may choose to use the image in their work as well. You may choose to alter the image to make it more on-brand, such as adding fonts or other illustrations and design accents. 

These images also don’t require attribution to the original owner, which is helpful if you’re working on a presentation or social media campaign. 

Before diving into royalty-free images, let’s dissect what royalties and image licensing mean and how they work. 

What Are Royalties?

Royalties are an established fee that must be paid for the use of a commercial item, like an image. For example, a recording studio may pay a royalty fee to use a snippet of an older song for a new song one of their artists is recording. 

If a newspaper company wanted to use a freelance photographer’s image for a story they’re running, they may need to pay royalties for the use of the image in both their print and digital news articles. 

What Is Image Licensing? 

Like an image gallery domain, the image owner and publisher must first agree upon the type of license that will be used for an image. When someone purchases a license, the designer will be compensated for the image use via a fee. 

Popular image licenses are copyright-free, royalty-free and rights-managed. Rights-managed images are similar to royalty-free images in that they require a flat fee, but there may be restrictions involved, like how long a buyer can use the image and in what types of formats it can be used. 

Where Can I Get Royalty-Free Images?

We provide a royalty-free stock photo collection that’s perfect for designers and communicators of all types, with price points to fit any budget.

Access professionally curated images free

Best of all, our collection is professionally curated with an eye for authentic and art-quality photos that celebrate diversity and inclusion. Browsing our photos also allows you to support photographers and have extra peace of mind with clear image usage rights, including model and property releases.

Photos in our collection have download options from low-res to hi-res, with clear explanations of how each one can be legally used.

If you’re interested in downloading icons, our vast icon collection has similar usage guidelines in which any icon is free with attribution, while paid or Pro downloads give you unlimited, attribution-free icon usage.

Royalty-Free vs. Copyright-Free 

It’s easy to confuse royalty-free and copyright-free images, but it’s important to know the differences if you plan to use them in future creative work. 

A copyright-free image is provided by a photographer or owner, and can be used by any person. The photographer or owner owns the copyright but provides the legal authority that the image can be freely used by others. You can usually find copyright-free images on public domains or copyright-free image libraries. 

A royalty-free image usually lives on an image library site that you either pay a subscription to or purchase via a one-time fee, like Noun Project. 

There are exceptions when copyright-free images are not legally owned by anyone.  This can happen if an image was published before 1923 or donated by the artist to a public domain for free use. 

raster vs vector chart

Whether you choose to use royalty-free, copyright-free or rights-managed photos, make sure you take the proper precautions to stay within the legal bounds of using the images. 

Royalty-Free Images FAQ 

Here are some answers to commonly asked questions in regards to royalty-free image uses, cost and whether they’re the right choice for your project. 

Are Royalty-Free Images Free?  

Royalty-free images aren’t free in terms of payment — you’ll need to pay a flat fee to purchase the license before use. This payment will either go directly to the creator of the image or both the image library domain and the creator. 

What Can A Royalty-Free Image Be Used For?

As a designer and brand owner, it’s important to understand what types of assets royalty-free images can be used for. 

What royalty-free images can be used for:

  • Corporate slide decks
  • Blog posts
  • Social media graphics
  • Websites
  • Office environments and commercial locations
  • Online marketing campaigns

What they cannot be used for: 

  • Logos or trademarks
  • Libelous, obscene or adult-related content 
  • Resale

Is a Royalty-Free Image Right for Me?

Here are a few parameters to help you gauge if you should use a royalty-free image in your next creative project:

  • If you’re planning to use the image more than once: A royalty-free license allows you to use the image as many times as you need. If you’re planning to use the image in different campaigns or throughout your website, it’s a good idea to purchase this type of licensed image. 
  • If you’re using the image commercially: If you plan to use the image as part of a long-term project, for example, a royalty-free image is the best fit for the job. 
  • If you don’t want to attribute it to the owner: Once you’ve purchased the licensed image, you don’t need to include attribution when you use it in various projects. 

Ready to grab some images for your next artistic endeavor? Check out our photo collection and explore the many royalty-free image options we can offer. 

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Noun Project Team
Noun Project Team

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