Updated February 23, 2021
If you are a small business owner or an individual trying to promote yourself and are limited on funds either because you are just getting started or the business is not generating a large enough income to spend on marketing materials, tools and services, you might be looking right now for affordable ways to promote your business in print, online or social media.
Currently, just having a website and a business card is not enough to promote your business. You have to be present and active on some kind of social media, YouTube, maybe Tik Tok and definitely Facebook or Instagram – and that requires fresh content daily or weekly. Maybe you write blogs or create your own print or digital advertisements. If you can generate your own photography illustrating your business, have great product photos (like food, drinks or whatever is that you create) and usable for promotion, that’s great. Otherwise you might have to fall back on someone else’s photography or art to give your followers or potential clients some imagery to keep them interested and make them purchase your offering. The downside of using free assets (more photography than fonts) is that there are probably thousands of other people using those images as well. Paying for design assets is better as it’s a little less likely to see the same image being used everywhere.
If you work with a graphic designer, they will most likely be using purchased stock photography, illustrations or create the art themselves. This is a great way to support other creatives. But if your budget doesn’t allow for it, and you have to count on yourself to create the promotional materials or social media content, there are free or affordable places to find good quality photography or art. That in itself doesn’t replace the designer as he or she has the experience and trained eye to create attractive and effective branding and marketing materials for your business. If you are uncertain of your skills, consider using a graphic designer as incorrect or downright badly executed advertising or promotion is going to hurt your business and credibility and maybe cause loss of potential income.
If you feel confident to create something by yourself, here are some good sources for free photos, graphics, video footage and fonts. And remember, never use photography or images taken directly off the search engine like Google or Yahoo. There are laws protecting the content owners and you might be fined for using photos that are not yours and have been used for commercial purposes, if the owner becomes aware of you using their photos (see TinEye).
Free Photo, Video and Illustration Sources
Unsplash is one of the very popular photography sources that anyone can use for personal or commercial projects. The directory contains a large quality of high resolution photos from great photographers that you can use with or without attribution for subjects like travel, food, architecture or people and more. You can also search for free videos or vector or illustration files. Vector files are only useful if you have the right software like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop to utilize them. The photographs on Unsplash come in various sizes (pixels) and while for the web you can get away with a smaller image, for print you always want to go with the largest resolution possible. This is another subject. Giving a photographer attribution in the form of a link or credit is nice so they get more exposure. You can download photos from Unsplash here.
Pixabay is another of very popular sources for free photography, vector/illustration and video files. Again, it allows you to credit or use photography without credit. You can search and download photographs from Pixabay here.
Another great source, although maybe a little less known, is Morguefile. They offer free photography however, if you are searching for illustrations or video files, they only offer search of files from Shutterstock or iStock, which are paid stock websites. You can get their photos here.
Dreamstime is a premium although affordable stock photo company, however they also offer free photos section on their site, usually photos that were not accepted to their paid level but are still very good quality. You can search and download their free photos here.
Flickr is also an old and good photo source however you have to be careful how to use the images. Each photographer decides on their own Creative Commons license and you need to understand what the photo is ok to use for. Some allow you to use the photo for commercial purposes and some don’t, and in many cases you have to place a link on the site where you will be using the photo. Therefore if you have a blog, you might have to place an attribution link under the photo and this is not optional, unlike Unsplash or Pixabay. Please be sure to follow the guidelines and read each photographer’s license details so you don’t get fined or sued. Yes, it happens and you might not get a polite warning first, so please be sure to read details. Flickr fortunately allows you to filter search by all the license options therefore if you want to use it for commercial purposes, please choose that license to search and narrow down the results. You can search Flickr here.
This site is great if you’re looking for some gritty backgrounds, fabric textures, plastic, wood or other textures to use as backgrounds for your design. To download larger sizes you might be required to set an up a free account and some textures come at premium, however it’s a great resource. You can get the textures here.
Historical, Archival and Art Photo Sources
If you’re looking for historical or archival content, Unsplash as of last few months allows institutions to upload their images – which are free to use for the general public without attribution. Some of the institutions are British Library, Boston Public Library, The New York Public Library, Library of Congres and Europeana. For current full list please click on this link.
Flickr also has a historical, archival and other (art or contemporary images) photos section submitted by institutions which is free to use without attribution using “No known copyright restrictions” license. You can see the selection here and read more about these images.
Free Font Sources
Dafont is probably a font source I use most often if I’m looking for fun or interesting fonts such as Retro or Distorted styles. They have a very large selection of free fonts you can download to your computer. They of course have the fun fonts as well as simple sans serif or serif fonts. What’s nice about this resource is that you can enter the text you will be using the font with, which allows you to preview right away how it will look. As with any free fonts, you have to be mindful of the license. They have several licenses you can search by such as “Public Domain” or “100% free” (free for commercial use) or Personal (not for Commercial use) so be sure not to download Personal use for your business. You can browse or search fonts here.
Font Squirrel is another popuplar resource for free fonts which also shows you web font options. However, unless you are also a web designer for your business you will not need that option. All the fonts are free for commercial use. You can browse and download Font Squirrel fonts here.
Google Fonts is a great source for free fonts and you can download fonts both for your computer as well as web fonts. Again, here you can preview text to see final result with different font options. If you are looking for something more fun and creative, you are probably better off with Dafont selection. You can get Google Fonts here.