It’s common when trying to make polished prototypes to go in search of free art to flesh out that idea. New designers, not yet ready to sink lots of money in their game, often struggle to find good art, photographs, or illustrations to use. And more importantly, some times, high resolution images. This list is meant to help you find those locations.
This post also ran on The Indie Game Report.
I’ve broken this down into a few different categories based on the type of permissive licensed works that are mostly in Public Domain or licensed CC0 or CC1 and one section for attribution required. I will regularly update this list as I find new sources of high quality art.
British Library Public Domain collection on Flickr.com
Millions of high resolution scans of old book illustrations.
Use the “Search only public domain records”
“We only hold comic books and images that are in the Public Domain.”
Thousands of images, nicely categorized. If you’re looking for a matching set, filter by the original artist. “We don’t limit the use of the illustrations available on our site, but we accept no responsibility regarding any problem, legal or otherwise, which might result from this use.”
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) Open Access Collection
You can use the Creative Common Search to find the item you’re looking for. Then click the “original source” to get the higher resolution version.
The National Gallery of Art Open Access Collection
“On this website you can search, browse, share, and download images. A standards-based reproduction guide and a help section provide advice for both novices and experts. More than 51,000 open access digital images up to 4000 pixels each are available free of charge for download and use. NGA Images is designed to facilitate learning, enrichment, enjoyment, and exploration.”
More than 100,000 images are available as part of the Getty Museum’s open content search. They ask for attribution if you use the high resolution images.
You may need to register for an account to easily download images.
Most of the paintings are public domain. Some of the other assets (e.g., photographs) may require attribution.
“[T]he Center nevertheless provides free and open access to images of works in the public domain and certain other materials. The Center hopes to encourage further the use and reuse of its public domain resources by all who may have access to them. See Using Images for further information.”
“You are free to use images of artworks if clearly stated that they are in the Public Domain. ”
High resolution images of a variety of paintings and art. Many of the works of art are in the public domain, although the museum claims copyright. :/
Thousands of Creative Commons and public domain images. You can search the collection here.
Many if not most of the works available from this search are in the public domain and high resolution.
Photographs licensed for public domain (CC0)
“All photos published on Unsplash can be used for free. You can use them for commercial and noncommercial purposes. You do not need to ask permission from or provide credit to the photographer or Unsplash, although it is appreciated when possible.”
“For personal or commercial use, all of our CC0 licensed images are completely free to use!”
“Pixabay is a vibrant community of creatives, sharing copyright free images and videos. All contents are released under Creative Commons CC0, which makes them safe to use without asking for permission or giving credit to the artist – even for commercial purposes.”
General Public Domain Resources
“NASA content – images, audio, video, and computer files used in the rendition of 3-dimensional models, such as texture maps and polygon data in any format – generally are not copyrighted. You may use this material for educational or informational purposes, including photo collections, textbooks, public exhibits, computer graphical simulations and Internet Web pages. This general permission extends to personal Web pages.”
The site (as a US Government Agency) makes no specific claim of copyright and maps prior to 1920s are in the public domain.
The Beinecke Library has digitized more than 20,000 maps. Most of the works are in the public domain, but you may need to check.
The site requests attribution, but much of the materials is in the public domain. “BILDGEIST is a visual journal of scientific illustrations, illuminated manuscripts, photographs, prints and artworks from the . Its topics are zoology, botany, astronomy, medicine & anatomy, cartography, alchemy & mysticism, the occult, ethnology, mythology, and art history.”
There are lots of contributions to this site. Many of which are in the public domain. You should confirm that the license is correct.
The University of California online collection of more than a million images. The search has mixed results, but many are in the public domain and often very high resolution.
“Calisphere contains a wide variety of items from many different institutions. Some items are in the public domain and may be freely used by anyone; in the case of other items, the contributing institution is the copyright holder and may grant permission for certain uses; for still others, the copyright owner is a third party or is unknown and users will need to conduct their own analysis (and may need to contact a copyright holder directly).”
“All artwork found under this section is licensed CC0 (Public Domain), this means there is no copyright and it is absolutely free to use for everyone and of course also free for commercial use”
Video Game Assets and Sprites
“All files are provided by Tiny Speck under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal License. This is a broadly permissive “No Rights Reserved” license — you may do what you please with what we’ve provided. Our intention is to dedicate these works to the public domain and make them freely available to all, without restriction. All files are provided AS-IS. Tiny Speck cannot provide any support to help you bring these assets into your own projects.”
Over the last couple of months I’ve created over 20,000 assets which are all licensed CC0 (public domain).
Dozens of free 2D game assets: “All presented graphics at an affordable price and has no restrictions on use in commercial projects, as well as you can feel free to use each product in unlimited projects.” (License). You will have to register to download, though.
Other Small Art Sets
“Thanks to the generosity of the Kickstarter backers for Godbound: A Game of Divine Heroes, I am making freely available all the art from both it and Sixteen Sorrows: A Handbook of Calamities for other uses, both personal and commercial. Other small publishers are welcome and encouraged to use the more than thirty images in this pack to create their own products. I only ask that you retain the credit to the artists named in each file and consider them for your future commissions.”
The game assets here are variously licensed. Many require attribution, but you can search by license type. I will note that many of the art assets are lower resolution.
Much of this site requires attribution.
A great collection of icons. Almost everything on this site requires attribution.
“They are provided under the CC-BY license (or even Public Domain for some of them), which means that you can use them freely in your projects as long as you credit back the authors.”
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.