Public domain has presented a playground of wonder and resources for today’s artist. Whether you’re a digital artist or you create via the traditional methods, you have the option to use thousands of public domain images in your work thanks to some of the top museums and libraries in the world.
Earlier this year, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York made more than 375,000 images in their collection freely available to the public for personal and commercial use. The renowned museum adopted a new policy called Open Access: all public-domain artworks in the Museum’s collection may now be available on their website.
The usage guidelines from The Met states:
“You are welcome to use images of artworks in The Met collection that the Museum believes to be in the public domain, or those to which the Museum waives any copyright it might have, for any purpose, including commercial and noncommercial use, free of charge and without requiring permission from the Museum.”
Each image that’s available will be marked with a Creative Commons Zero (CC0) icon underneath. Artists can reach these images by visiting the Collection page on the Met website, then choosing “Show only public domain.” The Met has put together a sizable collection of interesting images, including packaging together some in theme sets. Themed collections include Monsters and Mythology, Cats, Masterpiece Paintings, Tiffany Glass and more.
You can also browse for them with the Creative Commons Website using the search prototype; on that website, there’s also the option to look for images from the New York Public Library and other institutions. Be sure you click the “commercial use” box if you want to use said images in a commercial project. The New York Public Library also has a nice collection of over 750,000 images you can use in posters, business cards, and more. The NYPL images are less art-centric, which may prove useful to you. All of the images are available in high-res without the need to sign up. There too, you can search for just public domain materials.
The British Library is another source for great public domain images, and they’ve made their materials available on Flickr. You’ll find over 10,000 pages worth of images, from vintage book scans to old maps to vintage photos. The Getty Images also offers an open content feature, with over 10,000 images available through the campaign. Each Open Content image is designated with a “download” link and you’re allowed to use them for any purpose. You can browse specifically through the collection for the open content images to simplify your search.
Before you go and download all of the images from these sources to use in your artwork, be sure you familiarize yourself with their individual terms and conditions pages, so you’re aware of any possible restrictions. Copyright and public domain isn’t foolproof, and it’s always best to investigate all acceptable use.
CreativeCommons.org will have any more image sources listed for your use, so you can create, recreate and remix these images to your heart’s content. There you can also learn how to properly attribute images in the creative commons.