Image and graphic use on websites and blogs is one of the most confusing elements of an online presence. It’s also one of the most asked about topics that I hear as a web designer and marketer. In this 3 part series about image and graphic use, I’ll address this subject in a few specific areas:
Image and Graphic Use – Part 1
- image legalities and copyright issues
- using and printing images for commercial use
Image and Graphic Use – Part 2
- where to get images that are free or low priced
- best programs for quick editing
- what formats and size to save images from cameras and from editing programs
Image and Graphic Use – Part 3
- colors, layout, and balance
- how many images per page or post
- sizing parameters for websites and social media
Part 1 – Image and Graphic Use
Image and Graphic Legalities and Copyright Issues
Many people think that simply using an image or graphic found anywhere on the internet is legal to do as long as they “credit” the original site on which they found the it. That very thing breaks the copyright laws and should never be done. I have heard of site owners getting fined thousands of dollars for doing this, which is sad, because they weren’t trying to “steal” any image.
Generally speaking, you can print any image or graphic you want on merchandise as long as it has a commercial license to do so. Whether or not an image or graphic is free or must be purchased has no bearing on whether or not it can be used commercially. Many free images and graphics have a royalty free, commercial use license. The key is to read every license for every image or graphic you would like to use. I recommend doing this even on all free image and graphic stock websites you choose to use. Make sure you use a trustworthy one! I list a few I trust in Part 2 of this series.
Using and Printing Images for Commercial Use
1. Some licenses are free to use, print and distribute their element for non-commercial and commercial use as far as online-use goes, but printing it on a product is prohibited.
2. Others are free for online-use, but you must pay for an extended license to legally print it and sell it on a product.
3. Some licenses are free for both online-use and printed products (although these are rare).
4. And yet others have a fee to allow you to both use the elements online and on printed products. Usually this is a one-time purchase fee, but be aware of those that are subscription base. Not that a subscription is always bad, such as in the case of Adobe Creative Cloud which has fonts for upload and use on your website (see Bonus Tip 1). You just have to be aware that once you cancel the subscription, you can no longer use that element, unless you purchase an extended license, if one is available.
5. Some image and graphic sites (like Canva which has a free AND a subscription editing service with elements to choose from), have their own Use Licenses on top of each image or graphic license.
It sounds complicated, yes, but as long as you read (and keep on hand) both the distributor and the owner’s use license, and pay when necessary, you should have your bases covered.
As a designer, I NEVER use an element that requires a commercial license to be purchased for websites or social media, unless someone requests that specifically and purchases that.
Bonus Tip 1:
All of the above is true for fonts as well. While it doesn’t necessarily seem as obvious that copyright law would pertain to a font as it would an image, a font is actually a graphic someone has designed and saved in a font file. Keep in mind though, if you are using a reputable plugin on your website for varying fonts, and as long as you keep the plugin installed, you can legitimately use those fonts. This warning is for fonts you want to use as an element of a graphic you make to use for personal and commercial use. Also, keep in mind, many, if not most, fonts have an “open font license” which means you can use them for commercial use and, often, printing. I recommend checking the license of every font as you would images and graphics, especially for those you want to use on a printed product.
Bonus Tip 2:
You can check the license of a font at fonts.google.com as they have a ton listed. If not found there then you can just do a search for the font name plus the word “license”.
One last thing to consider: be sure to check the license to see if any “author/creator” attribution is required for use, even if it is free to use. This can be a stipulation in many licenses.
Watch for Part 2 of this series coming next. In the meantime, have fun with those images!