The finer points of finding free images

Free--it's my favorite word. It's probably the most popular word found in advertising to get you to buy something. But has free ever really meant free? The catch is usually that you have to buy something in order to get something else free. Or maybe you have to agree to give up your personal information, forever dooming you to junk mail, to get that free hotel stay in Vegas.

The Web provides small design firms and freelance designers without a $15,000 photo-shoot budget the opportunity to download photos and vector illustrations as easily as the click of the mouse.

While nobody really knows who was first, is arguably the most popular site on the Web to offer thousands of quality images, free of charge.

Notice I said "free of charge." True, a great portion of the collection of images at stock.xchng are available for you to use with no catch, but the best images (those images with the highest resolution, size and composition quality), generally come with a stipulation. In some cases, you can use the image for virtually anything other than redistributing or as part of a trademark or logo--just download and you're done. Many others require you to notify the photographer before using. Still others require a photo credit for any public use of the image. Though the site does have a contact form to make it easy, there's no guarantee of a timely response, or even approval. So there's the catch--the "free, if you do XYZ" phrase.

Vector art sites are popping-up all over the Web. , and are just a few popular destinations offering great vector illustrations. As with stock.xchng, most artwork is completely free to use. But with increasing frequency, the artwork comes with stipulations that the vector files may not be used commercially. Some artists allow commercial use of their work, but require a small fee via Paypal.

With free image sites being so popular, who better to jump on the bandwagon than the king of Internet photography sites. offers millions (according to its site) of great images under the , allowing you to use them absolutely free. But just like that free trip to Vegas, there is a catch. At the very least, you are required to credit the photographer when you use the image.