Where To Find Free Stock Images And How To Optimize Them

Sourcing free, high-quality stock images for your marketing or website, can be harder than you think. Save time and effort with this guide.

September 2022
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Whether you’re looking for on-brand images for a company website or producing marketing materials for a small business, finding free or affordable photos that fit the bill can be an unexpectedly time-consuming, and often frustrating challenge.

In the age of the internet, it should be possible to perform a simple search to uncover the perfect pictures. The reality is that getting the best images for your brand requires patience, and a good understanding of the right places to look. 

The search can be even more challenging for solopreneurs and small businesses — who need cost-effective solutions; not royalty payments or subscription services. Ideally, they need free-to-use, high-quality images that will complement their brand without breaking the bank.  

Before You Begin

Before you make use of any free image, make sure you understand the relevant terms and conditions. The type of copyright licensing determines how you must credit the owner. So before you search, it’s important to know that when it comes to images, there are three main categories of copyright:


  1. Royalty-free: After making a single payment, you own the rights to use and re-use the image. Royalty-free means you won’t pay a recurring fee for every use.
  1. Public Domain: Images in the public domain have either never had copyright protection, or it has expired. Not every image on the Internet is in the public domain.
  1. Creative Commons: A simple, standardized way for content creators to grant permission for others to use their work. There are different types of creative commons licences. Each one has its own terms and conditions. 

Now you know the difference between the three main types of image copyright, let’s take a closer look at some of the best places to begin your search.   

Google Images

For most people, it’s almost second nature to look up or find information by ‘googling it’ on the world’s most popular search engine. The obvious downside to searching for free, high-quality images in this way is that the search engine results page will turn up the most relevant results, which aren’t necessarily in the public domain, or free-to-use.

However, go slightly deeper under the hood of Google, and you can refine your results based on usage rights. All you need to do is make sure you’ve selected the image category beneath the search bar, then click the tools button. This presents you with a series of drop-down menus, one of which is usage rights.

Not all images on the internet are free-to-use, so it’s important to select the right type of usage rights: 

  • Creative commons licenses vary, but generally speaking creators will allow you to use their content for free, with certain restrictions or attributions. 
  • Commercial and other licenses usually require a payment although sometimes you may find an image that’s free-to-use, it just has a different type of license.

Bear in mind, Google Images can be hit-and-miss, so before re-using any image found this way, it’s essential to dig a little deeper. Click on your chosen image to double-check which copyright restrictions apply. Sometimes this appears in the preview, or you may need to visit the originating site.

Stock Photos

The most popular and reliable way to source free images is through an online library of stock photos. General topics are very well-served, but anything more niche might require a one-off royalty payment to a paid provider. 

  • Unsplash: With a global community of nearly 300,000 photographers, Unsplash has over 3 million free images for commercial and non-commercial use —  no permission needed. 
  • Pixabay: Alongside video and music, Pixabay offers over 2.5 millions royalty-free images for print and digital use. Modifications can be made, and attribution is optional but appreciated for commercial and non-commercial use.
  • Pexels: An extensive library of free to use images and videos. Like Pixabay and Unsplash, there are clear rules around commercial usage such as not implying endorsement of a brand by identifiable people, or presenting people within the images in a bad light. 
  • Burst: Powered by Shopify, Burst provides access to beautiful free stock photography created by a global community of photographers. The library contains   thousands of high-resolution, royalty-free images aimed at designers, developers, bloggers, and entrepreneurs. 
  • Freepik: If you’re looking for high-quality illustrations and icons, as well as photos, Freepik offers over 4.5 million graphic resources. Alongside premium, paid-for content, it has a wide catalogue of free resources which must be attributed with the words “Designed by Freepik”.

Other Free Resources

Stock photo libraries aren’t the only places to source high-quality free images for your projects:  

  • Wikimedia: Approaching 90 million media files, Wikimedia is a mammoth resource of free images. You can even search via the type of licence agreement by refining your search from a dropdown menu.
  • Library Of Congress: This portal of free-to-use and reuse digital images is ideal for a more retro feel. It includes artwork, artefacts, historical figures, and landmarks. 
  • Creative Commons Openverse: There are over 600 million searchable audio and image files in the Openverse, either in the public domain or under a Creative Commons licence.
  • National Gallery Of Art: Under Creative Commons Zero (CC0) the gallery has made any digital images of works of art believed to be in the public domain available to the public. Over 50,000 images can be downloaded and used for commercial and non-commercial purposes. 
  • The Smithsonian: Download, reuse, and share over 4.4 million 2D and 3D images for free from Smithsonian Open Access. It includes images from across the museum’s estate, including the National Zoo and 19 museums.   
  • Art Institute Of Chicago: Filter your search by clicking the option to show only ‘public domain’ and gain access to a treasure trove of free images of famous art.
  • New York Public Library: With new additions every day, this collection of around 1 million assets includes prints, photographs, maps, and video. Click the search bar and check the box to ‘search images in public domain’ which are free-to-use. 

Here is a list of additional sites where you can obtain PNG images from:

Paid Sites

Many paid sites offer a selection of free stock images, covering a limited range of categories. This impacts the relevancy of the images, and sometimes key search terms can produce some fairly obscure results. So when you need a highly-specific image, paying for the right one is sometimes the only answer:

  • Shutterstock: With over 1 billion images, video, and audio tracks, Shutterstock offers a range of monthly pricing plans to suit a range of budgets depending on how many images you need. Licensing and legal protection is included as standard.
  • Getty Images: A high-end solution for royalty-free images, priced per image and also available as mix and match packs.

Optimizing Images 

Once you’ve successfully sourced high-quality images for your marketing materials or website, it’s time to ensure they’re in the correct format, and fully optimized for your needs. For example, reducing the size of website images helps to improve loading times and performance. At the same time, it’s important to retain the quality. So, can you have both?

Thankfully, it’s possible to reduce the size of image files and maintain that high-quality look and feel by using free online tools.  And the good news is that you don’t have to get bogged down in the technical details:

  • Tinypng: Upload any WebP, JPEG, or PNG file (20 images, up to 5MB each) and this handy tool applies clever compression techniques to minimize the number of colours, without compromising on image quality. The result? Great looking images at a fraction of the original file size.
  • Bulkresizephotos: Drop or choose batches of images, and this browser-based tool does the rest. There’s no upload involved, so images remain private, and you’re free to convert, crop, compress, watermark, and reduce the size – until they’re ready to go. 

Visual Content From Khula

At Khula Design Studio, we’re serious about getting your visual content right, so from your website to your social channels, your customers get a consistent and cohesive experience of your brand at every touchpoint. 

Interested to find out how we can bring your brand identity to life, and build a website that showcases your brand in the best light? Get in touch with us for a chat about our range of brand and website services for solopreneurs and small businesses. 

Schedule a chat

Ready To Hit Refresh?

When it comes to your brand and website design, you don't need to struggle or try figure it out on your own.

Let us help you get it right and create a standout brand image you can be proud of.

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Every business needs a logo. But not all logos are created equal. 

Even if you have zero design skills, with today’s online tools, you can generate a free or low-cost logo for your business in seconds. That might be good enough when you first get started. But will it still cut it as your business expands? 

The honest answer? Probably not. When you let a low-cost, AI-assisted logo generator do the work for you, or even hire a freelancer to custom-design one, there’s a huge concept-shaped piece missing — your brand identity.

The thing is, in today’s competitive market, it’s getting harder and harder to differentiate one brand from another. That mountain outline and word mark combo might have looked like a steal when you handed over $99, but now you realize it looks like another company’s logo (think Toblerone, Coors, Paramount, Patagonia, Quicksilver, Evian, and more).

With a full brand identity, there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes, including mood boarding, sketching, research, and ideation — everything you need to ensure that your brand stands out from the competition and speaks to your target audience.

Every business has the same need — a logo that people remember.

What’s a logo design?

A logo design is a symbol or mark that represents a company or organization. Ideally, it’s the first thing that comes to mind when someone thinks of a brand. A well-designed logo needs to be simple, memorable, and easily recognizable. It also needs to reflect the values and personality of a brand. 

When a logo is designed in isolation — and not as part of a complete brand identity — it doesn’t truly represent the brand’s values and personality. At the same time, from a practical perspective, cheaper templated logo designs usually only come in two file types .png and .jpeg. 

In reality, companies need multiple file types and versions to ensure consistency across every touchpoint. This gives them a logo that’s easily scalable, wherever it’s needed — from social media profiles to company t-shirts. 

What is brand identity?

Brand identity covers all the visual and textual elements that work together to create a consistent and cohesive brand image. It includes logo design, colour palette, typography, imagery, and tone of voice. 

A strong brand identity aids recognition and helps differentiate a business in the minds of customers and stakeholders. Done right, it can establish trust, credibility, and loyalty, serving as a powerful means to build brand reputation and equity.

Successful brand identities should be consistent across all communication channels and touchpoints, reflecting the brand's values, personality, and positioning. A full brand pack from a design studio contains all the file formats and logo variations a company needs to achieve this.

Common misconceptions about brand identity

A common misconception is that logo design is the only element of a brand identity. 

While logo design is an important part of the brand identity, it is only one piece of the puzzle. A full brand identity pack includes a range of elements that work together to create a strong and consistent brand image.

Another misconception is that ‘brand identity’ is only for large corporations. 

Regardless of size, any business can benefit from a clear and consistent brand image. A full brand identity pack can help any business stand out from the competition and build trust with potential customers.

Key elements of brand identity 

Brand identity includes a range of design assets alongside your logo. Here are the key elements:

  • Colour palette: A well-chosen colour palette can evoke emotions and help communicate the brand’s personality.
  • Typography: The typefaces used in a brand's visual identity ensure consistency, and help communicate its personality and values.
  • Imagery: Images and graphics can bring a brand to life, creating a visual language that customers will recognize.
  • Tone of voice: The words and language used in a brand's messaging create a consistent and recognizable brand voice.
  • Brand guidelines: A comprehensive set of guidelines will ensure consistency across every touchpoint and all elements of a brand identity.

5 tips to ensuring consistency and cohesion for your brand

Here’s how to achieve consistency and cohesion for your brand:

  1. Start with a clear brand strategy: Before designing any visual elements, get a clear understanding of your brand's values, personality, and target audience through detailed market research.
  1. Establish brand guidelines: A comprehensive set of brand guidelines will ensure that all the elements of your brand's visual identity are used consistently, no matter where you show up online or offline.
  1. Use a consistent colour palette: The use of a consistent colour palette across all visual elements helps create a cohesive brand image. Choose a palette and stick to it everywhere — from your website to business cards.
  1. Carefully choose typography: Typography should be chosen to reflect the brand's personality and used consistently across all visual elements. Limit the number of fonts in play and ensure they’re visually compatible. 
  1. Develop a visual language: This includes consistent use of imagery and graphics can help create a recognizable brand identity.

Advice for small business owners

When deciding between investment in a brand identity or a logo design, it's important to consider the long-term benefits of a brand identity pack. 

A full brand pack from a design studio will give you a suite of logo files in every version and format you’ll ever likely need in a range of digital and print formats. 

Here are some places you might need it:

  • website
  • social media
  • marketing materials
  • email
  • letter header
  • billboards
  • business cards
  • merchandise

Each of these uses will need different file formats, colours, and variations.

With a full brand pack, you can successfully roll out your logo anywhere — wherever it’s needed — without spending more time, money, and effort converting it into different file formats (whilst trying to retain the highest resolution). 

A brand pack also gives you clear brand guidelines. The great thing about having a brand guidelines document is that it helps you control how your brand shows up at every touchpoint — no matter whether content is being handled in-house or by an external contractor or agency.

Brand guidelines help you — and your suppliers — to ensure brand consistency, which format to use, how to scale the logo, and even, what not to do with it. A logo design on its own won’t cover these bases, which can lead to inconsistencies in your messaging and inferior image quality, impacting perceptions of your brand. 

A full brand identity pack helps your business create a strong and memorable brand image that sets it apart from the competition, establishing trust with potential customers and ensuring a professional image.

Measuring the success of a new brand identity 

The success of your brand identity can be measured in a number of qualitative and quantitative ways. Here are some metrics you can use to evaluate its effectiveness:

  • Brand awareness: The extent to which your brand is recognized and remembered by its target audience.
  • Customer loyalty: The degree to which customers feel an emotional connection to your brand and do repeat business with you.
  • Sales: A higher quality brand image can help raise the perceived value of your brand’s products and services, attracting higher-paying customers.
  • Brand consistency: The extent to which your brand identity is used consistently across all touchpoints.

Brand pack or logo design?

Whether you opt for a logo design or a full brand identity pack is your choice. It comes down to the needs of your business, your budget, and your future aspirations. 

An off-the-shelf logo design (built using a template) can be an ideal quick-fix for a business that’s just getting off the ground and has limited funds. But over time, as the business grows, inconsistencies in how the brand shows up across different touchpoints can take its toll.  

With a brand identity, you get much more than just a logo design. A full brand pack gives you a collection of visual and verbal elements that work together to create a consistent and memorable brand image that can last for years to come.  And it’s not just for enterprise-scale organizations! 

Investment in a full brand identity pack helps create a strong and lasting impression with your target audience, and other stakeholders. Take a look a rebrand we did for trimble group here, to see an example of how a brand identity and visual system can help create a cohesive look and feel across all touch points.

Looking to refresh your brand's visual system your small business or organization? Khula can help! Book a discovery call

Brand Identity Vs Logo Design — What You Need To Know

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Home design professionals are in a rapidly growing sector. To put that in context, the interior design industry alone is set to reach $255.4 billion USD by 2027. From home staging experts to architects, standing out in a competitive market is becoming increasingly challenging. Take Canada’s interior designers, for example. 73% are based in Ontario and British Columbia. That’s a high density market! 

With a sea of competitors in an ever-growing market, it’s even more important than ever to build a brand image that reflects professionalism and credibility. Whether you're an interior designer, home staging expert, architect — or even a property management broker — a beautiful, clean, and intuitive website, plus a consistent online presence are valuable assets for sharing your best and most recent work.

Your website is a window into your world. It’s the first place potential customers will go to see your work, and where they’ll search for home inspiration and ideas. If your website is outdated, hard to navigate or isn’t eye-catching, you’ll lose potential customers to the next competitor whose website ticks all the right boxes — and some. 

To stay ahead of the field, you need to build the best digital home for your home design business. 

Dig Deep Foundations

Every building needs the right foundations, otherwise the structure will collapse. The same is true for your website. It’s deeply rooted in your brand image.   

As brand refresh experts, we know how to take your website to the next level. You need the right tools: messaging and minimalist design. Used correctly, these two things will create a remarkable user experience (UX) for both your existing audience and prospects. And you’ll have a standout online presence to be proud of.

Be honest. Is your current digital home a fixer upper? Maybe you’ve done some work on it yourself. Maybe you’ve had parts of it remodelled by a design professional. Maybe you’ve considered knocking it down and starting again. Does it feel like your home? Does it welcome many visitors? If not, it could be time for a complete renovation!

Pre-made website templates are great for getting started on your own, but they lack the custom design and messaging that uniquely speaks to your ideal customers. Differentiation separates your offering from the competition. A professionally designed website will reflect your brand personality, business values, and your unique approach or service. These things help you stand out in a crowded marketplace, and earn your audience’s trust. 

The bottom line is simple: customers want to do business with companies they trust. Even small things can undermine and negatively impact trust. When your brand image and website is outdated, it gives the user a negative perception of your offering. Building and designing a custom brand image helps shape your customers’ perceptions. This builds trust and, over time, advocacy. 

You might know competitors who offer the exact same service as you. They might have the same price point, they might even be in the same town, or the same province. Let’s say, for example, you’re one of over 24,000 interior designers in Canada. Differentiating your company from your competitors is essential because product and price are easily replicated.

A Blueprint For Success

At Khula Design Studio, we’ve helped other businesses in a similar space as you to differentiate themselves and create a standout brand image. How do we do it? Here’s our blueprint for success:

  1. It starts with a proven concept or business. Maybe you’re an existing business that’s been running for a few years or more. Maybe you need a refresh, a positive change, or you’re ready for a complete transformation. Your business guides our design. 

  1. We then get to know who you are, what you do, and, how you service your existing customers. We discover what makes you unique by unpacking your entire business. This is surfaced through a brand script and storytelling, which goes on to inform the custom UX/UI web design phase of the project.

  1. The design phase then begins. We map out the pages and structure through UX wireframing, finding the right flow for your pages based on the user journey. This tells us what sections or content we want to show and how we want to show it to appeal to your users.

  1. With the structure mapped out, we infuse the brand identity and visual aspects of the brand to bring the website to life. This includes professional images, walkthrough videos, brand identity, colours, and fonts. We’re like an interior designer picking out textures, colours, fixtures and fittings to bring the home to life. We make it feel like a home instead of house.

  1. Once the design is in place, and we’re happy with the flow, construction begins. We build out the site in the all-in-one, no-code platform — Webflow. Our interior and home designers and architects love this tool because going forward, it gives them the power to easily update their work or project pages through Webflow's powerful content management system (CMS). Working in Webflow provides a future-ready website that can evolve and grow with any business.

  1. As we continue to build, we ensure that the foundations, walls, and structure of your new digital home meet industry best practices. This minimizes defects. Before going live, we do thorough QA and debugging, so there’s no chance of it coming crashing down after we hand over the keys. We also ensure your new digital home has all the right SEO fundamentals, so it gets picked up by search engines.  

Our Portfolio Of Digital Homes

We’ve worked with a lot of businesses in the home design and property management sectors. Here are three examples of digital homes we’ve built:

PROCAD Designs

Custom home and renovation design professionals, PROCAD Design, were struggling to keep their WordPress website updated and fresh. They didn’t have time to update it themselves, so they reached out to Khula Design Studio. Read more  

Forty Ninth Living

A single, well-designed, user-friendly website is worth 20 individual crummy ones. Just ask Kristie at Forty Ninth Living! She built a Wix website for each one of her properties. This took time and money she’d rather be putting into her business. Read more


Award-winning interior architect, Adrian Morris, needed a beautiful and functional website for his new studio, Morris&Co. He wanted to be able to update case studies himself without paying out for developer or agency time — so he came to us. Read more

Building Relationships

One thing that Khula’s founder, Jamie Windell, loves about working with other designers is sharing experiences of the design process, as well as operational tactics! Designing websites has a similar iterative process to home design, from the discovery phase right through to the final design. 

Having previously worked for the award-winning interior design agency, Design Partnership Jamie has a deep understanding and appreciation of the industry. Here’s a testimonial we’re particularly proud of:

“Jamie’s positivity and ability to plan, lead, unite and inspire the team at DP not only did wonders for the productivity of the team. In turn, it added immensely to strengthen positive relationships with our clients." — Callie Van Der Merwe, Principal & Founder DP Australia

Design, after all, should be a collaborative process. Whether you’re renovating a home, building one from scratch, or building a digital home in the form of your website, great design relies on good communication and understanding of people. At Khula Design Studio, we don’t just build great websites, we build lasting relationships. Let’s talk.

Side note: Are you an HGTV fan? We definitely are! We love seeing the before and after transformations and different types of homes and interior design styles. At Khula, we do the same transformations but from a branding perspective —  especially the before and after transformations. Here are our top 4 shows:

  • Fixer to Fabulous - Dave & Jenny Marrs
  • Home Town - Ben & Erin Napier
  • Fixer Upper - Chip & Joanna Gaines
  • Dream Home Makeover - Studio McGee (Shea & Syd McGee)

Want to discuss how we can help you update your digital home? Book a discovery call today.

Building Sites — Digital Homes For Home Designers

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You’ve invested in your brand. It’s clearly doing something. But what? 

There’s no question that a strong brand has a measurable impact on business performance. But — without getting lost in a matrix of metrics — it can be difficult for solopreneurs, as well as small and growing businesses, to quantify their branding’s return on investment. 

Why? Because the impact is not always obviously or immediately measurable.

Add to this the fact that the cost of professional branding for a solopreneur or startup might be a sizable chunk of your capital, and there’s even more need for clarity. 

So what kind of return on investment can you reasonably expect to see from paying for quality, professional design, and branding? 

What is branding ROI?

The ROI of brand building is — in very simple terms — a strong brand: one which gradually attracts more customers who will buy more often, at a higher price.    

One major component of brand success, and therefore branding ROI, is brand awareness. Brand awareness is a way of measuring how well people remember and retell their experiences of your business: 

There are a variety of ways to measure it:

  • Surveying your target audience
  • Using Google Trends data
  • Tracking website traffic
  • Monitoring your social media following

Whether earned through your website, meetings, social media — or any other brand touchpoints — strong brand ROI results in improved reputation, increased traffic, sales conversions, and ultimately business growth. 

With effective branding and a compelling brand story, the ultimate measure of branding ROI is a premium price product or service which generates higher profitability. In effect, it elevates the perceived market value of a product or service. 

A Long Term Investment

There are many ways to evaluate the effectiveness of the ROI of your branding. From organic search volume to customer acquisition rates, your measure of success depends on your business and its industry.

While you may see gains now from repeated short-term marketing activities, the ROI of branding ultimately relates to long-term investment that incrementally drives stronger sales growth — not a fleeting uplift. 

Short-term marketing initiatives may result in a spike in sales, whereas the real branding ROI is a cumulative, ever-increasing rise in brand awareness levels. 

You only have to view Interbrand’s yearly report on the Best Global Brands to see the power of strong brands, and how they consistently outperform competitors. It’s that long term investment in brand-building that creates longevity, and a robustness that ensures the business endures bad times, as well as good.

Tracking The ROI From Your Brand Building

Whether you’ve recently invested in brand building, you’re considering a refresh or contemplating a complete rebrand, it’s worth establishing the metrics you’re going to use to measure your return on branding investment. 

So here are four possible routes for you to take into consideration when calculating and tracking your branding ROI:

Customer: With the treasure-trove of data available from online behaviours, software like Google Analytics can be set up to analyse data for your online business, and enable reporting of key metrics. 

Culture: When your business grows to more than just you, employee buy-in to your brand values is essential for them to maintain job satisfaction, and motivation. Surveys are a simple way to establish if your internal brand-building is effective. 

Process: If other businesses benefit from involvement from your brand, whether tangibly or intangibly, you know that negotiations and recruitment are going to be stacked in your favour. The stronger the brand, the more streamlined and better-targeted your marketing campaign will be.  

Financial: If brand valuation methodologies, like those used by Interbrand, seem like something for further down the line, market studies are a good way to uncover the price premium of your brand against rivals. As a great example, look at the difference in price points between Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy. 

The Odds In Your Favour

It’s not easy to quantify the ROI of branding. There’s multiple metrics you can use, and which ones you choose will depend on your business. Ultimately, ongoing investment in building your brand is one way to increase its strength and ability to make long-lasting connections with customers, clients, and employees.

Start your branding journey today. Book a conversation with KHULA Design Studio. We’re passionate about building better brands for solopreneurs, small businesses, and startups. 

Get in touch

Getting A Good Return: Branding And ROI For Small Businesses

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