As a content writer, one of my least favorite things to do is find artwork for the email campaigns that I’m writing. I’m a word person, not a picture person. All too often I find myself deep in the iStock tundra looking for something they probably don’t have.
Fortunately for me, we have graphic design experts and other, more visually oriented, people at SendGrid to help out with this stuff. Unfortunately, for a lot of you out there, those resources might be busy…or non-existent.
Where to Start
We want to help every time-starved email marketer out there, especially the ones who are doing it all themselves (we feel your pain). So, below is a compilation of 21 of our favorite image sites that we think will help you make your next email marketing campaign pop.
We also have a library of free email templates (like the one here on the right) that you can use with these non-stock images, so you can save time when sending your next campaign.
But before we move on, let’s get some legal stuff out of the way…online images may be protected by copyright, trademark, or other intellectual property laws. To help ensure you don’t find yourself in hot water (legally speaking), use a legitimate stock image agency or website. The sites noted below are examples only and may not have not been fully vetted from a legal perspective. Sadly, I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not qualified to give legal advice on your particular situation.
You should also read the terms of the license agreement accompanying the particular image(s) to, among other things, make sure your specific use case is permitted by the terms of such license. This area can be very complicated and confusing for the non-lawyer, so if you have any doubts, consult with competent legal counsel!
Without further ado, let’s get into this:
1. Death to Stock
Unfortunately, Death to Stock isn’t free, but they do have a ton of fantastic, interesting, images. In addition to a huge library of professional images, they develop photo packs that are sent to subscribers each month. Another great bonus is that the images are exclusive to Death to Stock, so you won’t find the same thing plastered all over other image websites. They also have some videos.
Unsplash is a free photo library that has over 550,000 high-resolution photos (including our cover image here—thank you, Brooke Lark!). Photos on Unsplash have been contributed by photographers across the world so that marketers, entrepreneurs, and anyone else can download them and use them how they please. They also organize their photos in a variety of different collections, or you can create an account and build your own collection to pull from when you feel like it.
Pixabay provides a huge library (1.5 million) royalty-free videos and images. Of the sites listed here, Pixabay may be one of the most well-known. They also have vector graphics and illustrations in case those are better for the project you’re working on. To search their library, you can refine by type of image or video, orientation (vertical or horizontal), category, size, and color.
Bonus tip: Explore illustrations
unDraw is not a stock photo website, nor is it an image or video website. UnDraw, created by Katerina Limpitsouni, provides many different illustrations that you can use for almost any purpose (read about the license on the site). One of the interesting things about unDraw, in addition to the many different illustrated subjects, is the ability to choose the main color used in the illustration so that it better matches your brand or company!
Similar to Unsplash or Pixabay, Pexels provides free photographs that you can search through by category, collections, color, or through their search bar. Pexels also allows you to follow different photographers in case you find one that published images you like more than others.
Burst is a stock photo website that’s powered by Shopify. Like most other photo websites, you can filter photos by categories, search for different subjects, or even see what new photos have been added recently. One of the more interesting Burst features is the business ideas page. This allows you to look at images that relate directly to different business objectives, like “sell women’s fashion” or “sell kitchen supplies.”
NegativeSpace focuses on providing a platform for photographers to share their work with the world. As a result, the images on NegativeSpace are all high-resolution photographs, not movies, graphics, or renderings. Visitors can browse the library and filter photographs by category, and like other image libraries, the photographs can be edited and used as you see fit. You can also sign up for their email newsletter to receive their newest additions via email.
Launched by two photographers from Latvia, Barnimages differentiates itself from other stock photo websites by not aggregating images from across the Internet. The creators claim that all the images on the site have been created by them or by colleagues whose work they respect. In addition to the free images, Barnimages also offers some other free mockup downloads.
PicJumbo has millions of free images that can be individually downloaded. As you browse through images, you can also click on the “More Images Like This” link to find pictures that look similar. PicJumbo’s website also offers an All in One Pack that has over 2,000 high-resolution images for visitors to purchase and download.
What if there’s a logo or trademark in a photo? Don’t use it. That’s not always true, and it may not be the answer you’re looking for, but rather than go through the headache of double checking that you’re responsible for providing attribution or credit, it’s most likely easier to move on to a different, but similar, photo.
9. Life of Pix
Unlike nearly all other stock photo websites, Life of Pix features a different Photographer of the Week. Each week, 10 of that photographer’s images are featured on the website. This means that visitors and subscribers are constantly getting new images that could work for current or future email campaigns.
10. Startup Stock Photos
While the name may be a bit on the nose, Startup Stock Photos still provides a wide variety of photos that can be used for whatever you need. The pictures featured on the site are geared to what a startup tech company would want (think mid-20s tech dude with a smartwatch, writing on a whiteboard). Unlike other sites, there’s no search function, so be prepared to scroll a lot.
Gratisography works to distinguish itself from other, more typical stock photo sites by curating images that are “quirky… beautiful…arresting.” As a result, the images you’ll find on this site have more personality, and may be more interesting than a lot of the images you’ll typically come across. This is a great place to find something like an older lady in a robot suit. Everyone needs that photo, right?
12. The Pic Pac
This is a pretty interesting and new concept when it comes to stock photo websites. Rather than uploading all photos singularly, The Pic Pac provides visitors with different packs of photos that all share a theme. The creator of the site does request that you “pay what you want” for each pack.
Bonus Tip: Don’t forget to crop!
Depending on your use case, you may be looking for an email header image, a background for your newsletter, or just something to break up the content of your email.
Don’t feel obligated to use the entire image you come across (unless there are restrictions on alteration).
Crop out what you don’t need and use just a portion of something if it works better for you. Here’s a great example of zoning in on the most compelling part of an image from a presentation on design given by our own, Kate Schmeisser!
13. CreateHER Stock
CreateHER Stock differentiates themselves from the rest of the stock image websites by being “a lifestyle-esque, stock photography resource where we curate modern and authentic imagery for female bloggers, creatives, and online influencers of color.” They even let visitors know that their website is not the place to go to scroll through thousands of photos. This website is great for images that are a little more interesting. A couple hundred images are provided for free, or you can pay for a membership that gets you access to 1,300+ additional images.
FoodieFactor was created by ISO Republic (another great stock photo site to check out!). With over 1,200 food and drink images, this website should be bookmarked by anyone sending email marketing campaigns in the restaurant or hospitality industry. Users can sort through photos by their tags, and they can sign up for a weekly newsletter that delivers new additions directly to their inbox.
15. New Old Stock
This photo site is pretty interesting because it’s so much different than most stock photo websites. New Old Stock posts public archive images from the past. This also means that the images lend themselves to very specific use cases. This is the site you want if you’d like black and white images of the early 1900s or sepia toned images of California from the 50s. Visitors can also purchase picture packs of hi-resolution images of various categories.
Unlike the other stock photo sites featured here, Magdeleine doesn’t offer an “About Us” page, so there’s not much to say about who runs the website. Visitors can browse through images that have been submitted by artists, or they can select from a few different categories. Magdeleine also allows you to choose only photos that have a Creative Commons License.
Bonus Tip: More design resources
GraphicBurger is a design resource website that a wide variety of free assets that visitors can download. This site is perfect if you’re looking to take the appearance of your emails to the next level, or if you’re lacking a graphic designer in house. GraphicBurger has mock-ups, text effects, icons, photos, and other things you can use to give your emails some extra flare. It’s definitely worth exploring, especially if you’re interested in testing new elements in your email campaigns.
Created in 2014 after Czech webdesigner, Jan Vasek, was frustrated that he was forced to pay hundreds of dollars for images to use in his projects. Since then, Jan has posted hundreds of his own photos for people to download and use for free on Jeshoots. As of May 2018, his photos have been downloaded more than 1.4 million times.
This highly curated stock photo and video website is owned and operated as a cooperative to provide artists with a platform to sell their royalty-free artwork. While you may have to pay for the images or videos downloaded from Stocksy, you can also rest assured that the images you’re choosing are high-quality and support the artists who created them.
This stock photo site isn’t free, but it does offer a unique way to browse and download images. When you create a Twenty20 account, you also select the types of subjects that you’d like to see, like selfies, nature, fitness, or food and drink photos. Once your account is set up, your photo feed is populated with images of the subjects you’ve chosen. You also get information about each of the images with details on what they should or should not be used for.
Bonus Tip: Canva
Canva is a graphic design website that gives you all the tools you need to develop and export images (and other collateral) for all your marketing needs. Canva gives you a platform to find photos, add text elements to them, and export the final image for use in whatever campaign you want. Canva is an email marketer’s
best friend when you find yourself in an image bind and need to spice things up a little bit. It’s also easy enough to use for those of us who don’t have design experience!
Boasting 335 million free stock photos, Foter allows you to filter images by category, attribution type, or license. Visitors are also given directions for what to do if attribution is needed for the photo they want to use. Once you register for an account, you can download photos you like, or add them to your personal lightbox, allowing you to save all images you may want to use from Foter in one place.
Kaboompics is “one of the most popular sources of free images for lifestyle, interior design and specialized bloggers in world.” Visitors can search by photoshoots (collections of photos of a subject), color palette, or by recently uploaded images and categories. Kaboompics also has a blog that features content and information about how to use the images on the site, as well as other articles about design that you may find helpful.
The stock images in your next email marketing campaign certainly don’t need to feel “stock.” By using the websites above, along with some simple editing, you can easily include interesting and appealing images in your next email.
That being said, images and graphics are just one element that recipients ingest when opening, reading, and ultimately, engaging with your marketing emails. Make sure you’re also taking into account content, CTAs, and subject lines so that recipients are eager to get your next message.
You can learn more about how to make sure your first email marketing campaign is successful by checking out our newest webcast Email Expedition: Your First Marketing Send. This webcast will give you excellent information on preparation, developing content, design tips, and delivery best practices so that your recipients love your next send!