I am looking into developing a vintage-inspired line of note cards. My question is: Is there a certain website people use to get these images, or are they drawn from scratch? I’m just throwing the question out there. I’ve seen “royalty-free” images. What does that mean exactly?

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You need to research the Dover Publications books. They do an excellent job of publishing historical illustrations from Durer to retro clip art illustrations of the 50’s, circus, animals, etc.


“Royalty free” typically means that an image is in the public domain. Either the copyright has expired or it was never copyright protected…. and thus nobody actually owns the rights to it.

Out there in the world there are literally millions and millions of images that are free for the taking. These can be in the form of old publications, books, and so forth. Copyright laws vary greatly from country to country, but in the United States, a publication that is over 100 years old is automatically considered to be in the public domain…. and those older than 50 years are also fair game IF the copyright holder has not renewed it. (This does not hold true for trademarks, though… they are protected for as long as the company exists)

What Dover does is compile many of these images into nice, neat collections for graphic designers. They do not own the rights to most of images they publish…. they have just gathered them from a myriad of public domain sources.

As far as web-sites goes, there are many sites that have downloadable images you can use, including Briar Press. While the sites might not own the copyrights to the images they offer, they may charge a small fee for them to cover their costs of digitizing and presenting them. It’s only reasonable that you pay them for their efforts.

One thing I’d like to point out, is that if you use standard Dover-type artwork, then your finished piece runs the risk of looking like everyone else’s work. I’d recommend that you seek out old publications, and find pieces that are not in the Dover books or on web-sites….. or create them yourself. It will help your work stand out among the crowd.

wowzers! somehow my single post got posted three times! So I deleted the redundant ones…..