38 Free and Low Cost Image Tools for your Online Business

There are hundreds of tools to help you design images, source photos and create great pictures to accompany your content.

You know it all too well: Using images to accompany your social media content and digital advertising is critical to driving engagement. Leveraging the right imagery at the right time can generate high click-through and conversion rates on your promoted content and your ads, across social media and online marketplaces.

The science has proven it.  According to Douglas Karr over at Martech Zone:

  • Adding a picture can increase recall of marketing messaging by 65%
  • Two thirds of people say they’re visual learners
  • Articles with relevant imagery get 94% more views compared to those without any imagery
  • Images on Facebook receive 352% more engagement than links alone
  • 60% of consumers say they’re more likely to consider or contact a business that has an image show up in local search results.

A recent 2017 Venngage survey of 500 online marketers showed that more than 90% of their online content contained visuals.  Of the visuals that were used most frequently:

  • 40% came from stock photography
  • 37% came from original graphics (like infographics)
  • 12% from charts and data visualization
  • 7% from videos and presentations
  • 4% from Gifs and memes

That same survey showed that original graphics, like infographics, performed the best, with stock photography, gifs and memes performing the worst. So finding and creating photos and images that align with your message and your brand is important if you want to capture your audience’s attention, interest and conversion.  However creating original images and graphics is no insignificant task, and in 2019, marketers are spending more time and money than ever before on generating original designs for online content and advertising.

Amongst marketers who are creating original graphics needed for digital advertising:

65% of marketers spend more than 2 hours a week producing visualizations
  • 10% use freelance designers
  • 11% use desktop software like Adobe
  • 30% use in-house designers
  • 49% used an online tool or graphic design software

When asked what part of the visual content creation process they could automate, 42% – the largest cohort – wished they could automatically generate multiple design variants based upon the content they input.

It’s a costly and time consuming challenge.  And the digital ad industry is throwing even more challenges at you.  Some online advertising platforms will famously restrict the amount of text that is included in your advertising imagery, Facebook being most notoriously strict, and even providing an “Image Text Check” tool which will tell you if the amount of text in your image is acceptable.  Not only do you need to spend a lot of time and effort to create compelling images, ad marketplaces are making it more important than ever before to communicate your original messages in a purely visual form.

In addition to this need for images to support your messages, there are a myriad of image formats required to match the ad platform constraints. All characteristics of the images must match the platform’s requirements in order to be approved and launched, from Image pixel depth and color, to size and aspect ratio.

Whole Whale has gathered a list of the image sizes and aspect ratios required to display on Google’s Ad Network, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and more. There are dozens of image sizes needed depending on where you are planning to promote your content, and there are a dizzying array of form factors required to match the image dimensions enforced by the platforms. From skyscrapers to leaderboards, from sidebars to newsfeed images, it’s become a time-consuming challenge for graphic designers to built the library of images required to get your brand’s image promoted digitally.  Given that most multi channel ad campaigns have an average lifespan of just over 6 weeks, creating novel sets of images 8- or 10-times a year can become a significant part of a marketing department’s resource allocation and budget.

When asked about the challenges in producing engaging visual content, 35% of digital marketers reported that the biggest struggle was producing engaging visuals consistently, with 58% spending more than 10% of their budgets on creating visuals in 2018 and one third reporting than they’d spend more than 30% of their budget in 2019.

So, how can marketers claw back some of the time and effort it takes to create these images? Where can you find low cost or free images and photos for your ads? How can you create original images to accompany your social posts and blogs?

In this post, we’ve collected the best of the free and paid tools available to you in order to allow you to:

  • Source stock images and videos for your digital ads and posts
  • Create graphics for your online content sharing and digital advertising.
  • Use those images to create your ads for all the platforms.
  • Manage the ads once you’ve got them in place

We’ve organized these into two sets of tools:

  1. Stock image providers
  2. Original content creation and manipulation

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but there’s a broad selection here for you to choose from.

Stock Image Providers

Freemium: Services with good free starter plans

There are a number of stock photo services that offer access to decent numbers of stock images at no charge.  Some of these services require some form of attribution – meaning you’ll need to indicate where you got the picture somewhere in your online post.  Others are kind enough to offer the image libraries at absolutely no cost to you. In some cases you’ll need to spend a small amount of money each month to get access to a larger library.

Pixabay

Pixabay claims 1.6 million royalty free stock photos and videos shared by their community. All pixabay images are released under Pixabay’s own license, including for commercial use.

Unsplash

With 850,000 free images from world-class photographes, Unsplash allows free use of their high definition photos.

Stocksnap.io

Like others in this list StockSnap’s free images are licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons CC0 license.  They like it when you attribute them to the photographers listed on their site. However a quick search shows that many images are sourced from Shutterstock’s galleries, which require you to create a free account on Shutterstock’s service to get the images you’re looking for.

Flickr

Flickr Home page

With tens of billions of photos, Flickr offers a huge array of images to inspire your creativity. Given the ease with which true amateurs can share their images, image quality and consistency varies greatly and you’ll likely spend more time searching than finding images. Tagging is also inconsistent and unreliable, which means you’ll be spending more time trying to get to what you’re looking for.  It might be worth upgrading to their paid FlickrPro service starting at around $5 per month.

Pexels

Pexels features a very nice UI that enables you to build and review collections of images. A great search engine and consistent tagging make this a winner.

Burst (by Shopify)

Introduced by Shopify to help their store owners create engaging ecommerce sites, Burst features high quality images and a series of tips and tricks to help budding entrepreneurs use the image libraries for the best effects.  While the catalog is still evolving, we found an excellent array of images to use for your social media posts and online digital advertising needs.

Reshot

This library prides itself on images that don’t look like stock image photography, and we think they’ve done a great job of it.  They also provide handy “packs” of images. In all cases, their UI presents very persistent requests to share your download action on social media. In fact if you attempt to download one of their packs, you must share on Facebook or Twitter, which is disconcerting but an innovative approach to increasing virality of the service

FoodiesFeed

This free gallery is all about your inner gourmet.  Started by a keen food photographer with an eye for the delicious, FoodiesFeed provides images of every kind of food you can imagine, all licensed under creative commons.  Since they allow and encourage advertising on their platform, you might find other paid stock photography services (like iStock) promoted on their site, but it doesn’t detract from the amazing libraries of images available to you.

Gratisography

These galleries provide some of the most innovative and creative images available from any online photo service – paid or free.  Be warned: if you’re looking for a specific image that meets a specific business need, you may not find the images you are looking for, but in our opinion you’re more likely to find the images you really need. Amazing photography in high quality that you won’t find anywhere else.

Freestocks.org

The quality and variety of this site isn’t as deep as some others, and you may be hard pressed to find anything close to what you’re looking for, but that doesn’t detract from the incredible quality and innovation employed in putting together these carefully curated galleries.

Picography

Like others on this list, Picography seems to rely on providing affiliate links to paid sites like Shutterstock and Adobe Stock in order to fund it’s operation, and the galleries are shallow, but you’re quite likely to find some arresting images on this no-frills site.

MMT Stock

MMT features both photos and videos on their gallery, and there are many interesting and on-point images on the site, all available under Creative Commons CC0 license.  The categories might be a little shallow compared to others, but clearly these images have been handselected for quality.

Picjumbo

Another site with a small number of quality photos, this one has a unique offering: You can download their entire catalog (20GB) – all images being well-named – all at once, for a “name your price” offer (recommended starting fee: $15.)   

Kaboom Pics

Kaboom is the brainchild of a self-professed “one woman show” and therefore has a very small but well curated selection of images. If you’re looking for something specific, it may be hard for you to find what you’re looking for, but you can support the site by clicking on results that will appear from iStock.

SkitterPhoto

An ad supported site that encourages donations to the contributing photographers, Skitterphoto has high quality images with a limited category set.   Once nice touch is the addition of the photographic settings used to capture the images, a boon to budding photographers.

Skitterphoto home page

Paid Stock Photo Services

In our experience, it’s always advisable to spend a little to get a lot more, and the services listed here offer access to millions of high quality, royalty-free images with a dizzying array of searchable terms to find just what you’re looking for.  Generally, the more you pay, the more you get, with the more expensive services offering you personalized image libraries so you can tag and store images for later use without necessarily having to pay for or download them. These are handy when you want share images with colleagues for review and approval, or save and categorize them into folders based on your projects.

Death to the Stock Photo

We used to include this in our list of free services above, however truthfully they start with a 14-day free trial, which is plenty of time to determine if DTTSP is right for you.  They pride themselves on the curation of unique images from talented and artistic photographers, and we think you won’t be disapointed. , so this is the place to go to find images that are out of the ordinary.

Snapwire Snaps

This service matches digital advertising marketers like you with hundreds of thousands of photographers and graphic designers to build a custom portfolio for you.  Pricing for indivitual images varies, and Xtra large images go for around $500. The rates that photographers can earn is: https://www.snapwi.re/payouts

iStock Photo

Part of the Getty family, iStock is one of the best all round services for price, searchability, usability and variety.  Pricing starts at around $35 and that gets you 3 credits to download ad-hoc images. For $80 a month (paid a year in advance) you can get 10 images per month, which is a decent rate for marketers who are actively creating new graphics for their social media content and digital ads.  iStock is around $100 per month for 10 pictures. Discounts for annual prepayment.

Adobe Stock

Integration with Adobe’s marketing cloud suite is a bonus if you’re an active user of PhotoShop.  Like the other giants in this list of paid providers, Adobe Stock’s galleries are deep and well categorized.  You can also search with an image, which is a bonus: Upload an image you like, and find many more like it. (Note that Adobe Stock just acquired Fotolia, so their pricing and catalogs are now merged.) Starts at $30 per month for 10 assets, with a free 1 month trial.

Adobe Stock homepage

Shutterstock

Shutterstock now features video and music assets in addition to their 240 million images.  A dizzying array of categories and options, they’re one of the giants. You’d be hard pressed to walk away with nothing that you want. You can get started by buying a pack of 2 images for $29, which is a great way to learn if they’re right for you. Starting at $49 per month for 10 assets. Discounts for annual prepayment.

Getty Images

The gorilla in the room, not only does Getty image feature a massive library of royalty-free images, they also feature galleries of celebrities, archival photos dating to the earliest days of photography, to iconic images from the press and media. Pricey, but you get what you pay for.  Best for large organizations with significant and ongoing image needs. $175 for a single download.  Monthly prices available on request.

Crestock

Crestock’s dated UI shouldn’t put you off. Excellent pricing and 2.5 Million images means they have one of the lowest price offerings on the market, combined with a broad selection. While not as extensive as some of the “bigs” on this list, they’ve clearly found their niche and provide some amazingly artistic images inside their catalog. Starts as low as $10 for a pack of 10 images

Crestock home page
Source: Crestock homepage

Alamy

Over 155 Million images and vectors on file makes this a very deep catalog, and we were pleased with our search results.  We liked this service because we didn’t need to purchase a pack of multiple images, or a monthly subscription. Starting at $19.99 per single image purchase. $59.99 for business use.

BigStock

Bigstock has 78 Million images and videos on file.  A great mid-pack solution with decent pricing. There are larger catalogs available for less, but there are definitely some deals on this site, with flexible pricing and a collection of eye-popping illustrations from talented artists. 5 images a day for $79 per month

Purestock (from Superstock)

Not the largest catalog, but one of the least expensive, and – we think – a well-curated set of images that will differentiate your digital artwork against the more classic and boring images available from the largest catalogs.  If you’re not looking for 150 almost-identical versions of “woman with computer” then Purestock might be right for you. Starting at $25 per month for 10 downloads

Thinkstock (by Getty Images)

Like iStock, another member of the Getty Image behemoth.  Not much to say other than you end up getting redirected into iStock and Getty galleries very quickly.

Original content creation and manipulation

There are many free or low-priced online services available to marketers to help them create images for their online content. (We’re leaving out the classic suite of image editing apps like PhotoShop, or tools that just let you edit images without letting you format them for digital ad platforms (feel free to reach out and correct us!)).  This list focuses on well-reviewed modern, inexpensive and innovative graphic image tools that make it easy for marketers to format images for digital advertising and social sharing platforms.

Creating Still Images

Canva

Although Canva does have service plans to make it easier to resize images, upload your brand elements, animate graphics and more, Canva’s free model offers great features. Build simple and compelling social content or ads from a huge selection of fonts, styles, templates, icons and images.  Their UI has evolved in the past three years to be feature rich and diversified. It’s never been easier to create simple graphics quickly. We’ve been fans of Canva for years and highly recommend this innovative service.

Canva home page

Bannersnack
Bannersnack lets you generate animate and publish digital banners in a broad variety of image layouts suited for digital ad platforms and social media content publishers. Simple editing and graphic tools make it easy for even the least tech savvy to get their message out there. 10 banners free. 30/month starting at $7 per month billed annually.

Ceros

Create dazzling animated graphics for your site with Ceros. No code or software development, Ceros goes beyond static or lightly animated images to fully formed animations built  from your own designs and uploaded images, to showcase on your digital properties. Pricing unavailable.

Fotor

With 300,000 online users, Fotor provides advanced photo editing and design tools for marketers who might lack the budget or skills necessary to get into Photoshop. In addition to standard photo editing and manipulation tools like crop, rotate and color changes, they provide templates and stock images as well as a free trial to evaluate the tools.  Images are watermarked and the interface is ad-supported until you sign up for a paid plan.

Stencil

Stencil’s great mix of stock photos (2 Million +), almost 800 templates and 2,500 fonts means that they’re giving Canva a run for their money.  Like Canva, there’s an attractive Free plan that gives you 10 saved images per month, and unlimited for only $15 per month when paid annually. We like their UI and definitely appreciate their stock photo library.

Pixlr

Pixlr focusses on their photo editing capabilities, and while they have an impressive array of photo editing and manipulation tools (I especially like their quick filter tool), they don’t offer some of the more creative graphic overlays and templates available from some of the other image creation tools in this list.  Upgrading to Pixlr X or Pixlr Pro (available in a free trial version) lets you get access to PSD templates and more sophisticated tools.

Visme

Visme is a sophisticated graphic creation and image editing tool designed for marketing pros who are looking to significantly improve their presentation game.  With templates for infographics, charts and data widgets, and millions of icons, images and fonts, Visme is a compelling all-round tool for marketers tired of their team’s existing creative outputs.   Plus unlike some of the other providers here, they have a big catalog of training videos and documentation to help you get started.

Designbold

DesignBold is a templating tool that focused your design journey on starting from a template. They include more classic designs suitable for print media – like wedding invitations and flyers. They have a number of templates for digital posts, and stretch to Resumes and presentation templates. They provide graphic design tools and image filters for an all in one tool for those small businesses looking for something to help them with all aspects of their creative process.  Pricing starts at $0 for limited storage and 10,000 non-premium layouts,.

Creating Video and GIF content

Animatron

Ideal for creating marketing videos, HTML5 banners and video animations for your site, Animatron offers powerful tools to create “whiteboard” style videos right on up to movie editing.  They provide video clips and audio snippets, photos and graphic tools. Animatron is about speed and results. A $0 version lets you try before you buy, and $15 per month paid annually removes watermarks, increases storage, and allows you to make your projects private.

Soapbox by Wistia

Soapbox for Wistia on the Chrome Store
Soapbox for Wistia on the Chrome Store

This is a simple little Chrome plugin lets you record and share presentation videos. Wistia Soapbox is a perfect tool for demonstrations and slide shows that you want to record and share. Their USP is allowing you to record and share your webcam and screen simultaneously, and letting you switch between the two. A $0 watermarked version is available, and then pricing immediately jumps to an eye-watering $99 per month to remove watermarks and a max of 10 free videos (each other video is $0.25 per month).

Giphy

There are so many gif creation tools, but Giphy is one of the best along with their seizure-inducing galleries of some of the latest and greatest gifs. Easy and free to use.  Nuff said.

Creating Infographics

Venngage

A great designer will always be able to create a great infographic, but for those of us who are graphically-challenged, Venngage is one of the best and fastest ways to create an engaging infographic (!) from scratch. Worth every penny, Venngage is the starter tool to get you turning your insightful data into delightful imagery. The $0 Free plan lets you create up to 5 infographics watermarked with Venngage’s brand (but we have to admit, it’s pretty subtle.  Start there, and move up to the next tier of $19 paid annually, which removes the watermarking, adds new charts and icons and lets you export. Which is worth the money if you’re sharing a lot of data.

Piktochart

Piktochart goes beyond infographics to include templates for presentations, reports, flyers and posters, which is great for small local businesses. Their library of 800 templates provides a healthy array of options to get started. Their Teams product adds some sophistication to allow you to comment on your colleagues work and get feedback right away, organize the images you create into folders, and keep centralized palettes of your brand elements. It’s not the cheapest option, but there’s a 30 day trial, and you can get started for about $25 per month paid annually.


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