Royalty-free Images for Presentations

Dan Hughes
July 25, 2020
Good news: you don't need a steam powered camera to add great images to your presentations!

Welcome to the inaugural article in our #tradecraft category. A colleague asked me today where I get the images for my presentations, so I opted to publish this to share with others as needed. As a strategic consultant, you most definitely need to have a reasonably strong presentation game. Over the years, I have tended a garden of media sources I can use when putting that final polish on my message. Even if you are not a consultant, good visual communication is table stakes for almost anyone with a desk and thumbs in today's digital economy. You may have an unlimited budget for premium image purveyors. If not, here are some ideas for royalty-free images for those presentations!

Quick Tips

First, here are a few quick tips about using images in presentations:

  1. Aim for visual consistency. You should consider multiple facets when evaluating consistency: theme, color, type, and dimension. Type refers to whether the image is a photo, graphic, cartoon, etc. Dimension refers to flat or 3D perspectives. As with all design, you can choose to include an inconsistent image on purpose to make a point or offer contrast, but don't do it by accident!
  2. Be mindful of the image size. Nobody wants to receive an 80mb presentation with 10K information and 79.99mb of clipart. You will want to have an image editor handy to shrink images. Using vector (e.g., SVG) vs. pixel (e.g., PNG, JPG) format graphic images will also help reduce the size.
  3. Pay attention to licenses. Images have all sorts of licenses for usage. The myriad of options are outside the scope of this article. Still, any image user should take the time to understand them and ensure that they have the legal right to use the image they inserted into their presentation. Here's a #ProTip: Free doesn't always mean "do whatever you want with this image with no limitations." Royalty-free means you don't have to pay costs every time the image is used or viewed. Still, even royalty-free images often have upfront costs or usage constraints.

One of the tricks for finding spectacular royalty-free images for your presentations is patience! You may have to hunt through multiple sources to find an image that works. Another #ProTip: Some image sources will not index images well based on abstract topics, but will index based on what the image depicts. You may need to decide what image would best elevate your message, then search for that instead. For example, instead of "strategy," you should also search for "puzzle," if you think a puzzle is a good representation for a strategy.

Roll Your Own

One obvious avenue for free images is to create your own. Of course, the quality of these custom creations will depend on your artistic skill level, but taking a photograph with your phone or camera should be in almost anyone's wheelhouse. If it is your creation, you can allow yourself to use it as a royalty-free image! Besides, rudimentary drawings by a less-skilled "artist" could be considered a theme for the right presentation. One of the benefits of producing your images is that you can design them correctly to reinforce your message, which is the goal of adding the image.

Some sweet homemade clipart using PowerPoint shapes to illustrate the value of an effective process.

Even the most artistically challenged can achieve success using charts, graphs, and diagrams done in simple notations to illustrate a point.

A UML Activity Diagram or flowchart doesn't require artistic talent and makes a wonderful accent image for a presentation.

Use the Built-In Options

Many presentation tools include access to a repository of images or integrate a filtered search by license for royalty-free images. This is easy to access and it is easy to insert the images, but the little search window often results in a long scroll to find an image. Therefore, if you'd like to go this route, I would recommend going to a search engine (google, bing, etc.) and searching there yourself.

Before we propose other image sources, I wanted to make sure it was clear that we have no affiliation with any service mentioned. We receive no compensation for mentioning these services and are simply trying to share what has worked for us.

The Noun Project

I am pulling The Noun Project out for special mention. It is probably one of my favorites. There is a low cost to join the "Pro Plan," and once you join, welcome to royalty free image heaven:

  1. Use any of the million+ icons royalty-free.
  2. Pick the color of the icon (they are monochrome).
  3. Use as SVG or PNG.
  4. Easily add to presentations using a wide variety of application plugins.

You may be wondering why I am so exuberant about the noun project.

Example of using Noun Project icons to bling a list of items

There are so many reasons:

  1. They have a fantastic selection of icons
  2. It is easy to search and insert using the plugins
  3. The monochrome icons make it easier for someone with low design skills not to overdo it
  4. They make a boring bullet list look much slicker, without much work

No Cost Royalty-free Image Sources

Here are some additional no cost sources I use when constructing presentations. They all have no membership fee, and images are royalty-free, although some have some restrictions and attribution requirements. I will usually pick one for a project and stick with it as I find it is easier to find consistent images that way.

The Traditionalists: Pexels and Unsplash and Pixabay, Stocksnap, Reshot, and Foca Stock

All of these are pretty reliable sources for royalty-free images. They also have decent indexes, which means you can get results for abstract search terms in addition to the literal contents of the images. Make sure to select images carefully as some of the sites make their money by intermingling commercial images in the search results. The images that are not royalty-free are labeled accordingly and, who knows, you might see one you want to buy!

Library of Congress

Not sure what you would do with this one, but you can get it free at the Library of Congress!

Yup. Royalty-free images from the library of congress. In addition to having some typical photos, it also contains some interesting historical images of everything from events to newspapers that would work well as a theme. The searching is very literal, so you will need to be creative.

This is a neat search tool that searches a many repositories for Creative Commons open licensed and public domain images. They all fall under the creative commons license structure, and it has a pretty intuitive search interface.

Open Image Collections

This is a fun one! It bills itself as "a collection of digital image sources suitable for teaching, learning, and research." It is a catalog of 115 and counting sources, and you can search sources by license types. Once you select a source, you need to click through to the source and do your searching there; some are easy to search, and some not so easy. However, you can find some fascinating and unique collections to make your presentation stand out!

royalty-free Images
What's not to love about these cute little 3D stick figures? Perfect for a chuckle heading into that super-boring slide.

Paying for Royalty-Free Images

Of course, there are a wide variety of quality sources for royalty-free images. Some offer memberships, some sell images individually, and some do a mix of both. I use two of these, but it was less through extensive research and more because I stumbled across them, and they have served me well. I primarily use Envato Elements, where I have a membership for unlimited use. Then, because I am a fan of the 3D stick figures they seem to have a lot of, I sometimes purchase images from 123RF.

Happy Presenting

I hope that was useful for you. Journey forth, find awesome royalty-free images for your presentations, and be prosperous!

If you think you could use some support to improve the way your organization communicates complex technical topics and architectures, please contact us! We are experts at crafting IT Strategy and Architecture related messaging for communicating, training, brown bag lunches, boardroom updates, and presentations in general.

Dan is the founder of Wittij Consulting. Prior to founding Wittij, he spent a decade in software development before moving into IT architecture, where he created an Open Group recognized architecture method and led delivery of all services for a company specializing in enterprise and solution architecture for 15 years. He is an energetic, thoughtful leader with an ability to engage and motivate people, and has been called a “force multiplier” for his ability to not only deliver great value, but also increase the value and capability of the people around him. Dan is a strong facilitator, able to understand and resolve complex disagreements with diplomacy. He comprehends and communicates clearly both at the detail level and the boardroom summary level to both business and technical audiences. His knowledge of enterprise techniques and technologies is broad and deep, and includes industry expertise in manufacturing, financial services, banking, health care, insurance, regulatory compliance, and NGOs.
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