Skip to main content Review: Get Free Images for Your Web Site or Application

I have a new favorite site this week. The other day I was looking for a picture of a swimming pool for a mobile app I'm writing (more on that later). Much to my excitement, I stumbled upon an online image catalog called Pixabay. This site claims to have over 360,000 images that can be used free of charge. Their terms of service indicate that every image is bound to the CC0 Public Domain license, which puts them into the public domain, and thus can be used for any legal purpose.

The site is attractive and easy to use. I typed "swimming pool" into the search box and was quickly rewarded with more than 450 images to review.

Pixabay offers three different types of images: photos, vector graphics, and illustrations. You can choose a single image type or all. I changed my search to include only photos, which reduced my search results to 414. Obviously most of their images of swimming pools are photographs.

There are more search options available. You can search by portrait or landscape orientation, which Pixabay calls vertical or horizontal. You can also search by category, dominant color, transparent, or even black and white images. The end result is that it isn't hard to find the right image for your needs.

The search results were conveniently organized into a grid resembling a light box that most people will find intuitive. The first row of images were "sponsored" by I get it. That's how they make their money. Quite frankly, the free images were of no lesser quality than the sponsored ones.

Navigating the search results is simple. There are pager controls at the top and bottom of the grid. It irritates me whenever I see a website that only has pager controls at the top or bottom. How hard is it to do both? Further demonstrating their understanding of how most people will browse the search results, there is a big green "Next page" button at the bottom. As you hover over an image, a larger preview pops up, letting you see it better. Very handy, and again, well thought out. Thank you, Pixabay, for spending a few extra minutes on your page design.

Clicking on an image takes you to its detail page, containing the artist name, how long ago the image was uploaded, how many times it's been viewed and downloaded, and its license. So far, I have only seen public domain licenses that are "Free for commercial use / No attribution required." Some images include the details of the camera that took the pictures and its settings (shutter speed, lens focal length, aperture, etc.) Below the image are thumbnails of similar images from the site. There is also a small collection of Shutterstock-sponsored images that I found to be somewhat related to the image selected.

The only catch I have found is that you have to register with Pixabay if you want to download any of their images. That only seems fair. Registration is free and quick. They don't even require any personal information other than your email address. In the month since I signed up, they haven't sent me a single email or bothered me in any way. Nor have I suddenly and mysteriously been inundated with ads for the types of images I have searched for.

Once registered, you can download an image from its detail page. Simply select the image size you want from S, M, L, or XL and click the big green Download button. The actual image dimensions and file sizes are conveniently displayed, so you will be sure you get the exact image you want.

Pixabay appears to be trying to make itself a social network of imaging, and it has all of the tools you'd expect to make that happen. You can "like" images, leave comments, mark an image as a favorite, or share it on Facebook and Google+. You can even follow or message a favorite artist. Intelligent hyperlinks throughout the site let you immediately find other images by the same artist, taken by the same camera, etc.

One of my favorite features is the Coffee button. On an image detail page is a green button labeled "Coffee." When you download an image, you are presented again with a similar button. Clicking it will take you to, where you can contribute any amount you feel appropriate to the artist. I presume many of their artists use Pixabay as a portfolio, and as a way to get noticed.

If you are a fledgling artist, or even a seasoned professional, Pixabay makes it easy for you to upload your own photos. They have a full page describing their image quality guidelines, along with plenty of examples of what not to submit. There is even a list of image tags their users are searching for. If you upload ten or more photos, they say they will remove all ads. I haven't tried this yet, but I might.

In summary, Pixabay contains an impressive collection of high-quality, beautiful and useful images, all free of charge, that can be used for practically any purpose you can imagine. Not only did I find the perfect background image I needed, I found an image to use as a splash screen, and even a mobile application icon. The process was quick and simple. And it sure beats paying tens or even hundreds of dollars for a "professional" image.

If you have your own portfolio of images, Pixabay is a great way to set up an online portfolio. If you decide to upload your images, leave a link in the comments here. Who knows? Maybe I'll download your image for my next project and buy you a cup of coffee.


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