If you are looking for great illustrations for your website, social media posts poster, flyer, business card, etc then you have a few choices. We all know you should use them, the question is where do you find them? You could draw something up yourself, you could have something drawn for you by a professional illustrator or you could choose something readymade. The last option is what we refer to as “Stock Illustrations”. These are the illustrations, graphics, and images that are sitting online waiting for you to give them life by letting them out into the light.
The advantages of stock illustrations are numerous, firstly, and perhaps most importantly is the price, they are usually much cheaper than custom illustrations and often can be used for free. Added to this big plus, is the fact that the choice is incredible, you can find all types of illustrations, in all styles, all professionally created, and all available instantly at the click of a download button and in formats that are ready to use. You don’t have to sit around waiting for an artist to do their thing, and that’s after you’ve tried to explain your ideas and concepts for the illustration.
The downside is that stock illustrations are available to everybody, your choice could be used by others, and you would be very unlucky – given the vast choice available but your competitor might be using the same image. These images are not yours, you haven’t got control over them and you can’t copyright them.
That said stock illustrations are a superb way of adding some real style to your project at a bargain price and the sites available will astound you with their choice and quality. Some sites are free, others free but with some limitations, and we’ll guide you through the very very best. But we’ll also show off some of the finest sites to buy images (subscription and credits) and even show you where to find communities of designers and freelancers who will produce something unique just for you. Something of all requirements.
1. Free Stock Illustration Websites
Vector Characters has a great selection of brilliantly illustrated cartoon-style characters (and icons, emojis, graphics) that are available as absolutely free downloads without any attribution whatsoever. You can choose a character or a bundle of characters from the navigation bar categories and simply click to download. These are especially useful if you want to create a consistent style or branding style. The downloads come in vector file formats like Ai and PDF, as well as in transparent PNG files so you’ve got plenty of flexibility. All the vector characters are completely scalable without any loss of quality. Once you’ve got the hang of it, and if you like the style it is possible to order custom characters directly from the same site.
- free illustrations without attribution for all uses
- free bundles
- multiple formats
- specialist cartoon illustrations
- excellent for using different characters to create a style or branding
- limited to cartoon style characters
Pixabay is one of the big boys in this market, so you’ll have plenty of choices but remember plenty of others is looking at the same illustrations. Pixabay isn’t limited to illustrations, they do video, photos, and music too. We’ll stick to stock illustrations today and with over 270,000 different examples, you’ll need to narrow down your search. Start by typing your keyword into the search bar, and then go through the further filters, such as orientation, and color until you come across something that fits the bill. The site is linked to stock so some illustrations aren’t free.
- free for all uses, no attribution
- huge choice
- great filters
- open for uploads from all people
Another massive site featuring stock photos as well as stock illustrations, Freepik is a mixed free and premium site (be sure to click on the free button before you search). there are over 17 million users of Freepik so whilst they must be coming for quality and quantity, bear in mind it is a well-used site so your illustration might pop up elsewhere. There are excellent filters and download is easy, although you must attribute the illustration.
- free for all uses
- enormous choice
- great filters
- requires attribution
- open to general contributions
Opendoodles offers a free set of quirky highly stylized sketched character illustrations. There’s not a vast choice but what you have is great and they can be edited for color before downloading. Ideal for designers to use as placeholders, you can download as SVG or PNG.
- free for all usage
- stylish sketched illustrations
- perfect of quick placeholders
- very limited number
- single style
- only characters
Smash illustration gives you the chance of using over 250 free characters and objects and putting them into over 20 unique scenes, thus creating your own illustration using their generator. Perfect for storytelling and use on websites and mobile devices. The consistent style heavy style character with unusually small facial features is distinctive, this will make your stories memorable but if you’re unlucky enough for someone close to have used the same it will be immediately obvious. If you like the style and get the hang of it, there’s the possibility to upgrade for more characters and regular updates.
- free for commercial and personal use
- generate your own illustrations
- distinctive style
- paid upgrades
- one style
Humaaans is a free library to mix-&-match illustrations of people. Similar to Smash you can create your own illustrations but here you have greater customizing power allowing you to customize their positions, clothing, colors, and hairstyles. and rotate features. Then you add backgrounds and change the colors to create something original and use the templates for ease. It’s available on Sketch, Figma, InVision Studio, and Adobe XD with flat SVG and PNG.
- free for all uses
- generate something original
- people only
- distinctive style
absurd.design has a set of free surrealist illustrations for app or landing page messages, presentations, articles, or anything else you can think of. The style is as distinctive as you’d expect and you can truly stand out if this suits your theme. Whilst there is a free option there is also the possibility of buying a set for your own exclusive use.
- Possibility to purchase, become yours
- requires link
- limited to surrealist style
DrawKit is an illustration framework. DrawKit is a comprehensive, powerful, and complete system allowing you to edit and customize illustrations. You can download themed packs in SVG or PNG such as education & online learning, or even COVID 19.
- free for all uses, no attribution
- themed packs
- One style
1.9. Scale 2.flexiple
Scale by 2.flexiple is a new open-source supplier of illustrations. There are daily additions and color customization for branding. It’s quite limited at the moment but it’s one to keep an eye on as they have some exciting updates planned including skin color options and gender options.
- daily additions
- free without attribution
- limited choice
- set scenes
Vecteezy is the largest vector graphic community in the world (they also do photos). They include free license stock illustrations as well as a paid-for Pro license. You can search through keywords and then slim down your criteria with some limited filters. Upgrading to the pro version gives you a much broader choice and greater flexibility.
- Free options for commercial and personal use
- Lots of choices
- Good range of styles
- Attribution required
- Poor filters
Lukasz Adam is an illustrator, designer, and developer who offers a limited number of high-quality free illustrations as well as Premium illustrations on his own site. There is a small but neat selection of characters, icons, and other illustrations all in a lovely cartoon style.
- free for all uses, no attribution
- consistent style
- Single artist with single style
- limited number
Vexels has over 20,000 free vectors and graphics ready to download. Many are editable before download. Some are signposted as print-ready. It can be difficult to find free graphics as they are all mixed, but it may be worth the effort.
- Free for personal, educational use but requires attribution
- Good selection
- Print-ready options
- Paid for commercial use
- Needs to check the site for details of use
A simple site with keyword navigation or browse by category. There are some well-flagged premium stock illustrations but many free graphics to choose from. A variety of styles and techniques and a simple click to download. Free versions require attribution via a link.
- free with attribution
- good choice of styles
- easy navigation
- requires attribution
2. Premium Stock Illustration Websites
The choice of free illustration is rather tempting and you have seen from the above that there is quite a choice. However, some of the free sites featured do have premium paid-for choices as well.
Because whilst free is certainly cheaper it may not be the best quality and your illustrations are going to represent you in a very important way and hopefully for a long period of time. The other option is to go for something slightly more sophisticated without going down the whole custom design road.
In this section, we’ll look at some of the specialist sites that supply premium stock illustrations.
Some of the best stock illustration websites:
GraphicMama’s cartoon-style illustrations certainly stand out and grab the attention. There is a large variety of characters including animals all in sets that come complete with a mass of different poses and therefore are perfect for presentation and branding in all forms. All are fully editable and customizable. The site also has design bundles and animated puppets. Prices are worked out as credits and full sets are available from as little as $31.
- High quality, professional designs
- Inexpensive for multiple uploads
- fully editable vector + transparent sizes,
- a lot of free graphics,
- mainly cartoon-style illustrations
Shutterstock is quite simply a stock illustration giant with over 70 million images and more added monthly. Every topic, style, and theme is covered and the extremely advanced search tool will help you find what you are looking for. Shutterstock works as a subscription service from $20 per month for up to 10 images and higher fees for more stock illustrations or you can use a one-off $29 credit pack fee for 5 images.
- Huge variety of stock illustrations
- frequent additions
- well used resource – the risk of seeing your chosen image elsewhere
- quite expensive
- can’t buy individual images
2.3. Adobe Stock
Adobe offers predictably high quality, professional stock illustrations of every kind, all found by advanced search features or keywords. It provides useful integration with other creative cloud applications and includes other kinds of stock such as video and photos. There is a free trial offer for 30-days and subscriptions start at $29.99 per month for up to 10 images. You can buy credit packs starting from $49.95 for 5 credits.
- advanced search features
- creative cloud integrations
- huge choice
- Can’t buy individual images
- a little pricey
iStockphoto by Getty contain plenty of illustration and vectors despite its name. Illustrations are categorized by style, and there are lots of styles. Then the advanced filter system takes you wherever you need to be, filtering by color, orientation, image size, etc. You can buy credits: for $20 – 3 credits or subscribe for $45 per month for a year, there are also free images available.
- greatly advanced search filters
- weekly free images
- great choice of styles
- No free trial
- can’t buy individual images
deposit photos have illustrations as well as photos and videos. The choice is good and the idea of filtering via technique (painting, drawing, watercolor, etc) is refreshing and there are some excellent editor’s hand-picked selections. You can’t buy single images but the prices are cheaper than many other services, $20 per month for up to 30 images on subscription, or 10 images for $40 on demand. You can upgrade for more images.
- relatively cheap
- good variety
- good quality
- no single images
2.6. Getty Images
Getty Images is huge, iStockPhotos above is the smaller version. There are photos galore but plenty of illustrations to cover all subject areas. The same advanced filters as iStock will help you navigate through the masses. However, with such a choice comes expense with a single small image download being $150 although these become slightly cheaper if you buy packs.
- high quality
- advanced search filters
- very expensive
- no freebies
GraphicRiver is a collection platform of hand-reviewed graphic assets from a community of designers that provide all kinds of graphic assets including of course illustrations. You can browse through categories and select from price ranges, some are under $5. A useful function is the ability to choose the kind of file type you want such as JPEG, TIFF, Transparent, etc. Plus you can search by further tags and ratings but also sales, so you’ll know how many others have chosen the image before you.
- reviewed graphics
- different designers, lots of style and types
- Select by file type
- Individual purchases
- different prices for different licenses, check the details
Icons8 is more than just icons, including vector illustrations and photos as well as music. Click on the vector tab to find illustrations split into categories, you can choose a style and there are links to similar style vectors on opening the one you want. The site also has an inbuilt editor for pre-download editing. There is a limited free plan (limited formats and resolutions) or a subscription plan at $13 per month with a limit of 25 downloads ($.80 per download after the limit is reached.)
- Free plan available
- Free use with links
- Includes an editor and creator
- Not as large as other sites
UI8 is a web-based platform that provides its users with a variety of UI design assets including illustrations (735). The illustrations tend to be scenes to download rather than images. Each set of illustrations is individually priced, and you click on and add it to your cart in a typical online shopping method. Each illustration has further information including compatibility.
- individually priced
- Compatibility information
- limited number of illustrations
- more general design site than just buying images
Is.grpahics is another general designer’s site but does include illustrations. Although quite a limited number, the quality is good. You can choose between a free version that must include a link or buying the vector outright. there is also the option of paying $99 per year for unlimited access to everything on the site. The illustration come in sets rather than single images allowing you to use consistent variation for many types of projects.
- Free version with links
- Individually priced sets
- Good quality
- very limited choice
3. Stock Illustrations from Community Websites
On artist community websites, you can also find amazing free and paid stock illustrations, that they sell, or give for free to promote themselves. Of course, these are also the sites where you can find the designer to create something unique for you.
Dribbble is a social networking platform for digital designers and creatives, which serve as a promotional outlet. There are featured design portfolios, jobs, and recruitment and it is one of the largest platforms for designers to share their work online. It’s a great site for variation and advanced search features will find you anything you need. You’ll need to sign up for a free account and then search around but it is possible to find free or paid stock illustrations from all over the world.
Adobe’s own Behance is a social media platform claiming “to showcase and discover creative work”. Like Dribbble it’s a popular hangout site for designers from all over the world giving a huge variety. Again there are some free stock illustrations available but the site is more about designers showing you, and each other, what they can do
Reddit is a social news platform that allows users to discuss and vote on content that other users have submitted. a search of free illustrations in the search box will bring up interesting links to blogs and sites around the world where you might stumble across just the thing you are looking for.
4. Why use illustrations for your business
You may be asking yourself is it worth using illustrations for your business. You are probably aware that your site or publicity posters, social media accounts, etc need something to grab the attention and break up the text, so you need something. The choice is between photo images and illustrative images, and both have their time and place. There are some advantages of using illustration though that is well worth considering.
4.1. Can save you money on models
An illustration is a piece of work from the imagination, you don’t have to get anyone else involved except for the creator. Photo shots often require models or members of staff. Models require payment, even staff have to be taken away from their normal roles for a time.
4.2. Less copyright and rights issues
Once you’ve fulfilled the requested criteria for your illustration you can use it without any further issues. If you’ve paid for a commissioned illustration, it’s yours to use and you can register it as a trademark or copyright it if you wish. Even free stock illustrations allow you to use them as long as you follow the guidelines of the download and the terms and conditions applied.
4.3. Strong branding
Illustrations are great for creating strong, memorable branding. You’ve got the freedom to create something that represents your business and control over things like style, color, and form. This allows you to grow a consistent presence to emphasize your brand, and the flexibility of usage of illustrations means that the same images can be repeated and adapted for many situations.
4.4. Visualize concept and idea
Illustrations give you the opportunity to express something deeper, the vision, the concept, and the idea of the business. They are a form of art that goes above and beyond the literal. They can add personality and emotion and form a connection to your brand.
4.5. Search Engine Optimization
From a practical point of view, audiences and viewers get a better digital experience with illustrations, and they can speed up a site with a faster download speed than photos. These are things that search engines love.
One thing is for sure you certainly have a wide choice of stock illustration, be it free or paid-for. Every type of category, every style of art is covered somewhere. You aren’t limited to just one site when searching either. Our lists show that many sites are similar in function but they will contain different images. It’s probably best to have a fair idea of what you want, rather than just browsing otherwise you’ll be overwhelmed. Think about what you are going to use the image for, is it a one-off project, or are you looking to use it again and again in different areas? How are you going to use the image, on the web, in print, or both? Do you want a single image or a set of illustrations for increased flexibility? All these are questions that could do to be answered before you dive into the incredible choice available.