Royalty free images meaning

Let’s define the term first. Royalties are ongoing payments that the author of a piece of art gets regularly. For example, a writer receives royalties for each sold copy of their book. An actor can have royalties for each usage of a footprint with their participation. A photographer may be paid for each picture published, changed or used in any other way.

Quite obviously, the "royalty-free images" term just means that there are no such ongoing payments, but it doesn’t mean that the image is completely free. It may still be protected with the copyright, and you need to buy a license to use it.

Copyright-free images meaning

Copyright-free images are in the public domain, i.e., you can use them as you want (being aware of legal and ethical restrictions, of course). They are open for commercial use as well, but, as they are available for everybody, you will not be the only person to get avail of them, so your content might not be unique.

Example for royalty free image

Legal usage

There are two main types of content usage:

  • Commercial use for advertising, selling and reselling, commercial training, etc.
  • Personal use. What does personal use mean? Everything that you are not paid for: posting in your private blog, creating artistic projects, saving to your personal device, and so on.

To avoid legal sues and other problems with the law, read the terms of use carefully before downloading an image. Some licenses permit only short-term use; others don’t allow you to edit photos. There can be other restrictions as well.

Example for royalty free images in advertising

Royalty free image sources

As we have already pointed out, even royalty-free stock images are not always completely free, so we’ll list free and paid picture banks. Just a small reminder: if you want your content to be truly unique, the best way is to create it by yourself or buy exclusive rights to the image.


Unsplash is one of the best free resources: user-friendly interface, intuitive navigation, a wide range of choice and – the most important part – no usage restrictions. The only point – you can’t use photos from this library to create another photo stock.


Pexels is another great free resource where you can find content for commercial and personal use without any restrictions.


As the very name implies, Freeimages also offers images for free. Make sure you read the license agreement, as there are several usage restrictions


Istockphoto is a paid resource with three subscription plans and affordable prices. Here you can find PNG pictures, vectors, videos and even music.


Shutterstock is one of the best-known media libraries where you can find high-quality photos and other visuals. The only drawback – the fee may be a little higher than at the rival stocks.