Clip art can be acceptable for internal materials and school book reports, but nothing screams “unprofessional” like clip art on company posters, brochures and other public documents. And poor images on a website are the equivalent of giving a speech on the importance of professional appearance while wearing your pajamas. It detracts from your message.
I recognize people are pressed for time and want images that can be used quickly, easily and cost effectively. Who doesn’t? But it’s also important that the images make sense and are helping your reputation, not hurting it. For example, if you have a poster in patient rooms about medication, using an image of a patient with a cat makes no sense, unless the medication you’re talking about is for patients with cat allergies.
It’s also important to know that you can’t just grab any image off the web and use in your materials. Many images are someone’s intellectual property and taking them without asking is no different than walking into their office and taking their laptop. People get all frowny when you steal their stuff, and, sometimes, they lawyer up which could end up costing you and your organization a lot of money.
This doesn’t mean you can’t use images from the web, but you do need to get permission. Some content owners will be fine with sharing. Others might only share if you’re planning to use the images for educational purposes only, while others might only share if you include a photo credit or link to their website. If you don’t know who owns the image, it’s best to follow the sage, old advice: “When in doubt, leave it out.”
So what’s a guy (or gal) to do?
There are tons of really great websites where you can access images “free for use in the public domain.” These images are not copyrighted and can be used by anyone in any way, including educational or commercial purposes. For example: your daughter might be able to use an image as part of her science project (with or without a photo credit depending on the image owner), but your neighbour who wants to use that same image on his website promoting his lawn-care business might not be able to use it.
Here are a few examples of good sites with free or nearly free images:
As a designer, I always encourage my clients to create an account to a reputable photo image site, such as istock or Shutterstock. The client can then purchase credits that can be used to pick and choose the images they want. These can then be provided to the designer. Before purchasing images, it’s important to discuss with the designer so they can help you choose good images and can make sure you’re purchasing the right size, before you spend your credits.
Another option is to either hire a professional photographer to take pictures for you. Or if you have any photography skills, you can also take your own and send .jpgs. Snapping pics with your cell phone might not provide the quality designers need to produce a quality product. You might also contact local photography schools to see if any students might be willing to take photos for a reduced rate. It gives them experience and exposure and provides you with good, quality images for a good price. Just remember: If you include clients, staff or others in your pictures, make sure you have their permission to use their images on your products.
When it comes to design, a picture really is worth a thousand words.