Incorporating stunning photos into your design is a great way to boost its effectiveness and attract more attention. Google Images may be tempting – it’s a quick way to find lots of great photos – but using those images will almost certainly breach someone’s copyright. There are many safer alternatives, so take advantage of this list when you prepare for your next project.

It’s worth mentioning that there’s no substitute for the quality found on paid-image websites like Dreamstime.com or iStockphoto.com. These collections are made up of professional photographs, which meet strict standards, and that distinction shows through in virtually every image. Their search facilities are strong and you can generally find exactly what you’re looking for. Unfortunately, unless you can afford long-term subscriptions or bulk credits, the cost per image may be outside your budget range.

When you search for free image libraries, be aware that many have a non-commercial use restriction, meaning you can only use the images for personal, non-public and not-for-profit purposes. Websites like Flickr.com offer some of their images freely for commercial use, but these generally come under the Creative Commons license and require a credit or link back to the photographer.

If you search a little longer, you’ll find there are plenty of free image websites with no strings attached. Their images can be used for personal or commercial use and no attribution is required. We’ve found and reviewed five of the best for you.

#1 Stock.Xchng

Stock.Xchng websiteThis is the best of the best in our minds. Stock.Xchng has a library of over 350,000 images, many of which are of a very high quality. You’ll need to create an account to download their images, but it’s free to sign up and you can decline their email marketing if you wish. The SXC website has a strong search function, allowing you to find exactly what you’re looking for in a flash, and you can add images to a lightbox for later viewing. The resolutions vary, but many are high enough for commercial printing at a reasonable size. Most images in their collection can be used commercially without any restrictions, though some photographers require notification before you use their work publicly, so always check the Availability option before downloading. There are ads on the site for paid images, but if you avoid those, this site is a fantastic resource. High quality, user-friendly, no strings attached.

#2 MorgueFile

MorgueFile websiteDespite its somewhat macabre name, MorgueFile was neck-and-neck for first place in our review, but the quality of the images is not always as high as those on SXC. The search facility on MorgueFile is basic but quite intuitive, and it generally returns images that are close to what you’re looking for. The images can be downloaded by anyone without the need to register first and they’re free to use for virtually any purpose, they’re even free for distribution. Many of their images are of a high resolution, so it’s a great resource for designers. If you can’t find what you’re looking for on SXC, this is the next place to look.

#3 Image After

Image After websiteThough the website itself is far from dazzling, and you may need to squint to see the thumbnails, the photos at Image After are many and varied. You’re free to use their images for any purpose and no attribution is required. It’s an excellent source of texture photos, so if you’re looking for a background image for your next design you might find what you need here. Many of the photos are good quality and some have a high-enough resolution for printing. The search feature is simple but returns lots of relevant images to choose from.

#4 Freerange Stock

Free Range Stock websiteThis website houses many great quality images at a high resolution, so it easily made our top five list. The search feature is not always reliable though – enter ‘rope’ and you’re likely to be shown pictures of flowers and trains – but have patience and you should find what you’re looking for. There are lots of ads all over the site, so be careful where you click, and you must register before you can download any images. The quality of the photos makes up for these downfalls though and they can be used for any purpose without attribution.

#5 FreePhotosBank

Free Photos Bank websiteIf you’re looking for photos of objects, nature or scenery, this site may well have what you need. There are no people photos in sight – most likely to avoid complications with model releases – but there are some fantastic photos non-the-less. The resolution of most images is fairly low, so these would be ideal for use on websites rather than in print. The search facility is quite reliable, though it seems to be accessible only from the home page. There are lots of categories for quick navigation though and some of the digital art images are quite spectacular. No registration is required so you this site is quite convenient, despite the frequent ads.