More public domain art resources
10 more places to get free CC0 art to use in your next project
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This is Part 2 of a series on Public Domain Art. Don’t miss Part 1!
Back in April 2023, I posted a list of public domain art resources to use when creating your next board game or TTRPG. It turned out to be one of the most popular Skeleton Code Machine posts, and was viewed over 1 million times on Twitter.
Since that time, I’ve discovered quite a few more sources of images. I felt it was time for a quick update, and to share what I’ve found!
Public domain images
Public domain art, also known as Open Access or CC0 art, is generally free to use with no rights restrictions. This means you can incorporate it into your commercial game projects and even attribution is not required.
It is, alas, a little more complicated than that. As illustrated by the example of The Deluge in Part 1, copyright law and specific usage restrictions may vary by country. I am not a lawyer and I’m not a public domain law expert. If you plan to use any art, be sure to follow all applicable licenses and local laws.
Confirm the usage rights
While many of the resources below specialize in providing public domain images, some also contain copyrighted images. I’ve only selected resources where the CC0 designation and/or usage rights are clearly displayed with each image.
Be sure to confirm the image you’d like to use is CC0 and/or public domain before using it.
More places to find public domain art
Rawpixel has a searchable collection of CC0 images “collated and digitally enhanced from international museums.” It is searchable by curated collection, most popular pieces, or theme. Unlike most resources on this list, it also has design elements (e.g. transparent PNGs) and not just full art pieces.
2. Art Institute of Chicago
3. Paris Musées
In the replies to my public domain Twitter post, Adam Bell recommended the Paris Musées. It has over 390,000 works online, over 359,000 of which are in the public domain. Searchable not only by keyword, but also by color.
4. Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons is the source of images behind Wikipedia. It claims a collection of over 102 million freely usable media files. When searching for images, use the License menu to select “No Restrictions” to help your search.
5. Yale Center for British Art
The Yale Center for British Art has over 56,000 prints and drawings in its collection, as well as 21,000 rare books and manuscripts. The collection of old letters is fascinating.
6. Heritage Library
The Heritage Library collects “beautiful illustrations from the past which are 100% free to use.” The collections are free to download and contain cleaned versions of the art, usually in both vector and PNG format. Wonderful collections of insects, plants, shoes, fairies, and more.
The Smithsonian Open Access collection has over 4.9 million digital items in its collection from across the museums. Over 2.8 million of the items are in the public domain as CC0 and can be used in your works.
8. Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is my new favorite collection of CC0 works. It has art, music, video, maps, photographs, and more. Entire books are scanned to read and use. Images are usually available in both JPEG and TIFF formats. Check the Rights Advisory section for images you plan to use.
9. The Cleveland Museum of Art
The Cleveland Museum of Art has almost 40,000 items in its Open Access collection online. Start with the collection highlights to see some examples of what’s available. Images of both paintings and sculptures are clearly marked as CC0 Public Domain if designated as such.
10. RISD Museum
The Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art (RISD Museum) in Providence is the 20th-largest art museum in the United States. The collection contains over 100,000 works of art and design. Note that not all are CC0 so check the Image Use section for each work.
Some things to think about:
Don’t assume an image is public domain: Many of the collections listed above are a mix of both public domain and copyrighted works. It is important to check the rights restrictions for the specific image that you plan to use.
Embrace the hunt: You’ll be digging through thousands of images to find the one that fits your game design. Try not to view that as boring work, and instead think of it as walking through a museum. Allow yourself to get diverted by new artists and styles. Never know what you’ll find!
Attribution not required: While CC0 works do not require attribution, sometimes it is nice to include. I think it’s particularly nice to give attribution when a piece of art is featured in a prominent and unmodified fashion in your game. Consider citing the art in your acknowledgements.
If you want some weird little woodcuts for your next project, check out Rabbits & Demons. It’s a collection of hand-drawn tracings of public domain woodcuts!
What are your favorite public domain art resources? Please share them in the comments!
— E.P. 💀
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