Print Design

Where can I find free, high-resolution images for print design?

 Photo by  JESHOOTScom  via Pixabay

Photo by JESHOOTScom via Pixabay

In the past five years, there's been a real boom in websites offering high resolution, print-quality photos that are free for commercial and personal use. Whether you're wanting photos for a professional print design project or even just looking for a beautiful new photo to enlarge for your office wall, check these websites before you shell out the cash for paid photo services.

1. Unsplash

The first place I look if I want non-cheesy, free, high-resolution photos is Unsplash. The images at Unsplash are well curated, and have a young, artsy vibe. They're high enough quality for printing and Unsplash doesn't require that you start an account with them to download images. All images on Unsplash are free for commercial or personal use. (Another nice feature of Unsplash is that there's little advertising on the website; the same can't be said for most of the following photo sources.) 

2. Stocksnap

Stocksnap is another great gallery to search for quality, high-resolution photos at no cost. Similar to Unsplash but a bit less hipster. They offer alle of their images under the same CC0 license that lets you do what you want with their photos, with no attribution required. The quality of the images is sharp and good for print at most sizes. You can read their image licensing details here

3. Pexels

Still searching for that perfect image? Enter your keyword(s) into Pexels and press enter! Pexels specifies that their images can be used in print marketing material: "Use the photos for flyers, postcards, invitations, magazines, albums, books and more" but be sure to read their licensing write-up here before you hit print!  

4. Pixabay

Not to be confused with Pexels (the "p" and the "x" in both names still throws me off), Pixabay advertises that they have over 1.5 million royalty free stock photos and videos. Pixabay requires that you create an account and log in to access the images in higher resolutions, but it's worth it if they have the image you're wanting! 

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Of course, there are many more such websites, but I hope these four favourites of mine will be useful to you! It's always good to have a few different links go-to free stock photo websites in mind when you need images for a project, because particularly when it comes to free stock images, not every site will have the image you need.

If you can't find the image you're wanting for free, try a cost-effective source of paid images like Shutterstock.

Lastly, I can't emphasize enough how important it is to check and double check the licensing on "free" images before ordering a large print run using those photos. Free print-quality stock images can be a great solution in many situations, but watch for my follow-up post, where I explain why (in my opinion) you should never use a "free" image on your book cover, or front and centre in any other important, widely-distributed print marketing piece. 


Wondering about using an image for print, but not sure if the resolution is good enough? Give me a shout through my Contact page and I'll help you figure it out!

A visit to the Museum of Printing and Graphic Communication in Lyon, France

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of having two days to wander solo around Lyon, France. It almost goes without saying because it's France, but Lyon is a beautiful city! It's full of unique old buildings, Roman ruins, antique book shops and cafés serving fresh crêpes. 

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Before going there, I was looking at a list of attractions and, of course, the Museum of Printing and Graphic Communication (Musée de l'imprimerie et de la communication graphique) stood out to me on the list of attractions. I happily spent lovely June afternoon there learning about books and printing.

Here's what the museum looks like from the outside:

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It was founded in 1964 and is one of the leading European printing museums. It's housed in a beautiful Renaissance building, Lyon’s first town hall. Here's how the courtyard looks:

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The museum has a large permanent exhibit (schedule at least three hours for it, if you're planning a visit) as well as a temporary exhibit (when I was there, it was an Andy Warhol exhibit). Everything in the permanent exhibit is excellently translated into English, but the temporary exhibit was set up mostly for French speakers (English translations were available on paper sheets, but they were a bit hard to understand.)

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There's a gift shop at the entrance / exit and as would be expected, most all the flyers and booklets in their giveaway stand were colorful and gorgeously designed.

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The permanent exhibit at the museum is divided up into the following sections:

  1. The beginning of printing (before 1450)
  2. The invention of letterpress printing by Gutenberg (1450-1500)
  3. Printing and the Renaissance (1500-1600)
  4. Printmaking
  5. Printing in the hand press period (1600-1800)
  6. The industrial revolution (1800-1900)
  7. Photography and printing in color (1850-1900)
  8. The graphic revolution (1880-1945)
  9. The information society (1950-…)
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It was a fascinating visit and I'll just share some interesting facts and photos from the museum, in more or less chronological order. This is in no way a comprehensive look at the permanent exhibit — it's just some tidbits that stood out to me.

Watermarking has been used by papermakers in Europe since the 13th century. The main purpose of watermarking was to differentiate paper from competitors’ paper. The watermark would often be a symbol indicating the paper’s characteristics and origin.

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Until the middle of the 15th century, books in Europe could only be copied by hand or by using woodcuts. “In the latter case each page of text was treated as if it was an image and then printed by hand by rubbing the back of a sheet of paper placed on the inked surface of the woodcut.” The invention of letterpress printing “is regarded as one of the foundations of modern society”. Although Koreans were already using moveable type moulded in sand, Gutenberg in Germany created metal type that was precise and regular in appearance. Because the size of each piece of type was standardized, the final printing surface was perfectly flat and this led to the invention of the printing press in Germany.

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Letterpress printing was born in Mainz, Germany in the 1440s and by approximately 1458 it was in Strasbourg, and 1459 in Bamberg. The first print shop in Lyon was operating from 1473 onward.

Printing spread quickly, and by the end of the 15th century, more than 250 towns in Europe had print shops. The two most important centers of production by that time were outside of Germany: Venice and Paris were putting out the most titles. 

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The work of an early press operator was very difficult. The hours were extremely long (14-hour work days in the summer) and the operator did not need to know how to read. The compositors — the ones putting the moveable type together into flats that could be printed — needed to be sufficiently educated and therefore were paid higher salaries than the press operators.

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Have you ever thought about how many type-related terms have Italian names? This is because Italy had a great influence on the early typesetting and printing industries. The earliest printers in Germany were using Gothic letters (see photo above) based on type styles from medieval manuscripts. However the Italians were quick to create a new "Humanist" style, using lowercase letters invented in Italy in the 8th century (the “Carolingian minuscule”) and the capital letter style seen on Roman monuments. The Germans arriving in Italy began to use the Humanist typeface style as well, and gradually the German printers in Rome created a typeface called “Roman”. “Italics” also came from Italy, although in Italy italics are known as “corsivo” (cursive).

It took more than three quarters of a century for the book to go from a manuscript format to a printed style of its own. Certain elements began to be established, like the title page, and identifying information which indicated who produced the book. Pages began to be numbered; running headers were invented to give guidance to the reader. 

Rags were commonly used for the creation of paper for several centuries. More than 80 kinds of vegetable matter were mixed with rags in attempts to make an affordable paper. Inventors tried thistle, maize, nettle, straw, pinecone, potato and more! By 1870, paper made from wood came into widespread use. At the time, newspapers were flourishing and affordable paper was needed.

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In the 17th and 18th centuries, scientific and technical books were sought after by the educated public. Botany, medicine, anatomy, and history became topics that any educated individual could learn about from the printed materials that were appearing on each topic. Traditionally, skills and knowledge in art and architecture were transmitted only from master to pupil in a workshop, but soon those masters began to have to compete with printed manuals conveying the same information. Skills that were once transmitted orally or by everyday practice were beginning to be transferred theoretically through printed materials. For example, dressmakers' patterns could be printed and distributed with greater ease (see image below).

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So much of what is taken for granted in our digital era was a complicated process in the early days of printing. Re-sizing one image during the 1800s could take several hours on a device like the one below:

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Three-color printing was invented in 1719. This was particularly helpful for making scientific illustrations more readable; previously any color had to be added by hand. But until the 19th century, coloured printed images remained rare and expensive. Only with the invention of chromolithography in the early 1800s could good quality images begin to be reproduced on an industrial scale, using CMYK. Chromolithography really took off in the 1860s and was used until the 1950s.

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As color printing became more popular, the travel industry began to use color posters to advertise trips to exotic destinations like Algeria and Tunisia. (It's hard to even imagine a travel advertisement today that doesn't use color!)

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The industrial revolution led to the graphic revolution. As industrial capitalism grew, the need for marketing, advertising and “brand image” promotion grew. At this time, advertisers and printers began to need the help of graphic artists.

In the 19th century, advertisements had been regarded with mistrust, but by the end of the century, publicity became one of the driving forces behind consumption. Publicity agents became popular in the early 20th century, taking complete charge of ad campaigns. Instead of simply informing customers, their job became to persuade them. In France, the poster was a very popular form of advertising and it remains a more popular form of advertising in France than in other nearby countries to this day.

Posters and graphic communication were also used for a lot of propaganda during the turbulent eras of World Wars 1 and 2.

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The title “graphic designer” became standard only recently, but was invented in 1922 by an American type-designer named William Addison Dwiggins.

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During the second half of the 20th century, graphic communication changed radically as printing, production of administrative documents, and information technology merged. Computers changed the rules of the game. Printers incorporated computers into typesetting and page layout IT networks. Desktop publishing began in 1984 with the launch of the Apple Macintosh. The ability to print in-house revolutionized the printing industry. 

I thought this sentence near the end of the museum's exhibit summarized how radical the changes have been to the printing and graphic communications industry in just a few decades: “Today the simplest personal computer provides even the most modest user with graphic tools far more powerful and productive than the specialized machines and systems used by the printing industry before the digital revolution.” It's a fun era in which to be a communicator, book designer or graphic designer — we've come a long way! And if you're even a "modest user" of page layout software or printers, the Museum of Printing and Graphic Communication is worth your while if you visit Lyon!

Why does the paper in my printed proof feel different than the paper I specified for my project?

A few months ago, after a client received a printed proof of his catalog in the mail, he asked me: Why does the paper in my printed proof feel different than the paper I specified for my project? He had reason to be concerned: the thick paper on which the proof had been printed did not open very well, meaning a lot of each beautiful photo spread was lost to the centrefold of the book. He sent me a video to show me how stiffly the pages of his proof were turning. 

 Plotter - the kind of device your proof is printed on ( Image Source )

Plotter - the kind of device your proof is printed on (Image Source)

Thankfully, the printer and I were both able to reassure him that the paper the printer uses for proofing a project, especially a project that is printing on special paper or on an offset press, is usually not the same paper the final project will be printed on. At the commercial printer where I used to work, our proofs were printed on rolls of paper by a digital plotter, but the final paper came in cut sheets and was loaded into the sheet-fed offset press.

 Offset Press - the kind of device your final product is printed on ( Image Source )

Offset Press - the kind of device your final product is printed on (Image Source)

Usually, the first time you'll get to see "your" artwork on "your" paper is when the final product is delivered to your door. But that's why a full-service printer will usually send a sample of the paper to you separately (in the case of my client's catalog, the printer had done this months before), so that you can know the exact thickness or feel of the final paper. If it's really important to you to know how the product will feel — after all, it's hard to hold one sheet of paper and imagine how 200 such sheets will feel in a book — you can ask the printer to provide a dummy of your project. A dummy is a blank book made of your final paper(s), cut and bound to final size. It still won't have your graphics on it, but it will give you a real idea how your piece will feel in your hands.

Next time you get a too-shiny, too-thick proof in the mail, remember: your proof is rarely printed on the same paper as your final product. It's OK to double-check with your printer or designer to make sure the right paper is specified for the project.  Then, take a deep breath, approve the proof, and trust your printer on this one!


If you have a print-related question that's puzzling you, let me know through my Contact page and I'll do my best to find you an answer! 

Why does the color on my ebook cover look different than the color on my printed book cover?

Recently a client sent me a screenshot of his print book cover and his ebook cover side by side, and asked me why he saw such a visible color shift between the two.

I explained to him that the ebook cover is in the RGB color space, but the printed book cover is in the CMYK color space. RGB is the color space used for on-screen images, while CMYK is the color space that printing devices can capture. As a basic explanation, the RGB images look brighter because they are being shown on a lit screen. It's hard to achieve the same brightness with ink on paper. As you can see in the chart below, CMYK captures a smaller range of color than RGB captures (and both capture fewer colors than our incredibly-designed eyes can really see!) 

 Image by The Graphic Mac

Image by The Graphic Mac

My client's cover designer had always sent his bright teal cover to him in RGB, and suddenly before printing, he saw the teal for the first time in CMYK and was surprised at the significant color shift.

If you don't convert your images to CMYK before sending them to the printer, the printer must convert them to CMYK before printing. It's no big deal for them to make the conversion, but depending on the colors you are printing, you may notice that the printed piece comes back looking duller than you expected if you only saw proofs on your screen. 

The following two color spectrums help you to see which colors are hardest for CMYK to achieve. The duller quality of CMYK is instantly noticeable. 

 Color spectrum shown in RGB

Color spectrum shown in RGB

 Color spectrum shown in CMYK

Color spectrum shown in CMYK

Whether you're picking a color for a book cover or a logo, it's good to consider whether that color will be achievable both in RGB and CMYK. If not, you might want to consider adjusting the ebook color a bit to make it easier to match in print. Or, you'll just have to get used to the slight difference in color between your ebook cover and your printed book cover.


Thank you for taking the time to read this post! If you are needing a book cover design, please check out my Book Covers services page.

How can I catch more errors in my print design documents?

This week I received a nice marketing email, and I followed a link in the email to a blog post. I didn't read the whole blog post, but this I did get out of it: the writer had written "check" where it should have said "cheek" — and that was my main takeaway. Probably not the takeaway that the author was intending. 

We've all been in those situations where a typo slips by us. When you are preparing files for print, catching typos and mistakes is even more essential than when preparing text for online media, where content can be corrected with just a few clicks. (I wrote back to the company who had sent me the marketing email, and within half an hour the typo was corrected.)

I won't claim to produce completely error-free print files, but here are a few tricks I've learned to get as close to perfect as possible.

 Photo by  Jonas Jacobsson

Edit text in software that has automatic spelling and grammar check (and make sure it is turned on). 

If you're typing or writing more than just a few words, make sure to start in a program or browser that provides basic spelling and grammar check. This sounds obvious, but it's easy to start typing in a software that's not flagging any errors. This is your first and easiest error safety net.

In higher-end design software, the option to automatically underline misspellings or grammar mistakes is not necessarily activated. In Adobe InDesign this has to be turned on under Main Menu > Preferences > Spelling. Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop are not text editing programs, but some people use them that way. They do not provide the option to automatically flag misspelled words; you actually have to manually run a spellcheck (Edit > Check Spelling).

The best option is to always start your typing in a program or software that provides spelling and grammar check, especially if you are not a native speaker of the language in which you work.

Get your computer to read your text to you.

Another helpful tool for catching mistakes in your text is getting your computer to read the text to you. If the author of the blog post I mentioned in my opening text had listened to her article, she definitely would have heard the difference between "check" and "cheek", but it was not a mistake a spell check could have picked up. I have used the free version of the software Natural Reader for this, but usually I just highlight the text on my Mac, right click, and select Speech > Start Speaking. I did it for this blog post, as well, and definitely caught some of those tricky typos.

Proofread a printed version of your document. 

I've heard that we notice 25% more errors when we proofread printed documents than when we proofread on screen, and I believe it. Printing out your document also helps you notice formatting issues — like a font that is too small, or text that is printing too close to an edge that will trim. When I lay out books for my clients, I often encourage them to print out the full proof and read it over in print, no matter how many times they've already read the manuscript over on screen. (And when you're done with that printed proof, please, recycle the paper.)

Ask at least one "uninvolved" person to proofread.

When deadlines are tight, it can be tempting to overlook this step. But any document can benefit from being looked over by another set of eyes. Sometimes you need to outsource the proofreading to a professional. Or just ask someone else who is a bit less involved in the project to read it over with fresh eyes. Last year, at the last minute a team member who had not been very involved in an important project was asked to help with the final proofread. He noticed that the text on the spine of our book was running in the wrong direction — an important detail that four or five of us who were more involved in the project had missed. 

Order a printed proof from your printer. 

While small or low-cost projects might not necessitate ordering a printed proof, for any print project with large amounts of text or that costs a lot of money, it's good to build enough time and money into the project to order a printed proof (in addition to the now-standard PDF proof). The printed proof can help you to recognize technical, visual or formatting issues that would never have come to your attention in a PDF, as well as any proofreading errors. For example, on a recent $10,000+ print project, I was so glad when the printed proof showed us that there would be a score line on the cover that would go directly through the company's logo. This gave us the chance to adjust the position of the logo — it was the only change we made after seeing the printed proof, but a change that made a big difference in the quality of the final product. 

No one's perfect! But the closer you can get your printed piece to perfection, the happier both you and your team or client will be! I hope these tips give you a few new ideas for catching errors in your writing and designing for print, before it goes to press!


Are you writing a book or preparing a document for print? Ask me a question through my Contact page.