Copyrights and licenses are confusing, and you’re not expected to understand them perfectly – I certainly don’t. Like me, you probably have only a vague understanding of the differences between stock photos, royalty-free pictures, and public domain images.

Simply put, those are in order from least to most available for you to use for any purpose. Stock photos are licensed for others to use in specific cases, with or without payment or attribution, and they often have samples with watermarks. Royalty-free photos are stock images that may require attribution or even one-time licensing fees, but don’t require paid royalties.

The logos for Unsplash, Pexels, and Pixabay.

Public domain images are different from the other two categories, as they have aged out of their copyright, or never had one in the first place. This type of photo can be hard to find, but some stock photo sites have no restrictions, as well. I’ll show you how to use stock images from three top sources that allow you to download, edit, and publish their stock content without payment or attribution for both personal AND commercial use:

  1. Unsplash
  2. Pixabay
  3. Pexels

1. Unsplash

A screenshot of Unsplash search results.

Unsplash has become the most comprehensive, high-quality, and accessible stock photo platform on the web. They credit photographers and video artists, categorize content helpfully, and ensure high quality and relevance with all their stock photos. The best part? All of their 2+ million stock images are fully license-free, so you can feel free to use them in your own content.

A screenshot showing how to use the Unsplash plugin in the Kapwing Studio.

To find, edit, use, and download Unsplash images in the same place, I recommend using the Kapwing Studio’s Unsplash plugin. Enter the Kapwing Studio on any device, select the Plugins tool and find Unsplash. Using the pup-up plugin, enter any search term or refine your search using the categories below the search bar. When you select a result, it will upload immediately to the Studio where you can filter, adjust, crop, rotate, erase, and make any edits your project needs.

2. Pixabay

A screenshot of Pixabay search results.

Pixabay has the same inventory size as Unsplash, but with more media variety, providing license-free videos, as well as photos, illustrations, graphic designs, and vector images. You can use Pixabay for everything from backgrounds and frame assets to eye-catching featured photos.

A screenshot showing how to use the Pixabay plugin in the Kapwing Studio.

When you download photos directly from the Pixabay site, you have to go through a Captcha authentication each time, so collecting multiple files at a time can be a hassle; however, if you use the Pixabay plugin in the Kapwing Studio, you can import, edit, and combine Pixabay stock photos with just a single click. Even better, you can actually open both plugins at the same time, along with any others that you want, to search for the perfect stock photos for your project.

3. Pexels

A screenshot of Pexels search results.

The Pexels inventory of stock photos and videos is considerably smaller than those of Unsplash and Pixabay, but that’s only because they set such a high bar for quality and professionalism. Every license-free image and stock video you find on Pexels is perfect for use in the most high-quality projects you’re working on.

A screenshot showing how to use the Pexels plugin in the Kapwing Studio.

If you have to prepare any document, presentation, image, or design for an important occasion, start with Pexels. You can find photos in 4K UHD and import them directly to the Kapwing Studio to edit, combine, and filter them, or add text, overlays, music, and more.

I hope this article helps you make the most of the web’s best sources for public domain, royalty-free, and licensed photos and videos! For more tips and tutorials on creating great digital content in 2021, check out the Kapwing YouTube channel or read through some related articles on editing with stock photos, videos, and music:

How to Edit Unpslash Photos in Your Browser
How to Edit Pexels Videos in Your Browser
The Best 5 Sites for Royalty Free Music in 2021
How to Find and Use Stock Video in 2021