Why You Should License Your Imagery!

Why you should license your imagery

Almost every business uses images to promote their brand. Either in a blog post, a website, or any printed collateral.

It can bring life and context to a project. It can emote a certain feeling or memory. It can help you connect with your audience. Imagery is powerful for sure! In fact, the image above is licensed from a stock agency, with a little added manipulation by me.

Many businesses find images online via Google search, and others, and use them at will. But here’s the thing. Contrary to what many believe, just because you find an image on the Internet, it doesn’t mean it is free to use! Repeat that last sentence and remember it because it can potentially save you thousands of dollars and legal headaches.

As a designer, the requirement to license imagery is a no brainer. I’ve been doing it for so long, it’s just part of what I do. But I was reminded recently that people outside my industry need to be educated or at least be reminded of the risks associated with using unlicensed imagery. This especially goes for the DIY types.

The following incident is what inspired me to write this post:

A fellow member of a business group was using unlicensed imagery on one of her blog posts and it turned out that the agency the image was taken from found out and issued a cease and desist notice as well as issuing several thousands of dollars in infringement fines—even though the images were only $50 to license to begin with. So understand that even the big stock agencies are trolling the Internet seeking out unauthorized use—especially with the advent of Google reverse image search.

So where do you get your images from?

Many small businesses are bootstrapped and can’t afford to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to license an image. Mind you, the higher end stock agencies have their place, but for a small business trying to make ends meet, these options are a great alternative, and in many cases just as good as the higher-end stock agencies.

Here are a few places you can get imagery to use on your site or printed material for little or no cost to you.

Take your own photos – Free
With higher end digital cameras readily available, and decent cameras on our phones, it’s easier than ever to take your own photos. Use your imagination. You can take pictures of nature, or images of surfaces for textures. The possibilities are endless. I do this often and use them in my design projects. If this doesn’t work for you or you need a particular subject matter, there are other options

Flickr – Creative Commons – Free with attribution
Go to Flickr.com and search their creative commons library for the particular subject matter that you are looking for. Creative commons refers to the licensing category of the selected imagery. Usually, the only thing you need to do is credit the photographer but make sure for each photo you choose to use. Check out Flickr’s creative commons licensing information here. One thing to be careful for here: There is nothing stopping a Flickr user to grab an unlicensed image, and pass it off as his own. So do your research and make sure that the image is legitimately theirs.

Royalty free stock photography sites. – as little as a few dollars per image, depending on size and use.
There are a ton of these stock sites (many of which are actually owned by the larger stock agencies) Most of these run on a credit-based system where you buy a quantity of credits and use them as you need them. The more credits you buy, the cheaper the credits get. Some images cost more than others, so do a decent search to find what you are looking for.

NOTE: Royalty free means just that. You don’t pay royalties for each use, just for the initial purchase. Because anyone can purchase the same image, you run the risk of someone else—possibly your competition—using the same image in their materials (don’t laugh…I’ve seen it happen several times). You can use these images for whatever you wish (there are some stipulations for logo and package use – read the royalty free licensing agreement from the site you purchase from.)

Here are a few (of many)  that I often use:

Don’t make the same mistake my colleague did. Make sure you license your imagery and you won’t have any legal issues to worry about. It will save you money and lots of hassle if you just make the minimal investment up front.

Do you have a question? Leave a comment and I’ll answer it!


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What Does the Embryonic Stage of the Creative Process Look Like?

sketchbook bingo

Here is another edition of Sketchbook Bingo, where I randomly pick a page out of one of many sketchbooks/journals that I filled over the years.

concept sketch

When I start a project I usually start to doodle/sketch/brainstorm any first ideas that come to mind. When I randomly flipped through one of my books today, I found this sketch (above) for a project I did for National Geographic Channel back in 2005. Seems like an eternity ago.

The sketch reminded me of this project and I dug out the original sketches and concept presentation I created for them and thought it would be perfect to show the creative process for this project in its embryonic stage. Some of the sketches are crude, but that’s okay. They are only meant to convey an idea.

The project was for National Geographic Channel’s Upfront Presentation, which is typically an enormous event where they basically pitch their upcoming programming lineup for the year in an effort to get advertisers to buy in. Its sort of a dog and pony show with elaborate stages, lavish parties, and highly sought after goodie bags. All networks do this in some capacity.

Included were several concepts to create a vehicle to present the upcoming lineup of the Channel. Anything from a high end coffee table book, to custom GPS devices, to “old-world” explorer type of leather attaché cases. Following are the sketches and style frames created for the project from which the final book was based upon. As you can see, the final piece differs from the initial concept stage and there were many steps taken to arrive at the final piece. But this post is intended to depict the early stages of a project, and how much time, thought and effort it sometimes takes to arrive at a successful solution.


Concept pages from presentation.

concept sketches

concept sketches

concept sketches

concept sketches

concept sketches

concept sketches

concept sketches and word mapping

Final style frames

Final Style Frames

Final Style Fames


Final piece Derived from style frames.

Final Piece



Posted in Behind the Design, Concepting, design, Sketchbook Bingo! | Leave a comment

Designer or Artist. What’s the difference and who cares?

Designer or artist. What's the difference and who cares?

The dictionary defines art as “The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture.” It then defines Design as “A plan or drawing produced to show the look and function or workings of a building, garment, or other object before it is built or made.”

Kind of vague, huh? Well to put it simply, art isn’t always design and some design can be art. Still vague? Well it inherently is. There is definitely some gray area between the two.

I look at it this way: Art is something you typically create for yourself—whether it’s a painting, drawing or sculpture, etc—and if other people like it, great! Art is generally created through self-expression and doesn’t have to adhere to any rules.

If you create a painting for instance, and you love it and it expresses your emotion, then that in my eyes is a successful piece. Maybe not commercially but you love it and that’s what matters. Some art can make a social statement that is supposed to evoke an emotion, and possibly to promote action. In that case I see it more as design. In a situation like this, we are talking semantics, thus the gray area I mentioned above.

Design is different in that the main objective is to inform, and inspire action. It is usually used as a tool for increasing business, or participation, or awareness of a cause, to name a few. Again, some design CAN be art. It can be beautifully crafted with typography and placement of copy and design elements, but the purpose of Graphic design is to get people to act in a desirable way.

For instance, if you had an event you wanted people to attend, you might have a poster or brochure designed telling people about it. Should it be aesthetically pleasing? You bet. But the design direction is typically driven by who you want to benefit from it. Much like an interior designer will lay out a space to promote flow and movement throughout a space for particular people, a graphic designer will design a piece to promote flow, interest and action, as well as inform a particular demographic.

The largest difference in my opinion between art and design is that results of design can be measured and art cannot. You can tell how many more people purchased your product for instance, before vs. after your company logo redesign or brochure design. With design, there are usually metrics involved and it is more mathematical and strategic than art is.

Do you think there is a difference between art and design? Do you disagree with me? Let me know in the comments.

Posted in Branding, design, education, opinion | Leave a comment

Three Steps to Turn Your Website Into a Lead Generating Machine

Guest post by Monica Crowe

You want to tell the world about your business. Your website home page is full of the important facts people need to know, and other pages on the site are just as detailed. But, somehow, your website rarely results in phone calls or e-mails from new leads.

As a copywriter, this is a common complaint I hear from new clients and business acquaintances. As long as you know your audience (and their hot-button needs), and can articulate them in writing, you’re all set. You have one foot on the path to getting regular leads and sales from your website. Best of all, it only takes a couple of simple adjustments to make it happen.

Three Tweaks for Website Lead Generation

Clean up the text on your page. When it comes to writing, most people believe more is better. But just the opposite is true – especially on the Internet – where people tend to scan, rather than read word for word.

Give readers necessary information in bite sized, easy to digest segments. This begins with simple, clear writing. But don’t mistake simple for bland. You won’t have to sacrifice personality. Instead, you’ll eliminate unnecessary words and phrases, and replace them with powerful adjectives to keep the text popping with interest.

Big blocks of text make a page awfully dull and gray. Our eyes like white space. Give your newly clarified web copy room to breathe. Use line breaks every three to four sentences. Bold key phrases (not entire sentences). Use large headings and sub headings for visual impact, and even to highlight an important point.

My favorite trick for creating white space, while delivering bite sized information, is to segment text into columns. Place an image that communicates a key idea above each column. (See example below) Write two to three sentences in each column that reinforce and expand on the idea of the image.

Home Page Example

This works especially well on a website home page. It gives readers just enough information to know whether or not your product or service is what they’re looking for. If it is, they’ll dig further into your website for more information. Hence, it’s not necessary to clog your home page with every point you want to make. Save some details for your “About” and “Services/Products” pages.

Whether or not your page has columns, use professional quality photos to communicate, and to support your writing. A person who teaches adult art classes might describe the classroom environment and leave it at that. It’s adequate, but a photo of the teacher instructing a student at her easel would bring the idea to life. Suddenly, the teacher and her classroom are more real and desirable to the reader.

What you write on your website is important, no doubt. But the visual style, and how you format the text, are just as important. Pair these two, and you’ll get a flurry of calls and e-mails in no time.

About the Author

Monica Crowe provides web and print copywriting services for passionpreneurs. She’s also the filmmaker behind Launch TV – a weekly docu-style show for creative entrepreneurs. Tune in to meet creative businesspeople who’ll transform the way you look at life and business. Http://www.monicacrowe.com

Posted in Branding, Guest Post, Web Design, Writing | Leave a comment

Designing for Budget

As a designer, I am often wanting to use alternative methods for printing, or special papers, inks, or die cuts for a particular project. Early in my career, I would design to my heart’s content only to discover that after the fact, the client didn’t budget for such a piece. So I would have to go back and retool the design to fit the print and production specifications to fall in line with their budget. This not only applies to Print. It can apply to new media depending on what technology is used to deliver your content. Either way, it is a mistake that I don’t make any more.

The reason I don’t make that mistake anymore is that I always ask what the client’s budget is. Most of the time they tell me outright. Sometimes, I get the feeling that some clients think that I am trying to squeeze additional money out of them, but the reality is that I need to know the budget in order to move forward with any kind of success. Much like any other significant purchase you make in this world, you tend to budget for it—even informally. For instance, when you go to buy a new or used car, you know how much money you have to put down—and you know how much money you can afford for monthly payments. After you do the math, you are left with what your budget is. The same goes for house shopping, etc., and the same should go for any business purchase you make—including your brand identity and any marketing collateral.

To avoid running into this problem, make sure to know what your budget is.  As a designer, I am trained to be able to work within budgets and give you options based on what you have to spend. Obviously with smaller budgets, you will inherently get less and larger budgets allow for more in-depth research and exploration, and more money for production. I usually separate the two—One budget for design and one for printing. The amount of money you have slated for a project will directly affect how it will need to be printed and that directly affects how it will be designed. Your budget dictates how your project will be designed and printed.

Lets say you have budgets squared away, and are ready to proceed with design and production of a piece. If money is no object (which is rare) then it’s a moot point. Even having unlimited budget can be a challenge, though. You wouldn’t want to add all kinds of techniques and effects just because you can afford them. You want to make sure that the design is in line with the strategy. But if your budget is limited, you can still incorporate some unique production methods if the design and strategy call for it. You just need to be savvy on how to incorporate it without going over budget. For example, lets say you have a cool trade show invitation that you want to incorporate some die cuts to get the message across but you are limited in budget. To offset some of the cost, you could revert to printing in one color vs. full color, and that might make room in your budget to allow for the die cut. So, as the designer, it is my job to solve the challenge of designing something that is going to be successful and on strategy, but still keep within budget. It is important to be realistic about your budgeting. You aren’t going to get top-notch design and final outcome for rock bottom costs. The old adage “you get what you pay for” applies here.

To avoid any potential problems, figure out your budget PRIOR to beginning your project. If you have no clue what your budget should be, consult with your designer and tell them what it is you are looking for and they will give you a proposal. That will give you a benchmark in terms of cost and you can go from there.  If you have any questions regarding how budgets affect design and vice-versa, or if you would like a proposal for an upcoming project, contact me and I will be happy to help with a free consultation. Just click on the contact tab and let me know, or leave a comment.


Posted in Business, design, education | Leave a comment

Introducing Sketchbook Bingo!


Pile of some of my sketchbooks or journals I have filled over the years.

I wanted to come up with something that would entertaining to my readers but still show the behind the scenes of what it is I do. So, what I have come up with is Sketchbook Bingo!

Over the course of my career, I have always kept a journal or small sketchbook with me. It’s what I use to put my to-do lists in, as well as logo concepting/sketches or jotting down ideas when I wake up in the middle of the night. The concept here is basically to randomly pick a current or previous sketchbook, and just flip to a page and show it here. Then I would just write what my memories are of that particular page. It might be something relating to a client project or it could be something that one of my kids drew when they snuck the book away from me. Whatever it is, I thought it would be somewhat entertaining, and also give you a glimpse of my process—even if it isn’t always directly related to my work. Mind you, some of these sketches may seem rough, or unfinished. These aren’t supposed to be finished illustrations. Just ideas and a little fun.

So I present to you the fist ever Sketchbook Bingo!  This one is from a Journal I kept during mid 2006 (I think). This sketch was actually an image from a coffee mug I was using while visiting my wife’s grandfather in Tucson, Arizona. He was 90 at the time and was an active and amazing man. He has since Past away just this year at 97(may he rest in peace!) I remember I was sitting at the dining room table and drinking coffee and eating breakfast with my daughter, who was 4 at the time. She was coloring with her crayons. I thought I’d try to do some more intricate shading and coloring not normally found with crayons. It turned out pretty good. We did several of these in what I like to call my “Crayola Phase”. Hahah.

Sketchbook Bingo

Sketch of an image taken from a mug while visiting Tucson, Arizona with my family. Circa 2006.

Posted in Illustration, Sketchbook Bingo! | 2 Comments