Free Image Websites That Actually Improve Email Performance

Cedric Jackson

Mar 18 2019

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“A picture is worth a thousand words,” You’re probably tired of hearing that old cliché but it really is, especially when it comes to the emails you send. Images can capture people’s attention. While email marketing software such as Drip are necessities, so too are images for any business that wants to be successful. However, finding the right email images is tricky because photos carry the same copyright as any other creative work. Fortunately, there are free image websites that can fulfill your photo needs.

Success with your email marketing campaigns will largely depend on how well you use visual assets. Having the best email marketing sales copy in the world means little if you can’t capture the user’s attention and here’s why.

The average human attention span is 8 seconds according to a study published by Microsoft back in 2015. However, a new study by the University of California-Berkeley and Princeton University suggest that attention sparks in and out (precisely four times per second). In other words, we are evolutionarily designed to focus on one thing at a time. However, only in really short timeframes that require us to re-focus over and over again.

So you’re simply setting your campaigns up for failure if you aren’t being strategic about earning the recipient’s attention. Email images work because they can help consumers notice specific things. You’re probably leaving money on the table if you’re not optimizing your image assets.

Email marketing images sell

Designers are usually the first ones to point out the necessity of using images in practically everything. However, many marketing departments are concerned with deliverability so they often opt for no images. Sometimes, this is due to budget limitations. Nevertheless, it’s an error that is likely to impact branding and conversions. Email marketing images are fantastic branding and aesthetic enhancement tools that sell!

They’re a critical aspect of marketing content and the easiest visuals to include in emails. Modern email clients are better at handling images now compared to previous years. You just have to be smart about how you use them and know the best free image websites. Ultimately, your goal is to improve email performance by using free stock photos, not hinder it.

Challenges with email service providers (ESP)

Sophisticated email service providers (ESP) like Gmail may automatically send your email to a ‘promotions’ folder if too many images are detected. For that reason, it’s important to keep email images minimal. One image per email will suffice and the photos you use doesn’t have to be anything extreme either.

For example, you can use your logo at the top of your emails and include one or two additional photos from free image websites. This works as long as your emails are valuable and non-spammy in nature.

In addition, some email software, firewalls, and other security systems can prevent your images from appearing upon delivery. In this situation, you can tell your contacts to whitelist your email address. Most email marketing management platforms like Constant Contact or Pinpointe have a detailed tutorial on how to accomplish this. It’s very simple to do. Being whitelisted means that practically everything you send will be in your prospect or customer’s inbox.

Considerations before using free image websites

There are a few terms to be aware of when searching for free stock photos. It’s important that you familiarize yourself with them to avoid any potential legal debacles down the road. Also, you’ll come across them on various free image websites.

  • Royalty free – In order to use these kinds of images you may have to pay a fee unless otherwise stated. Images can then be used as you see fit. However, there might be a limit to how many times you can use a particular image depending on the kind of license you buy. So make sure you’re paying attention to the fine print.
  • Public domain – These are photos that are available to the public for free. They’re photos that were once copyrighted but now available due to copyright expiration or other reason.
  • Creative commons – This is a not-for-profit organization that allows creators to apply refined licenses to their work so that others can reuse them. These people have streamlined how permission is given.


Top places to get free stock photos

There are massive amounts of free images online. So it can be quite tempting to simply grab an image that fits. However, that will likely attract a cease and desist copyright notice. Also, providing attribution doesn’t guarantee that the owner wouldn’t ask you to take it down at a later date. Furthermore, email images with attribution can appear unprofessional in certain circumstances. So the best option is to use free image websites for your email marketing image needs. Here are the best free image sources on the web.

1. Pixabay has been a go-to for plenty of marketers that want high-quality free stock photos for many years. Photos are available under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license. That means no copyright is reserved and all rights are dedicated to the public domain.

Currently, there are over 1.6 million free stock photos to choose from, including vectors, silhouettes, and other illustrations. No attribution is required in most cases but some photographers only allow editorial use (non-commercial purposes).

2. Unsplash

The photos at are very unique in that they seem more natural. They include the same touch you’d expect from a professional photo shoot. They’ve got tons of free images online to pick from and every photo is licensed under Creative Commons Zero. Again, that means photos can be used in any way users deem appropriate and without attribution.

3. Pexels consist of carefully handpicked images from several free image sources and direct donations from its users. Worth noting is that Unsplash, Pixabay, and a few others on this list allow users to upload photos too.

4. is jam-packed with an interesting selection of photos and they’re all free from copyright restrictions. The platform’s “Trending” feature lets you sort images in descending order based on what’s trending. However, they are a bit aggressive with their ad placements than most free image websites.

5. ISO Republic

Overall, is a useful platform for designers and creators but doesn’t have as many free stock photos compared to the others. Basically, it has just enough images to keep you wanting more, which is helpful for selling the Shutter Stock membership promos on display. Nonetheless, it’s still one of the better free image websites.

6. Death to Stock

Unlike others, you’ll need to subscribe in order to receive handpicked free images in your inbox. There are also paid options that come with a 14-day trial if you want full access and generally more control. arguably has the highest quality and most unique free images online even though it’s technically a paid service at its core.

7. Burst

Burst ( is powered by Shopify and has a wide range of photos suited for several uses. Photos fall under the CC0 license, making it a perfect choice for email marketing images.

8. Free Images

Well, the name leaves nothing to chance or imagination. provides tons of free photos and they’ve got over 380, 000 of them. However, you’ll need a membership to download images but it’s absolutely free.

9. Free Range

Similar to the above, requires registration to download images. They specialize in obtaining high-quality photos from in-house photographers and contributors (must register and meet their requirements).

Use images wisely

Emails generally perform better when images are used. But, keep the following tips in mind as you plan out your email marketing campaigns.

  • Sending emails that are entirely made up of images is likely to get your email address flagged for spam.
  • Whenever possible, embed CTA (calls-to-action) on images because they’re more noticeable than mere text.
  • Alternative text (or alt text) is the text that appears in place of an image. If the image doesn’t load, this is what the user sees. It also helps the visually impaired. Always include alt texts to assist them and ensure recipients still understand your image even if it doesn’t load.
  • Preferably, keep images to a minimum and their file sizes small enough to load quickly. Be strategic in how and where you use them within your email content.

Hands down, images are necessary if you want to improve the performance of your emails. There’s no doubt that the tips and free image websites mentioned here will help you affordably achieve your marketing objectives. Find a balance between deliverability and images that enhance your email’s performance.

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