7 sources of free design inspiration from stock libraries

You don’t need to buy anything to make use of stock image libraries. Here are 7 ways to get a quick burst of graphic design inspiration for free.

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You’re trying to get inspired for your design project, but nothing’s giving you the spark you need. You’ve searched Google Images, flicked through Flickr, gone for a walk to clear your head… but still, nothing. 

Ever thought of seeking inspiration from a stock library? It might sound a bit weird, but with tens of millions of visuals at your fingertips, and sophisticated tools helping you hone down your search to perfection, it can really help. You don’t even have to buy anything – the inspiration comes for free.

Also, don’t forget stock libraries are just about photography: they’re filled with tons of illustrations, videos, and other graphical elements. Here select 6 sources of graphic design inspiration you might not have thought of looking for within a stock image library. 

01. Patterns

Elegant stripe waves by Jobalou

Unusual and inventive patterns are a great way to spark ideas and get your grey matter pulsing. Tailor your search to find the most relevant patterns for your project, including both categorical search terms such as ‘geometric’ or ‘fractal’ and broader terms such as ‘surreal’, ‘broken’ or ‘beautiful’.

02. Textures

Cubes wall by Tiero

The right texture can really bring a design to life, and stock image libraries offer a cornucopia of photographic, illustrative and even video textures to provide the inspiration you need. Again, find exactly what you’re looking for by combining descriptive search terms such as ‘granular’, ‘metallic’ or ‘earthy’ with wider phrases like ‘colourful’, ‘natural’ or ‘reflective’.

03. Vector elements

Cartoon illustrations by Ibrahim Sari

When you see the ‘Illustrations’ tab on a stock library site, don’t assume it’s only fully formed artwork you’ll find there. There will also be a kaleidoscope of different vector elements for you to use in your projects – and these can serve as a great source of creative and conceptual inspiration too.

04. Icons

Political icon set by Alonzo Design

One of the secrets to good design is breaking down a concept into its most fundamental parts, and finding ways to visualise these cleanly and simply. Icons are the epitome of this technique in action so whatever you’re designing, examining icons in the relevant field can help crystallise in your mind what it is you’re trying to convey.

05. Silhouettes

Flaming basketball player by draco77

Like icons, a good silhouette strips down an image to its bare fundamentals, conveying its essence with beautiful simplicity. As such, they can be a great source of inspiration for your design work, so when searching a stock image library, use ‘silhouette’ as an extra search term and see what comes back.

06. Retro line art

Young man dancing and combing hair by George Peters

Inspired by low-fi Fifties print advertising, this is one of the hipper trends in design at the moment. So for a sideways look on a particular theme, trying adding ‘retro line art’ to your stock library search: you may be surprised by what surfaces and it may just send you in a new creative direction.

07. Geometric art

Modern techno background by Pobytov

If page views on Creative Bloq posts are anything to go by, the design world’s love affair with geometric art shows no signs of flagging. But not all geometric art looks the same, so vary your search terms and you may be surprised by the wide variety of geometric inspiration you can return in a single search.


Tom May is a freelance writer and editor specialising in design and technology. He was previously associate editor at Creative Bloq and deputy editor at net magazine, the world's best-selling magazine for web designers. Over two decades in journalism he's worked for a wide range of mainstream titles including The Sun, Radio Times, NME, Heat, Company and Bella.