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Images for Designers and Art Researchers


This guide is intended for students who are working on academic assignments such as research papers, mood boards, presentations, and e-portfolios. The guide is intended to be educational and non-commercial.

Please note the examples contained in this guide are based on the author's interpretation of proper citing procedures.  There are few standards for image citation for educational purposes in the Chicago Manual of Style.

It is not intended to be used for scholarship by faculty members; for publishing online to the general public; or for commercial purposes.  Students should speak to instructors for guidelines for specific assignments.  For example, citations might be unnecessary for certain studio projects.

Please refer to the College Art Association's Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts.

All databases (library, commercial, and non-commercial) are governed by terms of use:

Web Sharing

Some web resources provide tools for sharing or embedding images. It is preferable to use these tools whenever they are available (rather than downloading and re-uploading image files, or taking screenshots).

Creative Commons

Creative Commons helps you legally share your knowledge and creativity to build a more equitable, accessible, and innovative world. We unlock the full potential of the internet to drive a new era of development, growth and productivity. With a network of staff, board, and affiliates around the world, Creative Commons provides free, easy-to-use copyright licenses to make a simple and standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work–on conditions of your choice.

Licensing Images

When using images in a manner that does not qualify as fair use, image copyright holders must be consulted.

The four factors used to determine whether fair use applies are:

  • the purpose and character of your use
  • the nature of the copyrighted work
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market.

For example, when an image is being used in a book that will be published by a for-profit publisher, the author is usually responsible for clearing copyright (obtaining permission and/or paying a licensing fee) for the images.  To clear copyright, contact whoever owns the image.  The copyright holder might be a museum, a library, a photographer, an artist, or an artist's estate.  Many artists are represented by Artists Rights Society or VAGA.

Copyright for your own work

Did you know that anyone can copyright their creative work?  It's only $35 and you can do it online at  You can register multiple works under the same copyright and revise the works after they are registered.  

Questions?  Ask Us, contact Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, or refer to one of the resources below: