Writing is Expensive: Stock Art

Writing is Expensive is a series of posts about my journey getting into writing RPG supplements and the tools I’m using to do so. The focus is on looking at different options and hopefully saving time for other new writers who are trying to find the right tools for the job. No doubt, over time the resources I use myself will change, and that should be reflected in these posts. I also hope I’ll be learning more about some resources from readers.

While any RPG is really made by its contents and ideas, artwork plays a huge part in our perception of a book or PDF, both pre and post-purchase. It can make a good idea appear great, make the experience of reading more memorable, and be a joy to own. It brings the written word to life.

Unfortunately, producing this art is well beyond my skill set. I can wrangle a word with reasonable efficacy, but I can’t convince a pen or pencil to produce anything worth my time, let alone yours. This is true for a lot of writers, and so we turn to real artists to produce things for us. For many of us stock art is the route we take to keep costs down, so this is about the ins and outs a few options.

Free options
Bizarely, free is a more complex concept than you might think, with there being a whole variety of licenses that include not exchanging money, but where attribution may or may not be important.

Pixabay – well and truly free! Everything here is distributed under CC0 license, meaning it is well and truly free, no purchase, attribution or anything required. Their selection when it comes to fantasy art is extremely limited, but there are useful images on here, and a lot of vector art. The featured image for this post was sourced here.

Pexels – Another CC0 license site, meaning everything it provides is free to use and modify as much as you like. This focuses more on photography and has some really good quality images available.

Old Book Illustrations – This site is great, many images cropped and scanned from old books. Very rich and interesting, a hotbed of ideas even if you don’t use the images yourself. All images are supposed to be public domain, but the sites carries a disclaimer saying they don’t guarantee everything is public domain everywhere. Thanks to Dread Gazebo for this one!

Individual Purchases
Being able to purchase individual images based on your needs makes a lot of sense, and for freelance writers, it lets you keep costs really under control and totally granular.

The Noun Project – Totally focused on icons costing $1.99 each. There are also subscriptions available. There isn’t a fantasy focus, but all sorts of stuff can be found here.

DriveThruRPG – DriveThru offers tons of RPG content, including stock art, and due its good visibility in the RPG community, there is tons of stuff here covering lots of price points, genres, styles and levels of quality. Each product has its own license, so make sure you read it and know exactly what you can and can’t do to avoid hassle. A big downside of this is much of the good art has been used many times and you will see the same images in other supplements.

DM’s Guild – Much of what can be said for DriveThru rings true for DM’s Guild. There is some great stuff there, but also some terrible stuff, and a lot of the art that is both good and cheap will have been used in many, many places. This makes it much harder to establish visual identity using it.

Subscription Models
These can make sense if you use a lot of art, or if it all comes from one source. Otherwise, they can be really expensive, especially if the subscription is time-based.

Shutterstock – This place is expensive! That said, you get what you pay for, the quality of much of its art is great, and it has an excellent range of all sorts of things. Fantasy art isn’t its strength, but its range overall is excellent.

Adobe Stock – This absolutely exemplifies the bulk point I made at the start. 3 items a month will cost you $10 an item ($29.99 total). If we go to the other end of the scale, 750 items a month works out at just over $0.25 per item. An astounding difference. Once again, there is great stuff on here, but it’s pricing model puts it out of the reach of many.

A word on supporting creators
If you’re reading this, you’re likely a content creator, or interested in becoming one. Therefore I have to say, be a content supporter too. Whatever you do, don’t just use Google Images and take things without looking into licensing or attribution. By doing so, you are undermining the success of the very industry you seek to participate in. Learning about the licensing can be a hassle, and paying for art can be budget-breakingly paingful, but you’d want people to pay for your work instead of just ripping it off, so do the right thing.

Know more?
This is only a brief overview of a few stock options I’ve investigated myself. I’d love to hear about more options that you’ve used and I’ll update this post with any that I get. Feel free to drop them in the comments, or come hang out on Twitter. Even if you just enjoyed reading this and want to chat RPGs, I’d love to hear from you.


1 Comment

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Dread Gazeboreply
April 10, 2017 at 3:51 pm

Good read, nice resource. I’ve always had good experiences finding stuff on https://www.oldbookillustrations.com/ too.

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