The Best Royalty-Free Stock Image Sites for Your Book Cover (and How to Avoid Choosing the Same One as Everybody Else).

The Best Royalty-Free Stock Image Sites for Your Book Cover (and How to Avoid Choosing the Same One as Everybody Else).

If you’re indie publishing, you probably can’t afford a photo shoot. Fortunately (or unfortunately), these days major publishing houses can’t either, which means everybody is using stock photography.

Stock photos are royalty-free images you pay to download, that you can use for book cover designs or other projects.

There are lots of websites, and I’ll walk you through my favorites, before introducing some lesser known options for finding the perfect picture.

Why use stock photography?

The best thing about using stock photography for your book cover is that you can get a great cover for a low price – either by designing your own, or by paying a designer a lower fee (if you’ve already got the photo you want to use, a lot of designers will be flexible on their price).

You can probably do it yourself, if you stick with simple fonts and don’t do anything fancy.

If you’ve already chosen the photo you love, the book cover design process will be faster and easier.

An excellent book cover design starts with an amazing photo (rather than trying to mash a bunch of things together to create a complex scene – for that you usually need custom illustration, which is more expensive and probably doesn’t sell as well any way. Photos are more powerful.)

The danger of stock images for book covers

The problem you’re going to run into is this: the better the picture, the more people are using it for their own book cover cover design stock images

Recently I was working on a beautiful cover using a photo the author and I loved, until I saw this book cover, published by Penguin no less, using the same photo:

The designer had done a good job, adding in all the flowers, going up into her hand. But the face is so recognizable, we didn’t want to use the same photo (I’ve since seen about 5 other covers using the same picture. And I even saw matching covers with the alternative we went with!)

You probably can’t avoid it completely. It’s going to happen if you use stock photos (unless you pick something nobody else will use for a book cover. Something boring.)

What you can do is make sure your text, style and effects change the picture enough that it isn’t exactly the same as another author’s.

What size do I need?

Even for an ebook cover, you’ll going to want the large or extra large size (at least 1500px wide).

The best stock photography sites

book cover design stock images

These are the ones I use. I’m sure there are more.

Istock Photo

Expensive – a photo can cost around $50 to $100. But they have some unique, amazing stuff.


Also a good choice, but more expensive, expect to pay around $10 per photo.

The following sites are about equal, photos usually cost less than $5:

I usually use depositphotos, because every year or so they have a big bulk credit deal. You can also browse “Stock Exchange Photos“, they have a lot of free stuff.

A cheap trick: if you find something you like on a more expensive site like Istock, see if you can find the same photo on a cheaper site like Photodune. Sometimes you can use “” to reverse image search.

Boutique images for book cover design

Due to the demand, some companies have started offering photography specifically for books covers – mostly cool protagonists in a variety of poses. There are some amazing options, but it’s a little weird that all the cover designers are using the same handful of models… I recommend doing a face-swap at least if you can.

3D character genre renders for cover design

Something kind of new, are people using Daz or similiar 3D software to render really amazing character art. Often these come as a transparent PNG so it’s super easy to use them. Personally, I would use a face swap with a real picture because a lot of readers don’t like the “plasticky” look of the models, however I expect in another year or so these are going to be photorealistic.

For example, check these out by HWWO stock – character renders will look like this; different postures and poses to choose from, often in excellent scifi or fantasy armor that you couldn’t make with just stock photos (these are newish, so the quality of the faces is pretty great).

book cover design stock images

If you have found a character you want, there are some great “background stripping tools” where you can upload the image and strip the background; then you just need to add a background and text. If you haven’t looked through my book cover design resources yet… you definitely should.

Start with this:
8 cover design secrets publishers use to manipulate readers


Finding FREE stock images for book covers

  • Unsplash, Pixabay, Pexels

Some of these images should technically be commercial-free (allowed to use on book covers) however there have been cases of people uploading pictures that were not their own; or of buildings that can’t legally be shown; or of people/portraits without getting the model’s clearance.

For that reasons I would not recommend using these sites for book cover stock photos. I might use a small portion as part of the background, if I could find the author/photographer and make sure I have permission, but I probably wouldn’t risk using a model. However, these images might be OK for promotional images, blog posts, etc.

book cover design stock images– Check out Flickr‘s Creative Commons area. Many users post their photos and give you the right to use them in commercial projects with proper attribution. That means you just have to say “Cover photo by xyz user on Flickr” or something like that. Here’s the link to the Flickr Creative Commons Attribution page. You can search from there.

Flickr is a good spot for artsy, emotion pictures like this one (umbrella, right).

– Search on Deviantart for some stock photography. Deviantart is home to thousands of artists, designers and photographers. Although they are usually very protective of their work, sometimes they post stock photos or extra stuff as “scraps”. Anybody is free to use them with attribution (Make sure you read each user’s usage rules, some are non-commercial. But many times you just need to credit them and add a link to where you’ve used their photo). Here’s a link to Deviant art Stock Photos.

Here’s another link (different section on Deviant Art, more Stock)

book cover design stock imagesDeviantart is a good source of wacky “stock” photos that need to be cleaned up by a graphic designer, like this one with the stick. Put some tattoos on him, put him in the wild fighting a dinosaur, and you’d have a great cover.

But that would take some advanced Photoshop skills.


Taking your own book cover photo

If you have a smartphone, you can probably take a good cover photo of your own. Unleash your inner artist.

The reason I prefer smartphones is because you can use apps like Instagram or Hipstamatic to make amazing shots. A normal digital camera would give you a plain, boring photo – but on a smartphone/iphone you can style it easily. Make it moody, dark, cool – then upload it to your computer and add some text (you can actually make a complete book cover design on your smart phone, but I’ll write another post about that…)

What to take pictures of? An old church or building, ruins, the sunset, the forest.

Something to remember: People shots always outsell landscape shots.

A cover I like, that’s on a major publishing house book and selling well (can’t remember which one), is a blurry picture of some wet leabook cover design stock imagesves, with a girl’s hand/arm running through it.

This would be pretty easy to do yourself, just find a friend to model. Take off centered shots. Take a picture of them from behind, in the middle of an amazing natural scene (if you avoid face pictures, they can easily represent your main character…)

Here’s another one I like: The forest of hands and teeth. Simple, beautiful picture. I don’t love the font or text though…

A few more book cover art ideas

A few more things to think about. If you want art/a painting, you can order a poster of just about anything from The trick is to find a painting that is not too famous, so it still has that mystique. You can zoom in on just one small piece, rather than doing the whole thing.

Order a poster, then scan it, then you can use the high-res version for your cover. Anything order than 70 years should be royalty free.

book cover design stock imagesIf you want something more modern, search or for paintings. Those artists are selling their original paintings, and they’ll probably be happy to let you use the cover (I would offer them $50 or $100 anyway, plus attribution in the book, just to be fair).

Paintings can make beautiful covers, if done well.

You can also go to your local library and browse the Art section; they’ll probably have color-printed books. You can get scans (you’ll probably need to scan at 600dpi, so that you can enlarge the image enough to use) and use them for your cover.

Where do you find your stock photos? Any creative source I missed?

How to actually make a book cover design?

Ah, that’s a different topic and it’s huge. I do have tons of resources, tutorials and templates though to help you put these stock images and resources together once you’ve found them. There’s also a handy font list down below; and a 3D book cover mockup generator; and my new online cover creator is pretty amazing. Make sure you try out all my free tools, they’re sure to come in handy when you’re putting your book cover together or starting to promote your book.

Cover design secrets that sell books

If you need help, make sure to download my free guide!

I’ve helped design over 1000 book covers, including hundreds of bestsellers – download my free book to learn all the insider secrets I use to sell more books. Click here to get it now. I’ll also share some of the advanced book marketing tactics I’ve used to make a full-time income with my writing.

You can also grab some templates and tutorials at

Extra resources:

Or hire a professional book cover designer

I try to help authors DIY their book design, but you shouldn’t do that without at least understanding the enormous gap between your homemade efforts and a professional designer. Here’s a list of my favorite designers.

Not everybody is capable of this kind of book cover art; it’s a combination of photoshopping and typography, and sometimes some custom illustration. But a quality cover like this generally costs around $350 to $750 and it’ll drastically, significantly, boost your sales and reduce your marketing spend for ads and promotion.

UPDATE: now there are a bunch of new AI text to image generators that can make pretty great artwork and illustrations for book cover design. Check out this post: MidjourneyAI for Bookcover Design