7 Reasons To Love The Public Domain

Orana Velarde
4 min readDec 2, 2019

A visual creative’s paradise

I’ve known about the public domain for a while, ever since I used to spend entire afternoons (and some Saturday mornings) at the public library in Coral Gables. Sure, the kids' books and fiction novels were great, but the reference books were my all-time favorites to look at.

It was then that I learned what the public domain was, but I didn’t really experience the magic of it until I started working as a visual creative.

After ten years in the special effects makeup industry, I transitioned to family travel blogging and out of serendipity I started publishing creative content. The public domain came back into my life when I discovered Rawpixel and their love of all things beautiful.

They brought a new vibrant life to the Public Domain and I was once again hooked. For example, being able to create clothing and home decor items with Hokusai’s woodblock art was like a blessing.

In fact, Hokusai’s wave is one of the most famous Public Domain artworks. That’s why you see it in so many places.

Image from rawpixel.com / Library of Congress (Source)

In honor of the magic of creativity and history, here are 7 reasons to love the Public Domain.

1. It’s FREE!

The most obvious reason why creatives love the Public Domain is that it’s completely free to use. All the images that are part of the Public Domain can be used as-is or modified for both personal and commercial products.

If you search for the Hokusai wave on any site like Society6 or RedBubble, you’ll find tons of redesigned versions on all sorts of products.

Hokusai — The Great Wave of Kanagawa Laptop & iPad Skin

2. It’s a Gigantic Library

The second reason to love the Public Domain is that it’s enormous. The number of things that are available as Public Domain is ridiculous.

According to Public Domain Fair Use laws:

There are four common ways that works arrive in the public domain:

- the copyright has expired

- the copyright owner failed to follow copyright renewal rules

- the copyright owner deliberately places it in the public domain, known as “dedication,” or

- copyright law does not protect this type of work.

The number of written and visual work that fit those requirements is vast. Therefore there is almost no limit to what you can find in the Public Domain.

A great place to start is the Public Domain Review, a website dedicated to the magic of the Public Domain and all its wonders.

3. It’s amazing for Collage Creation

Most visual creators, illustrators, and artists use the public domain for their collages. Editorial illustrators are always in search of that small dose of visual inspiration to cut out and use in a piece of artwork.

From adding a bubblegum bubble to completely cutting up the art into amazing compositions, anything is possible with the Public Domain.

4. It’s a Treasure Trove of Inspiration

A huge part of a designer’s life is taken up by personal projects. In fact, when we don’t have personal projects things tend to get boring and stagnated. Thankfully, a lot of us have work which we enjoy but we still need personal projects.

The Public Domain is a great place to find inspiration to create new things. From collage creation to merchandise design to something completely new. Being able to access and use so much amazing artwork can improve anyone’s imagination.

And of course, there are also poems and written work which can be used to create any sort of thing! An artist could self publish a book of poetry from the Public Domain with their own illustrations.

The possibilities of inspiration and creation are endless.

5. NASA’s Space Images are in the Public Domain

One of my all-time favorite section of the Public Domain is the magnificent NASA library. Not all the NASA photos are in the Public Domain, many are only available for educational and personal projects.

Nevertheless, the ones that are, are amazing.

Personal Bonus: Ia Orana Maria by Paul Gauguin

My parents are artists. They name me after this painting.

It has always been a huge part of my life. I’ve always wanted a large-size poster of this painting. Now thanks to Rawpixel’s digital retouchers and Society6, I can.

Image from rawpixel.com / The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Source)