I've spent the morning thus far (2 hours or so) sourcing free vector shapes for some holiday design projects I'm working on. Yes, it's that time of year already...
Sourcing is always a drama. Licensing varies greatly from one site/artist to the next. Let's start with the premise that, unless I'm working on a corporate project, I don't even bother with pay sites - too 'spensive and I'm not interested in just plopping somebody else's elaborate digital artwork onto a card and reselling it. So I'm going to a site that advertises "free" or "royalty-free" vectors. What I'm generally looking for are simple shapes that I can stretch, skew, recolor, chop up, and render completely unrecognizable. But because the licensing issue is so complicated, when I come across something I need, I have to go through this whole big process of determining whether my intended use is acceptable. Can I use it commercially? Yes, great. Ok, can I alter it so as to make it unrecognizable? Yes? Fabulous! Can I use it on a greeting card for resale? No?! But it's just a little swirly thing that won't even look the same! Ok, so how much would it cost for me to be able to use it in my design? 100 dollars?!? What the?!
I know it's a touchy topic. I know everybody deserves to get paid for their work, and I'm definitely not attempting to make the point that all design elements should be free. But I also know that there are lots and lots and LOTS of designers out there that simply ignore the rules without consequence - the buyer certainly doesn't know the difference. You see threads about it all the time in the Etsy forums. We all pretty much use the same sources for our images, so when someone recognizes a design element in another seller's work, the assumption is usually made that an infringement has occurred. But in fact, there's no way to whether someone has paid an extended license fee or not. It's a mess.
I'm very very very careful about the imagery I use in my designs. My vintage graphics are all, to the very best of my knowledge, copyright-free and come from either public domain sites or "share" sites. I use fonts and vector "dingbats" that I've purchased legally, and then read and re-read the contracts to make sure they're ok for resale. And there most certainly ARE benevolent graphic artists out there that will allow you to use their shapes, callouts, dingbats, whatever in any way you like. And when I find them? Woohoo!! So what's my point? That it takes an incredible amount of searching and fine-print-reading to find even the simplest little design elements. And, really, who has that kind of time?
Alrighty, I'm done. PMS? Why do you ask?