Digital images: Image search engines

This guide provides links to image databases and resources to help you find and effectively use digital images in your scholarly work.



There are advantages and disadvantages in using Google Image Search:


  • Google is the largest and most popular image search 
  • Image searching is quick and easy
  • Offers simple and advanced search
  • Allows sorting options eg black & white, faces, image type 


  • Google Image Search uses text (your search terms) to search for images.
  • Google searches for the search terms in: the filename of the image or the link text pointing to the image or text adjacent to the image. 
  • Google makes a guess that the words are related to the image.  
  • There is no standard meta-data accompanying images.
  • Google technology isn’t yet to the point where it can tell what’s in an image by looking at it directly.
  • The images identified by Google may be protected by copyright.
  •  Google cannot grant you any rights to use images for any purpose other than viewing them on the web.
  •  Accordingly, if you would like to use any images found through Google, you must contact the site owner to obtain the requisite permissions.
  • There are other images, held within databases, that Google is unable to index.  Some of these are likely to be better than those found via Google.
  •  Google cannot make adequate assessments of the aesthetic quality of images they index or an image's suitability for your particular purpose.

Visual search engines

Visual search engines search for images using image and visual matching technologies, rather than text/keywords, tags, or text.


Idée Inc develops advanced image identification and visual search software. The technology looks at the patterns and pixels of images and videos to make each image or frame searchable by colour, similarity or exact duplicate.

  • TinEye is a reverse image software. Given an image to search for, TinEye tells you where and how that image appears all over the web—even if it has been modified
  • Multicolr Search Lab Search for Flickr Creative Commons images by colour. Select up to 5 colours per search.