Need advice on how to get vintage-illustration images incorporated into my design

Hey everyone!

I really need advice/tips on something.

I’m in the process of making a packaging design for potatoes, and I’m currently trying out different things. One of the things I really wanted to try out was having this vintage-botanical-illustration style. Something that has the same vibe as this :

The only thing is I have no idea how to do it. I don’t really have the skill to draw something so elaborate. The other thing is I’ve been searching everywhere for vectors to buy in the style I mentioned above, and I just can’t find anything that seems to match what I had in mind.

It’s very specific what I have in mind. I did find this print however :

I’d really like to use it, but it’s not the best quality and kinda hard to incorporate into the design. I want it to be in a PNG form with no background color, just the black outlines.

If any of this makes sense, could you please explain how to do it (if it is even possible) or give me a link to tutorials, or even point me in the direction to a vector bank with this kind of old-school-potato-vector.

I really do hope this makes sense. I’m so lost. Haha. :frowning:

Thanks in advance!

These kinds of illustrations are typically from the 19th Century and were painstakingly done by hand. Their complexity does not lend itself to vector artwork. As for getting rid of the colored background, about all you can really do is use the various tools in photoshop to deal with it. There are books available with thousands of these kinds of public domain images, for example: It’s still a matter of scanning them and using them as raster artwork, however.

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Email this website and see if they’ll rescan theirs for you.
Their contact info is on their Home page.


Dover is a publisher of books/cds with tons of open source illustrations from old books scanned at high resolution. They may even have this very image in one of their plant books.


Ah okay, thought that this might be the case. But thanks for the advice! :relieved:

No way! Thank you so much for the tip! :smile:

Use common sense with this next bit of advice. In some cases you can find great vintage illustrations using Flickr and select “no known copyright restrictions”. Does that mean that they are all truly without copyright, not necessarily. So, IMO, use common sense when going this route. Some of the options aren’t very high-res, but you can find some pretty great vintage illustrations.

If I were designing packaging for a real world client, at the very least, I’d want a signed release from any sort of Flikr account photographer verifying the source of the photo, so I could make that judgement call. Otherwise, not worth the risk to my client. Flikr photo sourcing can be a hit or miss thing. More often than not, a miss.

I agree PD, in my above example, I snagged a few screenshots showing the sources.



In my opinion (not a lawyer) I’d feel comfortable using images form a publication from the late 1800s.

1920 is the usual cut-off safe date. Except for images of people. Most of those you might want to wait 100 years after their death. Right now that’s the max state limit on “rights of publicity” in the US. Exceptions abound.

The other sticky point is sometimes who owns the book or the actual photo and if the photo on Flickr is taken by someone else. I hate all the search results that return Pinterest pins too. Pinterest is full of landmines.

While I might be comfortable in using an 1800s image posted online by a library, I still might ask their permission to use it before downloading it, just as a CYA thing.
< not a lawyer

You sound disappointed with the answer. :thinking:

You do not need nor want vector imagery to create this kind of thing. I would be willing to bet money on the botanical illustrations used on the example you showed having been scanned out of a book of old engravings. I have several of those books and have used them for years to do exactly the kind of thing you’re describing.

You mentioned wanting to take this approach with a packaging for potatoes. The book I linked to has old engravings of potatoes and potato plants in it. I’m reasonably certain you can find others online and in other books as well, but they will all be raster artwork and raster artwork is perfectly fine and, for that matter, preferable for this kind of thing.


Even though the source imagery in question are seemly free from copyright, the people that scanned them from the actual source are now the copyright holders of those scans. If British Library took the time to scan and make the images in a distributable format, one would need to obtain a release from them.

@Svava I think this is your best route - dover provides rights to use these images simply by purchasing their books. They are in very similar style as the images you are after and would free you form legal issues.

Not necessarily.

I’m not sure, but I think it was PrintDriver who pointed this out several months ago. I subsequently did some research into it myself. There have been court cases in both the US and the UK ruling against the notion of scans and photos of public-domain work having their own copyrights.

In several of the cases, whether the photo of the artwork was copyrightable itself hinged on whether or not the photo contained additional artistic merit that was not present in the original artwork. For example, if the photo was of, say, the Mona Lisa, but also contained a crowd of people gathered around to look at it, that work could be copyrighted since it was more than a simple reproduction of the painting. However, if the photo was a straight-forward photo of just the Mona Lisa, that photo would not be copyrightable.

Agree there is not a finite rule on this, but the fact that there has been cases proves this is a gray area that can be argued in court. Simply cleaning up the scanned image and formatting it (much like what dover does) is enough to obtain the copyright in that sense.

I know with the type of images in question this is all very low risk in general, but I can’t image a brands legal team okaying something like this without some type of release.

The British Library (as well as other libraries, etc.) uploaded it and tagged it as “no known copyright restrictions”. They are no claiming copyright, and as @Just-B mentioned, I’m not sure how scanning a work that is not copyrighted, would grant the copyright to the library.

<NOT a lawyer

Here is also a link from the no known copyright restrictions page:

Of the many library experiences I’ve had while doing image acquisition, probably 80% of them do want a minimal usage fee (usually $10-$100) in exchange for a “commercial” use, as they own the book in question and they put the work into digitizing it and maintaining the website.
I can respect that.
Personal and editorial uses are usually exempt, but usually credited in the latter.
The OP in this case is doing a commercial use.

I have, in the past, made arrangements with libraries to use a camera stand to photograph images in public domain books. That was a good 25 years ago though. They don’t usually allow 1800s books out on loan and I wouldn’t dare flatten a spine enough to bed scan one.

We’re way off topic here though I think.
Dover, as mentioned above is an excellent image source.
Again though, if you use more than, I think it’s 10 images, the do request compensation or at least that you ask for a release. I used probably 2 dozen of their engravings in an educational exhibit once and had to clear that with them. It’s somewhere in the EULA.

Based only on the research I’ve done (I’m no attorney either), I doubt the courts would uphold that reasoning. For that matter, if an effort was made to restore the reproduction to a more accurate depiction of the original, it could even be argued that the cleaned up version was less copyrightable than the less-than-perfect scan.

Yes, extra work went into cleaning it up, but that effort isn’t copyrightable. Copyrightability (is that a word?) depends on meeting several criteria — two of them being originality and expression. Cleaning up a scan to more closely resemble the original would seem not to meet either of these criteria — especially originality. Here’s a quote from the US copyright office:

As you said, though, the whole greyish thing is arguable enough be fought in court. And most designers, whether they’re in the right or not, should probably take precautions to not find themselves involved in a court cost. My experience with court is that everybody loses whether or not one wins the case or not.

Personally, I’m always frustrated by copyright laws. They’re way out of date in this digital age and with the grey areas seeming larger than those things that are black and white.

Even the black and white areas are sometimes bassackwards. For example, one of my side projects is designing typefaces and building commercial fonts. Typeface design, according to the U.S. Copyright Office, cannot be copyrighted since a typeface design is merely (my words) a tweaking of letters, numerals, punctuation marks, etc. According to them, a typeface design does not meet the criterion of originality because of this. An A is an A and a B is a B. The alphabet has no owner and, according to them, the reworking of these letters — despite the hundreds or thousands of hours that go into designing and building a good, solid full-featured font, does not constitute original artwork. Here’s a very long thread about it on TypeDrawers, if anyone’s interested.

For a while type designers, like myself, were getting around this idiocy by copyrighting the underlying code making up a digital typeface. Recently, the copyright office has decided to deny copyright registrations based on this reasoning by using logic that says type designers do not directly write the font software code by hand but depend, instead, on other programs to write that code for them. Most European countries, however, do recognize copyright protection for type designs. In other words, although it hasn’t been directly tested in court yet, this ruling from the copyright office now seems to make it perfectly legal to pirate fonts in the United States since they no longer have copyright protection.

Sorry, I got way off-topic on this one. :woozy_face:

I’m not disappointed with the answer at all? I said that I thought that it might be the case, because the drawings are quite detailed, and I realised that it’s probably not possible to come in vector form.

Like I mentioned in my post, I’m in the process of trying out different things for the packaging. So I guess I was also just trying to find a quick way of doing it, because of the timeframe I have, by using vector.

Finding a specific book, buying it, scanning the illustratoins and rasterising makes perfect sense, if you would want to give the illustrations any justice. But now I know, so if I want to go that route with the packaging, I’ll do that. :slight_smile:

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