Using the Public Domain on Merchandise

In the ever-evolving world of merchandise design, the search for captivating and unique visuals often leads creators to explore various image sources. One fascinating and accessible avenue that has gained popularity is the use of public domain images. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the concept of the public domain, comparing it to copyright and Creative Commons Zero. We’ll also highlight some noteworthy images that have recently entered the public domain in 2024, showcasing the potential for creative freedom and risk-free exploration of vintage and streetwear trends.

Understanding Public Domain

Public domain refers to creative works and intellectual property that are not protected by copyright law or whose copyright has expired. This liberates these works from legal constraints, allowing anyone to use, modify, and distribute them without seeking permission or facing copyright infringement issues. Public domain images provide a treasure trove of inspiration for designers and creators, offering a vast repository of visuals that can be harnessed for various purposes, including merchandise design.

Comparing Public Domain to Copyright and Creative Commons Zero

Unlike public domain images, copyrighted materials are legally protected, requiring permission for use and potential licensing fees. On the other hand, Creative Commons Zero (CC0) is a licensing option where creators intentionally waive their copyright, allowing their work to be freely used by others. While CC0 is a great choice for those seeking images with a bit more assurance, public domain offers the ultimate freedom, as no restrictions or attributions are necessary.

Public Domain Images in 2024

As of 2024, several iconic pieces of media have entered the public domain, presenting exciting opportunities for merchandise designers. One example is the original Mickey and Minnie Mouse, from the 1928 films Steamboat Willie, The Gallopin’ Gaucho and the silent version of Plane Crazy. Other notable examples include the first incarnation of Tigger in the Winnie The Pooh novel The House at Pooh Corner, Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus, and the play Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up by J.M. Barrie. Among these are images that perfectly align with the ongoing trends in vintage and streetwear aesthetics, making them ideal for those looking to infuse their merchandise with a touch of nostalgia and cultural relevance.

Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus

Creative Freedom and Peace of Mind

One of the significant advantages of using public domain images is the unparalleled creative freedom they offer. Designers and creators can manipulate, combine, and reimagine these visuals without the fear of legal repercussions. This is particularly valuable in the fast-paced world of fashion and merchandise, where staying on-trend and creating unique, relevant pieces is essential.

Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up by J.M. Barrie

Vintage and Streetwear Trends

Public domain images are a goldmine for those looking to tap into vintage and streetwear trends. From retro typography to iconic symbols of bygone eras, these images provide a source of inspiration that seamlessly fits into the aesthetic of these current design movements. By incorporating public domain visuals, creators can set their merchandise apart while staying true to the authenticity of these timeless styles.


In the world of merchandise design, the use of public domain images opens up a realm of possibilities. As we navigate through the trends of vintage and streetwear, the freedom and flexibility offered by public domain materials become increasingly valuable. By embracing these images, creators can craft unique, eye-catching merchandise that stands out in a crowded market, all while enjoying the peace of mind that comes with avoiding copyright concerns. So, go ahead, explore the public domain, and let your creativity run wild!


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Michelle Miles

Brand Creative Manager


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