I use reference images for just about everything that I draw. Mainly I use reference for things that require specific details, like anatomy, cars, buildings, fashion etc..
I have used a lot of different resources for image reference, and this list of websites and apps are the ones I use most often. By no means is this list comprehensive, but it’s a great place to start.
*** Updated May 15 2018 – Added: Image Management Recommendations ***
Note: I do not recommend tracing image reference for your artwork. Image reference should augment your ability as an artist, not replace it.
After a while, your Image reference folder may get a little unruly and difficult to organize. Here are two methods to keep the chaos at bay.
I have created a collection of PDF files to organize my image reference collection. While this is a good way to collect a high volume of images, viewing many images from different PDF files is problematic/impossible. Which leads me to my next image reference viewing method: Pure Ref.
Pure Ref (Software – Mac, PC)
Pure Ref is great for creating project specific image galleries. It allows you to put a bunch of images on an infinite canvas that makes navigating through a large amount of images effortless.
REFERENCE FOR ANYTHING
Google Image Search (website)
I use Google Image Search for almost all of my image researching, but it’s more of a starting point rather than an all in one solution.
Google searching doesn’t always get me what I’m looking for. Either the image is too small and does not have enough detail, or the specific item/angle I’m looking for does not show up.
If Google does not find the image I need, I use a bunch of the other images resources I’ve listed below.
In the case that Google is not working out, I turn to Flickr. It has good search feature and more often than not has large, well shot images.
QuickPoses (website, NSFW)
QuickPoses is a great site for warmup gesture drawings. You can set the length of time you want to spend on a drawing before the next random image is automatically displayed.
While drawing from life is the best way to go for gesture drawing, not everyone has access to life drawing sessions.
If all you need as 30 minutes of gestures to warm up before a day of drawing, using photographs is a good alternative.
You are the most convenient source of image reference for any pose, hands, feet etc. I have found that an iPhone with a camera app that has an interval timer works the best. I use Camera Awesome. The interval timer allows you to do multiple poses without needing to interact with the iPhone in between photos.
Lecorché (iOS, OSX)
I’ve found Lecorché to be a better anatomy resource than all of the anatomy books I have ever owned.
Lecorché has a fairly highly detailed 3D model of a male figure. The model can be viewed at any angle and there is a feature to isolate the head, torso, arm, and leg for detailed study.
While Lecorché is great for muscle anatomy, it lacks the ability to view the human form with or without skin.
Essential Anatomy 5 (iOS, OSX)
Essential Anatomy 5 is a good supplementary resource to Lecorché.
It seems like a tool more aimed at the medical profession, but I have still found it to be very useful.
It has a male and female 3D model that can be viewed at any angle with many options for what is visible. Ranging from a skeleton to a human form
BUILDINGS AND ARCHITECTURE REFERENCE
Google Maps – Using Street View (website)
Google maps using street view is useful if you first do a google search for buildings that you are looking for, then go to their location in google maps.
3D Tuning (website, iOS)
3D Tuning is an amazing website that has a very large selection of high quality 3D cars and trucks to pick from. I usually do a Google search to find the type of car I’m looking for, then use this site to focus in on a specific model.
A minor drawback is that the 3D car models can only be turned on one instead of two axis.
Gun Disassembly 2 (iOS)
Gun Disassembly 2 is a great resource for 3D guns of all types. The 3D models are of a high enough detail to get what you need for drawing, but most of the models do not have an ultra-high resolution. For example, when zoomed in on the end of a gun barrel, what should be a smooth circle, shows as a collection of straight lines. When zoomed out, this is less noticeable.
The app interface is dated, but you’re there for the great 3D models, so don’t let that put you off.
Shoeme has quality images of virtually any type of footwear. This is my go-to footwear resource.
Did I miss any of the image reference resources you use often? Let me know what you use in the comments below.