What is Public Domain Artwork?

by Wagner Skis / Mar 06, 2023

Question: How can I get free art? Answer: Public domain artwork!

Deciding on a topsheet graphic for your custom ski design can be tricky. We have a ton of options, from wood veneers and artist series designs to house graphics and solid colors. One source of custom inspiration we love is public domain artwork. By definition, public domain art is available to the public as a whole and therefore not subject to copyright laws. For that reason, public domain pieces are fair game for your topsheet! 

The Great Wave house graphic from Wagner Custom SkisOne of the world's most recognizable pieces of public domain artwork: "The Great Wave Off Kanagawa" by Katsushika Hokusai.

Many museums have released millions of public domain artworks into digital collections as they have become available---the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the MOMA (both US and UK), Cleveland Museum of art, The National Gallery of Art, 14 museums in Paris (including Musée Galliera and the Catacombs) and others. Sadly, though, there isn’t just one source for all public domain images – a little digging must be done. You can search “public domain” and the artist’s name and it should become fairly obvious if the piece you want to use is public domain or not. 

For example, search “public domain” and “Andy Warhol” and the first site that pops up is licensing info for Warhol, which means nothing is available. But search “Hokusai” – the artist featured in this article – and “public domain” and tons of sources with artwork appear.

With all legalities, sometimes there are complications. There are cases where the artwork is public domain, but the photograph of said artwork is under copyright. A good example of this is the Sistine Chapel in Rome. When the Vatican started organizing the restoration of Michaelangelo’s ceiling, they realized it was going to be a fortune to restore. To arrange some form of future income on the ceiling, they paired up with a royalty-free image provider to get museum quality photographs--and now the rights to the photographs are copyrighted. You can learn more about that here

NASA, on the other hand, releases all of their photos to public domain. Put your tax dollars to work and get a space-themed ski! You can view their image gallery here

The Great Red Spot graphic from Wagner Custom.
The "Great Red Spot" graphic from Wagner Custom uses public domain artwork from NASA.

Using public domain images means that other people can request the same image as yours. Although we respect the graphic choices of our custom graphic clients, it is possible that another person requests “Starry Night” by Van Gogh (for example). There is only so much you can do to lay out a highly recognized painting onto a pair of skis, so compositions may be similar. If this is a concern of yours, you can consider adding personalized text/logos, or change colors to make your public domain image unique to your skis. The particular change you use, we will not reuse for another pair of skis, even if another person requests the same public domain image.

Regardless of the public domain rights, the image still needs to be big enough/high enough quality to be used on a pair of skis. We want the biggest image possible (over at least 4MP, preferably higher) or 150dpi at 100% of final (intended usage) size. If your skis are 180cm and you want the image over half your skis, the image must be at least 90cm tall at 150dpi.

Here are a few other public domain artwork pieces we've used as either house or custom topsheet graphics:


Starry Night graphic by Vincent Van Gough
Instantly recognizable, "Starry Night" by Vincent Van Gough makes a great ski graphic. We created this ski as a custom graphic, so we cannot reproduce it exactly for you.


Apollo 15 ski graphic by Wagner Custom Skis
The owner of this ski personalized the NASA images with his daughter's names.


The Scream by Edvard Munch
Another famous piece, "The Scream" by Edvard Munch. We created this ski as a custom graphic, so we cannot reproduce it exactly for you.

Want to learn more about our custom graphic progress? Check out this article. See more graphic inspiration here.


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