If you are new to free printables, this post is for you. We’re discussing what free printables are, what you’re allowed to use them for, how to download and print free printables as well as some setting recommendations.
You can find thousands of free printables on blogs and websites and while you might not have a use for all of them, some of them will be the perfect complement to your home decor, a useful checklist for a party you’re planning or a card that totally suits your sushi-loving BFF.
SO once you’ve found a free printable you love, it’s time to download and print it. If you’re looking for help downloading and printing those free printables you’ve found around the web (or even curious where to find them) this is the ultimate guide to download and print free printables.
In this blog post, I’m covering what free printables are, the filetypes of free printables you might run into, how to unzip files, what you’re allowed to use printables for, where to find them, how to download them and how to print them. Plus… home printer or print shop? I’m rounding up alllll that information and putting it in one handy place for you.
I’m planning to create another blog post on how I display free printables for home decor since I get lots of home decor questions on here as well!
What are free printables?
Free printables are documents, designs and images that you can download and print at no cost to you. These can be wall art, cards, worksheets, party decorations or checklists and calendars (if you’re planning to print out calendars, here’s some great tips!). There’s an endless amount of free printables on the web and some really beautiful and helpful ones at that.
You can find paid printables on Etsy, but there’s just as many free ones on blogs and websites that you can find pretty much anything out there you’re looking for.
Printable just means that the owner does not print it for you. You download the design and print it off yourself. This makes it incredibly affordable to use, but does require some effort on your part.
Prints VS Printables
If you are looking at an online shop and see both printables and prints listed, what’s the difference? Printables, like we discussed are digital files that will download to your computer for you to print off yourself.
Prints will be printed and physically sent to you by the owner. This will of course be easier to use but you’ll have to wait for them to arrive and they would have a higher cost than printables to factor in materials and shipping.
What is the public domain Art?
If you’re looking at anything created before 1923, you’re looking at public domain art. These can be downloaded by you and used in your home, your work or even for profit. You can find public domain art at the National Gallery of Art Webpage that has a really great search function to help you find what you like.
Why is something public domain? Usually because the copyright has expired (typically 70 years after the artist’s death) and/or created before there was copyright.
What does personal use mean for free printables?
Most free printables (like the ones on my site) are for personal use only which just means that you can’t profit from them. Let’s give some examples.
You wouldn’t be able to take someone’s free printable from their website, print it off and frame it and sell it at a craft fair. You wouldn’t be able to take that art and slap it on a mug and sell that. You wouldn’t be able to download it then put it on your own website for others to download there.
But you could print a free printable and give it to everyone on your christmas list or to every teacher at your school as a gift. You could print a free printable and display it in your home, at your party or in your office.
If someone sees your awesome artwork and asks where it’s from, the hope then is that you would send them to the website to download themselves (to see that personal use only terms that is agreed to upon download) rather than sending them the file.
What if you want to use an image you downloaded as a freebie in your business? Reach out and contact the owner. Quite often designers will have limited commercial licensing available for small businesses if asked.
What file type are printables? PDF vs JPG
There are a few different file types you might encounter when downloading free printables. While you can use them all for printing, some image formats might require some extra settings to get them to print as you like. Just like when you print a photo.
You can identify the file type that you are downloading and/or opening by the .abc at the end of the file name.
Most free printables that I make for my site are PDF (.pdf) which just means that they print like a document would… easy peasy. PDF means ‘portable document format’ and it can contain both text and images and doesn’t jump around when you go to print or get it to a computer that doesn’t have the same fonts installed… like a document might.
Some PDF images are editable, most are not. Editable PDFs just mean that some of the elements can be changed (colors or text), but the framework of the document remains the same.
The bottom line of PDF file type printables is that they are easy to print. They don’t need special settings and won’t get jumbled if you have an older computer or less fonts than the creator.
JPG and PNG Printables
JPG and PNG are both image file types and you might see printables in either of these file types available for free download.
PNG (.png) is short for ‘Portable Network Graphic‘, and is a type of raster image file. It’s generally higher quality (larger file size) than a JPG. Often logos, digital designs, and watermark type images are PNG files.
What is special (to me!) about a PNG image is that it can have a transparent background, so it makes it perfectly suitable free image overlays, design elements that can be cut with Cricut or used in your digital design.
JPG and JPEG are the same file types (.jpg .jpeg) and stands for ‘Joint Photographic Experts Group’, it is also a raster type image file. If you have ever printed a photo from your old camera, this is a JPG file. While most phones have changed their default settings to save photos as HEIC images (compressed), you would need to change it back to a JPG to print it (I use iMazing converter).
For printables, you might see JPG file types for watercolour or photographic art pieces. Typically, your printer is going to ask you to print these as a photo and use the photo print window instead of the file print basic settings. This is no problem, but it often lays down more ink (so think cardstock!) and can take a bit longer to print. You can change the default JPG print settings to match the standard print settings if you’re not super picky about the quality.
Other Printable Formats
Other file types that you might see but would be unlikely (not ideal) for printables are .bmp, .tiff, .gif, .ai, .eps, .psd, .nef, .raw, and .heic.
The one you might see that I DID want to discuss is SVG.
SVG images (.svg) are scalable vector graphics which are most commonly used for cut files on crafty blogs like this one. These are ideal for Cricut, Silhouette, or Glow Forge cutting machines as they can retain layers and are easy to resize without losing any image quality. However, if you like a design and download an SVG- they’re not really printables. You could change a SVG to a JPG but that’s not what the creator’s intention with that file was.
My free printable downloaded as a .zip file
Occasionally instead of downloading a PDF or JPG (or the other types of files we’ve discussed), your free printables will download as a .zip file. A .Zip file is a compressed folder. This makes it easier to transfer multiple files or file types in one download.
For example, in this blog post, I share 5 different free printable quotes for kids in three color ways each. That’s 15 different printables and I offer them in both JPG and PDF. While a PDF can be multiple pages, a JPG can only be one page/image. To make delivery of the whole folder of JPG images easy, I’ve zipped them into a compressed folder). So when you download this .zip file, you’ll need to ‘unzip’ it to see all of the files within the folder.
Most computers have the functionality built in to make unzipping or decompressing those folders simple. On most computers, including mine, I just need to double click the file to ‘unzip’ it. Some other computers might need you to right-click to select Extract All. If neither of these work for you, you can look into downloading a program to unzip your files.
On mobile, I also just downloaded an app for this called Unzip.
Where to Find Free Printables
There are so many blogs and websites out there that offer beautiful free printables, so where do you start? Well, I have quite a few on my site here, check out all my free printables.
I have another website as well that I’m building for just free printables- handletteredprintables.com.
I also wanted to share this pinboard where I save free printables I love, I have some of my own on there but also SO many great printables from other creators around the web. I’m also adding to this all the time so give it a follow and you’ll see those new printables as I find them and pin them in your feed.
Other than that?
Here’s a few friends who create the most amazing free printables, I truly love pretty much everything these women create, so it’s a great list to get you started!
- Persia Lou
- The DIY Mommy
- Homemade Heather
- Happiness is Homemade
- Printable Crush
- Liz on Call
- Hey, Let’s Make Stuff
How to Download Free Printables
There are a few different ways that websites offer free printables for download. The first is by linking the file itself to either text or image. When you click the ‘download here’, it will open the file and either start the download immediately or open the file in your browser where you can right click and select ‘download’.
You could likely print it straight from here depending on your browser, but let’s talk about downloading it.
Some free printables, like this printable party planner, are available for download by entering your email into a form. The printable will then be sent to your inbox and will open automatically when you confirm your subscription with the ‘you’re in’ email that gets sent.
Many websites use this delivery method for free printables to prevent bots from taking and republishing the printables which tends to happen with free content online.
Another method you might see is where websites will have the free printable loaded as a product in their store with a zero dollar value. You then need to enter your information into the store (also subscribing you to emails) and then checkout without entering your payment information to have the free file delivered to you.
Once you download a free printable, it should show up in your downloads folder to make it easy to find for you.
How to Print Free Printables
While you can definitely just hit ‘print’ for some printable documents, others require updating some settings on your home printer. See the next section for print shop printing.
Most PDFs are designed to print full page on standard paper which makes it easy to print at home with a simple ‘print’ function. You can select black and white or colour and select the quality of printing at this point as well.
If you are printing JPG free printables, you’ll need to select the size and the print quality before printing. It might take some testing for each individual printable, but selecting photo on regular paper is usually a great place to start.
You can also make your printables smaller size. For JPG this is part of your print options. For PDF, I like to do this by printing 2 to a page, this makes a great tabletop sized print.
Many PDF printables come in a bundle with multiple pages for you to choose from. If you would like to print just one of the pages, you can also select this in the page range in the print window at this stage.
Home Printer vs Print Shop for Free Printables
You can print free printables at home or send them to a print shop. I do both, depending what the printable is. Here’s how I decide and the pros and cons for each.
For worksheets, checklists, single use style printables I almost always print at home. I’m not concerned about professional quality and convenience is key. For home decor printables, I still almost always print at home because I want it *now* and my home printer does a pretty great job. Same with cards that will be sent or given in an envelope.
Keep in mind a home printer can typically only print up to legal sized paper. If you would like to print anything larger than that, a print shop is your best option!
For anything with photos, I will typically send to a print shop to have higher quality. For example, my AirBnB welcome book which includes photos of the space, I sent there.
Anything that will require a ton of ink (like this free printable), I would send to the print shop, not just for quality but to save ink on my home printer. The other time I like to send to a printer is for a post card or a checklist that has a chance of water splashing it. Of course, you could laminate but I don’t usually.
Print shops typically use laser printers which use toner instead of inkjet printers like most home printers including mine. This means that the ink is less likely to run.
Other times I would consider laser printed documents over inkjet is for documents I’ll be highlighting a lot (smudging) or for cards or art that I’m wanting to paint watercolours over.
Are all print shops equal? No. For larger print shops like Staples, you can choose either same day printing or to pick up the same week. If you are looking for higher quality, always, always choose the same week over the same day. The same day printer is basically a photo copier and I’m never super happy with the quality.
To give the files to the print shop, you can either put that file on a memory stick and bring that in or many print shops have the option to either email the document or upload it to their website. You can look online at their options or just give them a call to ask the best way to get a file printed.
I typically choose Staples Copy and Print because it’s so easy to upload the document online for print, then I just get an email when it’s ready for pickup- saves me a trip! You’ll need to check a box saying that you have permission to use this document. For most free printables, like I mentioned above, personal use only gives you permission to print for your own use.
What Type of Printer Do I need for Free Printables?
What about home printers? Of course, not all are equal, but I have been super happy with my budget friendly Canon Pixma MX532 I found at Walmart a few years ago. I can’t find the exact version on Amazon, but this one looks similar! You don’t need anything really fancy to be able to print free printables at home, just make sure to look for a printer that can handle high quality photos and thicker paper like cardstock.
If you were printing every single day, looking for a laser printer might be a better option for you as the toner is more cost effective over the long run although the printer itself is a bigger up front investment. For most of us who use free printables for home decor every few weeks, cards a couple times a month and a checklist or two a week- inkjet is great.
What Type of Paper Should I Use for Free Printables
In the video I demonstrate both regular printer paper and card stock. I like to use card stock whenever I’m printing anything that will be displayed or for cards/tags etc. I like regular ol’ printer paper when I’m printing checklists or single use workbooks.
Card stock is thicker, of course but also more opaque where regular printer paper can be thin and when it’s pressed up against a frame backing can have shadows of the colours behind it. When you’re choosing your printer paper, just choose something smooth and bright white instead of recycled and unbleached if you’re hoping to display it.
Alright! That’s a post and a half, isn’t it? That is everything that you need to know to download and print free printables. I’m going to write up another post all about where to display free printables, but in the meantime… why don’t you check out all of the free printables Lemon Thistle has to offer!
LIKE IT? PRINT IT!