Signs and Symbols Images and their Practical Uses in Design

Signs and symbols are ways to visually represent concepts and ideas. They are an integral part of modern communication. That’s why signs and symbols images are such a popular category in stock imagery and are so widely used in graphic design. 

Today we’ll talk in more detail about signs and symbols images, which are the most popular, and how can you use them to your advantage. 

What Are Signs, Symbols, and Icons?

In the design world, you hear about signs, symbols, and icons all the time, but this is what they really mean: 

-Signs are visual representations of concepts or ideas. Drawings, illustrations, and letters/fonts are examples of signs. 

-Symbols are signs that hold no visual resemblance to the concept or idea they represent. For example, the letter R represents a sound that doesn’t have any image. Or the white dove, which is a widely-used representation of peace despite not having a real visual connection to the concept. 

-Icons are signs that visually resemble what they represent. A drawing shaped like a cell phone to represent a cell phone, for example. 

The Value of Signs in Visual Communication

Signs, symbols, and icons allow us to visually communicate things that otherwise could not be represented in a graphic way. This is especially valuable for marketing, where the visual impact of your message is critical to succeeding in your goals. 

Remember that old adage that says that a picture is worth a thousand words? Well, signs and symbols can easily save a lot of words and communicate ideas more clearly. For example, if your web page designs include a button to download your product, it’ll be a lot more straightforward and appealing if you use a down-pointing arrow icon (known representation of file download) than if you use a bunch of text. 

The good news is, signs and symbols are a staple in stock photography, and you will be not short of choice when it comes to them in stock photo agencies. You’ll find them in photography as well as in digital illustrations in vector format, and in an infinite variety of topics and styles. 

These are the signs and symbols that are most sought-after and used in the creative visual field as of lately. 


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Copyright: ncl/, all rights reserved

As we briefly mentioned, the alphabet is one of the most (if not the most) extensively used groups of signs. Fonts, the creative styles, shapes, and colors you can give to letters –and numbers, for the matter– are a great way to add visual spice to what you want to say. 

Life and Death Symbols

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Copyright: joto/, all rights reserved

Perhaps as a sign of the times –no pun intended– with the Coronavirus pandemic, the dichotomy of life/death seems very present these days. Symbols for each, such as the white dove for peace and hope (life) and the crossbones and skull (associated with lethal danger), are very popular in image banks. 

Warning Signs

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Copyright: fredyhanny/, all rights reserved

They are part of the daily landscape. Be it yellow-colored signage warning of wet floors, orange-colored posters asking to beware of dogs or busy roads, or straight-on red signs alerting of dangers or prohibiting actions. Warning signs are a must-have and have a lot of potential uses in design. 

Recycling Symbology

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Copyright: BreakingTheWalls/, all rights reserved

Environmentalism is a common cause that gains more and more traction by the day. Issues such as climate change, and individual and collective ecological actions to preserve the environment are constantly discussed, and popular in nature-themed images. Everyone is going green. The three-chasing-arrows sign that symbolizes recycling is a favorite in this category. 

Romance and Love Signs

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Copyright: masone/, all rights reserved

Moving to more positive notes, love is never out of fashion. Classic symbols associated with romance, such as red hearts, are still in high demand. 

Excellence and Quality Symbols

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Copyright: b-fruchten/, all rights reserved

The five-point star, or even a line-up of one to five of them, are now universally known as representations of top quality and level of excellence. Everyone wants them!

Medical Symbols

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Copyright: omphoto/, all rights reserved

This one comes as no surprise. Medicine has been at the forefront of all daily communications thanks to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and multiple medical-related symbols, such as the red cross or the caduceus, and even icons such as the briefcase with cross on it, are very sought-after. 

Stock Agencies with the Best Signs and Symbol Images

Now you know what to look for, let’s see where to find great signs and symbol photos at the best prices. We recommend these, among the best stock photo sites on the web. 

Photocase homepage

Photocase is a German stock photo site specialized in out-of-the-box, creative and unique stock photos. They have a big selection of pictures and illustrations of signs and symbols. Mind you, a lot of the signs are in German. 

Learn more in the Photocase review, and make sure to grab the special Photocase coupon with freebies and discount!

Stock Photo Secrets Shop homepage

The Stock Photo Secrets Shop has high-quality stock images with very budget-friendly pricing for small and medium-sized businesses. The catalog includes lots of sign photos and vector illustrations and icons. 

More info in your Stock Photo Secrets Shop review. Plus, explore the awesome 99Club deal!

Shutterstock homepage

Shutterstock is one of the largest stock photo sites in the world. Here you will find millions of royalty-free images of signs, symbols, icons, fonts, and anything else you could possibly need. 

Read our Shutterstock review for more details, and don’t miss the special Shutterstock coupon for extra savings!

iStock homepage

iStock is a renowned stock photo agency that curates their images into two categories, one with budget-friendly photos and the other with high-end, exclusive images. In both, you can find all kinds of signs and symbols for your designs. 

The full info is in the iStock review, and awesome discounts available with our iStock promo code!

Adobe Stock homepage

Adobe Stock is a stock photo service by Adobe and as such, its library hosts the trendiest and most sought-after images for creatives. Among them, there’s millions of sign-themed images to complete your projects. 

Check the Adobe Stock review to learn it all about them, and try it out for free with the Adobe Stock free trial!

Do you use sign and symbols images in your visuals? If not, what are you waiting for? 

Header image: Copyright by ncl/, joto/, fredyhanny/, BreakingTheWalls/, b-fruchten/, omphoto/, all rights reserved.

Ivanna Attié
Ivanna Attié

I am Content Manager, Researcher, and Author in and Stock Photo Press and its many stock media-oriented publications. I am a passionate communicator with a love for visual imagery and an inexhaustible thirst for knowledge. Lucky enough to enter the wonderful world of stock photography working side-by-side with experienced experts, I am happy to share my research, insights, and advice about image licensing, stock photography offers, and the stock media industry with everyone in the creative community. My background is in Communication and Journalism, and I also love literature and performing arts.

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