What Is Google Images and How Does It Work?

Google does more than just search

The home page for Google Images on the Google Chrome browser.

Google has come a long way from just being a search engine. Over the years, the company has built up an impressive array of tools, and while some of them are highly specialized, there are a few worth knowing no matter what you use the web for. Google Images, aka, Google Image Search, is just one of these tools, so if you don’t know what it is, or aren’t sure just how much it can do, here’s what you need to know. 

What is Google Images?

Google Images is a web-based product by Google for searching for images online. While it performs the same basic querying and result-fetching functions as Google’s flagship search engine, it's better understood as a specialized offshoot.

While Google Search produces web pages with text-based content by scanning text-based content directly, Google Images returns image media based on entered keywords, so its process looks a little different under the hood. The main factor in determining what images populate your results page is how closely search terms match image filenames. This, by itself, isn’t usually enough, so Google Images also relies on contextual information based on text on the same page as an image. 

As a final ingredient, the algorithm leverages primitive machine learning, in which Google Images learns to associate certain images with one another to create clusters, to provide its reverse image search feature. 

Once a search is submitted, the service returns a set of thumbnail images correlating to your keyword description.

A results page for Google Images for the search term

At this point, users can access web pages containing a selected image, provided the website hosting the image allows this. If a website lets you view the page with the image, it may also let you directly access the image and open a page with just the image on it, essentially presenting the image’s individual resource-specific URL. Websites don’t always let you access the exact page with the image — sites which sell professional photography are an one example — but they do in many cases.

How Do I Access Google Images?

There are three simple ways to access Google Images:

  • Go to google.com and select Images in the upper-right corner.
  • Go to images.google.com, which is a more direct way to get to Google Images.
  • Input the search terms for your image search into the default Google search and, on the results page, select Images

Google Images Basic Searching

Just as with Google Search, you can use Google Images by entering textual search terms describing the image. This delivers a results page with a grid of thumbnails, arranged in order of match accuracy from left to right and top to bottom.

On this page, simply follow these steps.

  1. Select a thumbnail to see a larger version of it inline next to a brief list of information on its source.

    Google Images search result page for search term
  2. From here, select Visit to navigate to the source web page containing the full image.

    Page from sciencing.com showing an image of a mountain, on the Chrome browser.

    Alternatively, you can select a thumbnail under “Related Images” to bring it into focus in the inline result page, where you'll be presented with the same options for that subsequent image, as well as images related to it.

  3. If selecting Visit leads you to the page containing the full image, you can make use of the image in a few ways; right-click (or, on mobile, long-press) the image.

  4. Select one of the following:

    • Open image in new tab: Loads a page with only that image, and whose URL you can use to return directly to that image resource.
    • Save image as: Opens your operating system’s file download dialog box to allow you to choose where to save the image, and what to name it.
    • Copy image address: Produces the same direct image URL, except instead of opening URL in a new tab it invisibly saves it to your OS’s copy clipboard for you to paste it somewhere else.
    • Copy image: Copies the image in media format to your clipboard to allow you to paste the image as an image, such as into a word processing document. 
    Black web page with image of mountain centered on it, in Chrome browser.
  5. Now you have a separate image or link with the isolated image.

Google Images Filtering and Advanced Tools

Under the search bar on the results page is a drop-down box called “Tools,” which offers a number of extra filtering options. 

Google Images search result page for

Size

The first of these drop-down options is Size, which lets you limit the results to images with certain pixel dimensions. This can either be a general size range, or even an exact pixel dimension, and is done via the following steps. 

  1. Select Size.

  2. Select Exactly from the menu that drops down. 

    Google Images results page for search term
  3. In the popup dialog box, input the width and height pixel dimensions, then select Go.

Color

Another useful filtering option is Color which filters image results by color. To use this, just select Color and select the color or color feature you want to see.

Google Images search results page for search term

Usage Rights

The “Usage rights” option can also be helpful if you're looking for images you can incorporate into media of your own creation, such as blog posts, videos, or anything else. This menu, which offers four usage permission states to choose from, lets you filter results for images that are more likely to be legally permissible for reuse than others.

Google Images results page for the search term

This process is not foolproof, and it's on you to do further research to ensure the image you choose is legally available for reuse in the way the chosen filter indicates. 

Time

Finally, as with the classic Google Search, Google Images allows users to filter by the time in which an image was posted to a website.

  1. Select Time.

  2. Select Custom range.

    Google Images results page for the search term
  3. Enter the start and end dates in the required fields, either with a slash-delimited date string (xx/xx/xxxx) or select it using the calendar to the right.

  4. Select Go.

What is Google Images Reverse Image Search?

Maybe the most powerful feature of Google Images is reverse image search, which uses an image as the search “term.” A reverse image search like this can return two different sets of results:

  • Source Website: It can return source websites where the image can be found and any names or descriptions associated with the image. This is useful if you have an image but want to know where it came from.
  • Similar Images: A reverse search can also surface visually similar images. For example, you can reverse search your image of a mountain to see other similar mountain wallpapers.