When you find an image within Google or on a social networking website you may feel compelled to save a copy. There are so many websites and resources out there, it can take forever to locate the original source of an image. But what about finding alternate sizes, cropped thumbnails, and other websites using this same picture? Reverse image search to the rescue!
The concept of reverse image searching is quite simple – you upload an image or paste the direct URL to an image online, and the search engine will match the shapes/patterns to locate copies of this image. With enough patience you can often find an original source which also probably features the largest dimensions.
Granted there are plenty of tools out there for regular image search based on text. But image-based image searching has slowly been growing in popularity.
I wish to present a small collection of web applications which you can likely employ for image searching. It is worth bookmarking these links or saving them elsewhere just in case you forget the hyperlink. Nowadays I find myself using these tools almost constantly. If you frequently need to reverse engineer the source of images then these search engines will become like second nature.
First up we have TinEye which is a product of Idée. This is typically my first go-to resource because it has a great interface and has cataloged a tremendous number of images. TinEye mostly crawls through websites written in English and so it does miss out on eastern-language websites.
But this is truly an invaluable tool for reverse image lookup. You can either upload an image or copy/paste an image URL to locate duplicates elsewhere. The results page includes the image dimensions and the direct source URL where it can be found. The service is free for anonymous use, but you can register a personal account as well.
Additionally there is an online developer’s API for accessing their features on the backend. Anyone who wishes to integrate TinEye search into their website can generate an API key and get to work. This is quite possibly the most straightforward image lookup tool you will find. I am excited to think about where this product could be in another 3-5 years.
Practically everyone who uses Google search also knows about their image search. You can type in keywords and Google will return a large gallery of related photos from all around the web. But did you know that Google’s image search can also reverse search based on any image?
First go to http://images.google.com/ and find the tiny camera icon in the search bar(usually next to the microphone). If you hover over this icon a tooltip will appear that reads “Search by image”. Click and the input box will transform asking for a direct image URL. Alternatively you may click “Upload an image” to upload your own.
I actually find Google’s search results to be more helpful than TinEye. Obviously Google has more powerful indexing algorithms and thus returns a lot more stuff for any typical search. You can also check out image dimensions on the results page, along with the external website URL. Between Google and TinEye you should be able to locate sources from many different websites.
But what about the eastern-language sites I mentioned earlier? Chinese or Japanese websites such as niconico may not be indexed by these crawlers. Instead we have another great webapp to handle foreign language-based images.
Although the homepage is a little bland, SauceNAO is the absolute best resource to find external images when nothing comes from TinEye or Google. SauceNAO is built to recognize characters other than the roman alphabet and crawl websites in these languages. This web application is indispensable when it comes to locating those tricky images which seem to have no alternate results.
If you want some browser add-ons they are available for Google Chrome and Firefox. These are both free to install and they provide extra functionality built right into your web browser. I haven’t been using SauceNAO for more than a couple months but it has quickly grown into my list of highly recommended webapps.
The search functionality is built on top of IQDB which is a very similar reverse image search. Their design is much more basic and it does not feature all the extra stuff you’ll notice on the results page. But it is good to know about other solutions which are out there.
The last reverse image search engine I want to mention is RevIMG. This one is more unique because you actually specify a portion of an image to search. For example, you can upload a collage of icons and crop to search for just one icon hoping to find another duplicate online.
The design looks a bit similar to SauceNAO but the algorithms are completely different. Webmasters are allowed to submit their websites into the database for crawling. This can help get your own images indexed faster and ranking within other reverse image search engines. You can read a bit more about how RevIMG works and their affiliated resources.
I really hope these web applications can provide some value to webmasters and Internet users. I often find myself reverse searching to locate the source of many different images. Sometimes you can’t find any results because the original source has been taken down or the website just went offline for some reason. This is fairly common and it’s all the more reason we need an online archive saving these URLs into a database.
But the technology is here and it works. It works pretty damn well if I do say so myself. I often wonder how much these image search engines will change over the course of a few years’ time. But as an existing resource I couldn’t live without these practical and convenient image search tools.