Digital Image Protection – Watermarking

protect-digital-watermarkThe Internet is easily the most popular and powerful marketing tool for jewelry artists to present their work to the world. The ability to upload images of their work to social media platforms, blogs, and on-line stores has empowered artists to step outside of local realms to gain world-wide sales and following. The price for this easy marketing is the increasing likelihood that photos of original works lacking a digital watermark will be pirated – downloaded, re-branded, and used as false representations of original work.

Photos lacking any form of digital watermark have appeared on mass-market jewelry sites that offer copies of someone else’s jewelry. It’s sleazy, unethical, and almost impossible to prevent. Even artists who have “caught” these miscreants are powerless to stop them from using pirated photos. It’s expensive to sue and almost impossible to prove originality without an expensive – and often fruitless – legal process.

This article is the first in a series featured by AKS to help you better manage your on-line presence. We’ll first look at using watermarks as a way to protect your work. Future articles will discuss managing the resolution of your image, and later we’ll look at basic copyright concepts, advanced tools to protect images, and some of the apps and programs available to do so.

Digital Image Protection using Watermarks

The term “watermark” originated with stationery companies, who would impress a mark into their products that could be seen when held up to a light. Watermarks were first used around 1282 (really); printers would use water on a typeset to impress an image into paper. Most money today contains a watermark – if you hold a bill up to a light, you will see an image embedded in the fibers. On the US $20, it’s a face on the right side of the front of the bill. Watermarks (digital and otherwise) are used as a form of validation or identification.

A digital watermark can take two forms: a text overlay on an image (as in the examples below), or an almost invisible digital “signature” embedded in the pixels that comprise the image. The easiest way for an artist to apply a watermark is by overlaying text. The most secure way is a combination of both overlaid text and digital imprinting.

Text Watermarking

A text-based digital watermark for an image is fairly simple. Text overlay watermarks can be applied using on-line apps, phone or tablet apps, or apps on your computer. The best options are iDevice apps or computer. There are on-line programs that can watermark, but the few that I checked were lacking in features and protection. A popular iPhone/iPad app is Marksta. On your computer, Adobe products like Photoshop and Lightroom, and publisher apps like Microsoft Publisher, will allow you to overlay text onto an image without losing quality.

The key to a protective watermark is where you put the watermark. It is very common to find photos of artwork with the watermark at the edge of the image to avoid impacting the work being portrayed. That’s a mistake: If at all possible, your watermark should intrude on a part of the image that can’t be removed. Let’s look at some examples.

In my first example, using some of my Andean braids, you’ll see that I’ve put the watermark at the bottom, so it does not affect the image of the braids:

digital watermark at bottom

The image looks great, but its a simple matter to remove that mark and insert another, as my nemesis Pirate Pete has done:


As you can see, Pete thinks he’s smarter than I am. His watermark impinges on part of the braid. It doesn’t affect the overall image because its more-or-less in the background.

But Pete is not as clever as he thinks, because the area that he has watermarked is not critical to the overall image …


… and can easily be retouched out. Admittedly, it’s not the greatest retouching job, but with a little time, and possibly some background changes, the image would be quite presentable.

So where should the digital watermark go?


Where it cannot be removed without harming the image. As you can see, there’s no way to get rid of the watermark without losing key parts of the photo. You could crop out the left side, but it would be a very unbalanced, less impactful image. It’s unfortunate that the work has to be “marked up,” but the level of protection is critical for any artist who does not want to see their work go astray.

Rules for a  Digital Watermark

  1. Your digital watermark should intrude on an important part of the photo. You do not want to cover critical elements of the design, but you should find a place on the image where removing the watermark would make your work less attractive.
  2. Choose a legible font!  Watermarks can be effective in terms of placement, but ineffective because you could not read what they said. That might seem like a small thing, but I want someone seeing my image to read my name, and know who the artist is.
  3. Choose a color that will be visible for the entire watermark. I have seen watermarks that were perfectly clear except where they were most needed. The color chosen blended in with the work, rendering the watermark almost invisible. In some cases, you might have to use a “shadow” behind your font to make it stand out. Working with the color – even making part of the watermark a different color to stand out – is the better option.
  4. Logos are nice, but can distract from your image and make the digital watermark “messy.”  Logos are usually small, not well know (unless you’re an international star with a brand), and not very informative. If you watermark using only a logo, you have to make the logo big enough so it can’t be removed, which means that its likely the logo will be a distraction. If you have a logo that you are using to build your brand, you’re better off to watermark with your name and a copyright symbol, and the place the logo off to a side – if they cannot remove your watermark from the image, it’s not worth bothering with a logo.


Watermark Everything

In our digital world, sharing is widespread. Sending a friend a photo of our work for them to admire is kind. What happens when our friend is so impressed by our talent that they upload the image to social media? If the image is not watermarked, it is out of your control. Some people think it’s gauche to watermark everything, but it is your hard work and it deserves protection. Your computer should have separate folders for original images and watermarked images. Never send an image out into the world without a watermark.

Coming Soon….

Over the next few weeks, I will be expanding on digital protection with articles on managing the resolution of your images, digital watermarking, some copyright basics, and possibly some reviews of different watermarking products. Please stay tuned!

-Bob Galivan

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