Watermarking Photos: Everything You Need to Know About Watermarking

Learn what and what not to do when watermarking photos

Should you watermark your photos? If so, how should you do it?

That’s the question every photographer from the novice to the professional wonders. Watermarking photos is a way to prevent people from stealing your images, but if not done well it detracts from your goals - ultimately diminishing your work.

Watermarks were originally used in papermaking and to prevent counterfeit of government documents such as stamps and money. Today, watermarks are popular in the graphic design and photography communities for preventing theft of intellectual property. PaintShop Pro makes it easy to add creative and discrete watermarks to your photos. By placing a logo or brand name on photos, copyrights are established and stealing becomes a bit more difficult.

Example of watermarking photos

Questions You Should Ask Before You Watermark

Before you start marking up your beautiful photography, ask yourself these three questions:

1. Why do you want to watermark your images?

This is the most important question to ask - Why do you feel like you need to watermark your photos? To prevent theft? To look more professional? For the free advertising? If you have legitimate reasons for watermarking your photos, then go right ahead. Just follow our tips for making beautiful watermarks that don’t distract from your photography.

2. Does it actually stop someone from stealing your work?

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It might not. Most watermarks are usually pretty easy to crop out by the average person. Put your photo in the hands of a graphic designer and they can remove your watermark with little trouble. However, watermarking establishes copyright and if you catch someone or a company illegally using your image it is possible to confront them and potentially be compensated.

Protect your photos with watermarks

Here’s a great story of how one photographer handled a news station that unknowingly stole his photo.

3. Are you a hobbyist or a professional photographer?

Do you need to watermark your photos?

For the hobbyist, you might want to watermark photos to gain recognition or establish a brand. Professional photographers who are worried about having their livelihood stolen are more likely to watermark their photos. But then again some of the most famous photographers don’t watermark their photos – so it’s ultimately up to you. Either way, consider worst-case scenario – how bad would it be if someone illegally used your photo? You should always be prepared for the chance that someone knowingly or unknowingly uses your photos without your permission.

When You Shouldn’t Use a Watermark

There are times when you shouldn’t watermark your photography. Some of these instances include:

If it ruins the viewing experience

- Let’s say you are using your own photography on your website. Adding watermarks to the images for your site are distracting and take away from the aesthetic you are trying to create. Instead, save your watermarks for images you upload to sites like Facebook where it is really easy to right-click and save an image. Someone is more likely to steal your image when they are able to easily right-click and save, so you should use watermarking only when it isn’t distracting from the overall aesthetic.

When not to watermark your photos

If it makes you look less professional

- Watermarks may take a beautiful images and make it look completely amateur. If you are going to watermark, make sure you maintain a professional look in your watermark design.

If it isn’t really serving a purpose

- If there is no real reason behind your watermarking such as preventing theft or capitalizing on free advertising, then it is completely unnecessary to watermark your images.

When You Should Use a Watermark

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Watermarking has its benefits, which is why many photographers use them. Some of these benefits include:

Free advertising

- Watermarks are a great opportunity for free advertising. You can create a URL watermark that boldly announces your company and website. Or you can use your logo for added brand recognition.

Prevent theft

- A simple watermark deters some people from using your images but to make it harder to steal, try a semi-transparent watermark that covers the entire image.

When to watermark your photos

Especially, if you’ve taken a photo of a popular landmark such as Machu Picchu, you should make it harder to steal because they are sought after images. Make your logo or website url semi-transparent and covering the entire image to make it difficult for the amateaur to steal without contacting you.

Establish copyright

- Watermarking your photos discourages some users from stealing because it is a visible reminder that your photo belongs to someone. Sometimes people steal images accidentally, not knowing it’s actually theft. A copyright symbol in your watermark may add an extra sense of authority and scare the average user away from stealing your image.


- Executing a stylish watermark could be good branding. Choose a timeless font like Bodoni or incorporate a well-designed logo to encourage brand recognition.

5 Tips on How to Watermark Photos

If you decide to use a watermark, here are five tips to making it attractive and adding professionalism to your photography instead of detracting from your creative work. If you’re looking for a more comprehensive tutorial on HOW to watermark your photos check out our tutorial here on the subject.

1. Be subtle

Using software like Corel PaintShop Pro, you can add a subtle watermark that doesn’t distract from the viewer’s experience and allows them to enjoy your image as it was intended. Try placing your website url or logo in the bottom right-hand corner with low opacity.

You can also choose a color that is similar to the background image. Use the eyedropper tool in your photo editing software to select the exact color of the background and then choose a shade lighter or darker. This creates a seamless watermark that isn’t distracting but still establishes copyright and advertises your brand.

2. Incorporate your watermark

The benefit of incorporating your watermark is that it may go unnoticed if it’s stolen. Then you are able to easily point out to the thief that he is using your image illegally, have them remove your work, and potentially get paid royalties to avoid a lawsuit.

How to incorporate your watermark

Use a textured subject in your image such as a wood grain or the lines in a complex piece of architecture to sneak your watermark into. Incorporating your watermark is better when your biggest concern is having you photography stolen, it’s not great when you want to use your watermark as a marketing tool.

3. Try a border or frame

Another technique is to add a tasteful border or frame around your image with a banner at the top or bottom where you can highlight your website or brand name. By making the banner at the bottom of the photo you create a Polaroid feel, which is great for social media or other people’s websites.

Tips for watermarking

A number of fashion photographers use this technique as it gives an editorial feel to the whole design. Using borders won’t damage the integrity of your photo and clearly shows the viewer copyright and it’s importance to the owner. It’s fairly easy for anyone to crop out a border or frame but it establishes your brand as tasteful, even if the thief isn’t.

4. Keep it simple

An important element to all watermarks is to keep it simple. Whether you are using your logo, brand name or website the watermark should be simple, clean, and effective. Use style elements available to you such as font, color, opacity, and keep in mind the purpose of your watermark.

Once you’ve made your first watermark, take a step back and see if it can be made even MORE simple. The trick to professional and effective watermarks is that they do no more than serve their purpose. Complexity captures your viewer’s eye and undervalues your work.

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5. Make sure it’s classy and original

You never want your watermark to make you look unprofessional, even if you are using it for hobby photography. Our eyes are fine-tuned to associating details like font and originality with credibility. Even though watermarks should be subtle and simple, this doesn’t mean you should skip designing a classy and original watermark.

Using graphic design software is your best bet for making one-of-a-kind watermarks that are elegant and lend to your desired effect. Graphic design software is great for hiding watermarks. Perfectly contour your watermark along an element or add textures and effects so it blends into different materials.

Check out these ideas for watermarks:

Alternatives to Watermarks

There are alternatives to watermarks you might want to consider, these include:

  • Consider low resolution instead – Don’t upload the highest resolution of your image. Instead use a lower quality image that has limited use so it appears pixelated when blown up. Combine the use of low-quality images and watermarks if you are really worried about photo theft.
  • Disable right click on images – If you are tech-savvy, incorporate plug-ins into your website that prevent people from right-clicking and saving images. Technically, someone could still screen shot your photo, but the image quality is compromised. This allows you to use high-resolution images without worrying about theft.
  • Google image search – You can easily check to see if someone is using your image online by doing an image search. Upload your photo to Google Image and the search engine shows you other places on the web where it is being used. This allows you to see if someone is using your images without your permission.
  • Pixsy – This is an image search specifically for helping photographers find people who are illegally using their images. If they find someone using your photos they help you reach out to the thief and serve them appropriate legal paperwork to help you get paid royalties. This is obviously an extreme example, but it feels better knowing it exists.

Ultimately, to watermark or not to watermark photos is a case-by-case decision you need to make. This guide serves to walk you through the decision. And if you decide to watermark, be sure to do so in a way that is classy and conducive to your final goal.

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