watermark spotted dog Many artists, photographers and even businesses choose to add a digital ‘watermark’ symbol to their online artworks, designs and photographs as a way to protect their ownership and copyrights.

The article below spells out a clear list of the pros and cons so you can make an informed decision if you are considering adding a watermark to your images.

Wikipedia explains: Digital watermarking is the process of embedding information into a digital signal which may be used to verify its authenticity or the identity of its owners, in the same manner as paper bearing a watermark for visible identification. 

Marketing Your Digital Art: To Watermark or Not? Guest author: Mariana Ashley

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One of the easiest ways to gain exposure as an artist or photographer is simply to get your images out there. Obviously it is great to publish images to your portfolio site or photoblog. The more people who see your images, the more potential clients you will receive, right?

Unfortunately, publishing your work online is not entirely that simple. While people will recognize images on your site as your work, what would happen if someone else saved your image from the web and uploaded it onto their own website as their own work? It’s a terrible thought to consider, but tragically this happens to photographers fairly often.

Watermarking: The Solution to Copyright Infringement?

It’s tempting to say that simply watermarking your photographs will protect it from misuse, but unfortunately this is not the case. While there are benefits to watermarking, there are also tons of potential drawbacks that you must consider:

  • The watermark impedes the image. You must realize that an image with a giant anti-theft copyright disrupting the subject of the image is not exactly appealing. In fact, in many cases it would probably drive potential fans and viewers away from tracing the source of the watermark or even viewing more images on whatever site published it.
  • The watermark implies that viewers are thieves. While having a huge watermark that says “DO NOT STEAL” might deter thieves from copying that image and claiming it as their own work, (copyright infringement) many viewers would regard such a watermark to display an insulting lack of trust towards them.
  • The watermark discourages sharing. This is pretty much a result of the previous two claims. If the watermark insults viewers or just harm the integrity of the image, people won’t want to share the image. Needless to say, this is not smart marketing.
  • The watermark implies the photographer is more important than the subject. When people see a huge watermark, what they’re seeing subconsciously is “Wow, this photographer is really full of him or herself.” Not only is it saying the photographer is more important than the subject, it also says the photographer is more important than the photo. Does this seem backwards?

Obviously the image above is a parody, but there are photographers who actually watermark their images in ways not too differently from the parody above.

So the ideal solution here is just to use a small watermark, placed in the corner of an image or perhaps on an extended frame that surrounds the image, much like an artist would sign their paintings. This allows the watermark to exist cohesively with the image and protects the image from misuse.

Well, unfortunately using a classy signature like the one above doesn’t completely protect your image either. In fact, it is extremely easy for someone to just crop out the signature from the image and then claim the image as their own. Even if the watermark actually overlays the image, if it’s put off to the side or corner, it can be cropped and most people who view it are none the wiser that the image isn’t original.

Why Watermark at All?

So if putting a giant anti-theft watermark in the middle of the image impedes the subject of the image and putting a classy signature or logo off to the side doesn’t protect the image from theft, why watermark at all? It’s a valid question to ask, and many professional and amateur photographers alike choose not to watermark for these very reasons.

However, leaving a signature-style watermark plays an important marketing role, provided your clients and image sharers don’t misuse the image. If they don’t crop out your signature or logo, you have an identifying signal that can draw viewers back to your portfolio site. Believe it or not, many photographers have gained clients simply through prospective clients seeing one of their watermarked photos. For these purposes, it obviously helps if your signature or logo has the name of your website.

Of course, a good number of photographers and digital artists gather future clients simply through good client feedback. By making their clients’ experiences as positive as possible, they didn’t need to watermark the images they gave to their clients. Instead, their clients would post their images and rave about the photographer or artist in the image description.

*Mariana Ashley is a freelance writer who particularly enjoys writing about online colleges. She loves receiving reader feedback, which can be directed to [email protected]

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