How do you create the best watermark for your images?

The digital watermark is one of the most established ways of protecting images online. Easy to create, applicable in seconds and generally considered to be one of the most effective methods of safeguarding images from theft and unauthorized use, it’s easy to see why watermarking is used by amateur and professional photographers alike, as well as stock and picture libraries and everyone in between. It’s not, however, universally embraced, and its popularity and ease of use has given rise to many bad examples.

The best watermarks strike a balance between serving their protective purpose while keeping the image beneath it visible enough to still be appreciated. Dynamic watermarks are an even better solution, as they allow you to edit your watermarks at a later date, which gives you the freedom to change branding or other details as and when you need to.

So how do you get it right? Here are the five key things to consider when creating your watermark.

Opacity

A watermark might be large enough to cover much of the image, but if it’s created with the right opacity relative to it, it can still manage to provide adequate protection without getting in the way. 

There’s no right or wrong here – much of it depends on the image itself – although a watermark that is less than completely opaque is usually preferred, as this stands a better chance of working harmoniously with the image. 

Ideally, the watermark should be visible without detracting attention away from the contents of the image itself. For that reason, it’s better to use a watermark that’s free of any color or anything else that’s too eye-catching.

Positioning

Should you place your watermark across the centre of the image or in the corner? Or perhaps across the top or bottom? Once again, there’s no blanket rule here; the image itself should dictate this.

If we assume the point of watermarking is primarily to protect the image from theft, it follows that the watermark should be placed over an area from which its removal would prove complicated. So, a busy part of the scene with varying details, or gradually changing tones, for example, rather than a smooth, flat area of blue sky or a patch of pure white.

Most people with even basic image editing skills would be able to successfully remove a watermark from an area with little detail, but they’d be less successful if this were placed over complex architecture, fabrics, machinery or anything else that’s constantly changing in appearance.

As the main element in an image is likely to be somewhere towards the centre of the frame, many photographers choose to place the watermark here where it can provide maximum protection. You may wish to always place a watermark in a specific part of the image in order to maintain a consistency, and this can look professional. If you do choose to do this, however, bear in mind that the watermark may not always be best placed to provide optimum protection for a specific image.

Size

Photographers tend to be divided into two camps when it comes to how much of an image a watermark should occupy.

A watermark can be used over the whole image and still work well, providing its opacity is relatively low. On the other hand, a watermark may be barely visible, but as long as it’s placed carefully over a part of an image where its removal would be obvious, it may still prove to be enough or a deterrent to thieves.

Clarity

As with size, there are two schools of thought when it comes to how clear your watermark should be.

One camp favors a clear watermark that makes the photographer’s name obvious. While the right balance needs to be struck between protecting the image and retaining what makes it attractive to view, it can make it far less attractive to thieves while also promoting the photographer and/or their website.

The other side favors a watermark that’s somewhat hidden within the image. While this may not be as successful a deterrent against theft, it does allow the image to be viewed more clearly and reduces the chance of the watermark being processed out by the offending party, thus making its true ownership easier to prove.

This is a personal choice, although most photographers favor a watermark that can be clearly seen. In this case, making the name or website as legible as possible is vital. It may be obvious that the image is yours when it’s viewed on your website, but how will anyone know it’s yours if it’s stolen and used elsewhere? Proving an image belongs to you is a lot easier if your name is on it.

Legibility is particularly important where a graphic is used as it’s possible this was conceived with a website or business card in mind, where it may be larger and more legible, rather than when sat in the corner of an image. 

Style

While most photographers will choose to have their name and/or website as their watermark, some are happy enough to have a copyright symbol or a faint repeating pattern over the whole image. While this can make ownership more difficult to prove in the event of theft, it may prove to be enough of a deterrent to reduce the chance of this ever needing to be dealt with.

Final thoughts

Most photographers want to show off their work, and a well-considered watermark allows them to do just that without much fear of theft. While your images may well end up being viewed by those intending on stealing them, remember that the majority of people who view it will be keen to appreciate the image itself. That makes it all the more important to carefully consider just how any kind of watermark will affect it.