Why I Watermark, and When “Being Found” is Bad


Graphic created from screenshots. I added obscuring text to the screenshot image to help stop further misuse.


Watermarking is like locking the door on your house when you go out.  While nothing is 100% prevention, a lock deters most, which is a huge benefit.

Above, a search engine (Bing) calls some images “clip art,” which implies incorrectly that they’re free to use. (I marked the screenshot with text to help prevent further misuse.)

The image above had only a tiny watermark on the edge, unusual for me now, as I use a larger mark, but this was for media/gallery use. Every artist has to figure out where their line in the sand is. This is about what works for me.

I regularly do reverse image searches, and employ other search tactics, to find infringements.  When I find infringements, I send DMCA takedowns to the hosts of infringing sites, and the infringing use is usually removed quickly, as the host is required by law to do so. (See links below on Reverse Image Searching, and DMCA Takedown.)

I was spending several hours a week on takedowns before I started using prominent watermarks.  Once I did, new infringements almost stopped, but sales of my original works kept increasing, debunking the theory that watermarking will kill your sales of original art.

Here’s why infringement can harm artists, and why I take preventative measures:

  • Unauthorized uses are unpaid.
  • Some uses are against your beliefs, even criminal; reputation damage by implied endorsement.
  • Some people falsely claim it’s their work, causing doubt about who’s lying, more reputation damage.
  • It can kill licensing deals. The person buying a license to use the image does not want something now associated with another brand or concept.
  • The law is on copyright owners’ side but enforcement is expensive! Prevention is better.
  • The less time I spend on takedowns, the more time I have to make new art and market it, and the happier I am that I’m not getting ripped off!


False sense of security in outdated methods

Don’t fall for the claim that only uploading low resolution (small) images is enough protection.  If it looks good on your site that small, it will look just as good on the infringer’s site. Plus, it can be made into multiple small products.  And, why would an infringer care if their buyers got a blurry reprint?

Most sites do not call for a high resolution image anyway, as the page would load too slowly. Small images typical of web display, (500 to 800 pixels per side), are infringed constantly.

The only time you must upload a high resolution image that isn’t ‘defaced’ by a large watermark is when you sell reproductions on Print On Demand sites, (POD’s), but these sites only display a small version. A POD is a site like redbubble, Fine Art America, Zazzle, Society 6, etc.

The watermark options on sites are simply a layer, usually easy to bypass on your site, and often not picked up at all by search engines, where much infringement now occurs now thanks to the large views.  Right click disabling, no pin codes, etc, are all of very small benefit, as most peple now know how to bypass them, and again, search engine views bypass it.

Keeping up with technology is important. Watermarks can be removed but some are harder to remove than others. Like the door lock analogy, the prevention of most incidents is still very worthwhile.


Do you believe “being found” is always good?

Being found in the wrong context, such as the erroneous ‘clip art’ search results above, or by spammers, scammers, and infringers, is not good. It doesn’t help you in any way, and can harm you.

Tailoring your sites and search tags etc to be found by your art’s admirers, and your buyers, is good. Promote your pages yourself, to a known audience. Even happy buyers’ word of mouth is still viable in the 21st century.

The old idea of just getting lots of ‘traffic’ is outdated and unhelpful. As I noticed others picking up on the ‘traffic’ thing as mostly crapola, I saw these sites move to ‘content’ as the thing they most wanted. That is, yours and my content. So be careful of site Terms, and what you put there.

For example, every time I make a new blog post or upload a new image, it attracts some undesirables along with the good traffic.  A new blog is almost immediately liked or followed by a spammer, or sometimes gets a spam comment in the moderation file. The more search tags I’ve put on it, the more junk traffic it gets.  I will only put my name in some tags, plus one or a few really pertinent tags, now.

Narrowing down who readily finds my stuff has not hurt sales of my original work. I don’t offer much on my POD anymore so it’s hard to say there, but artists I know who do sell lots on PODs say they’ve found search engines were never a big part of their buyer traffic. They are good at promoting their work and their efforts are why they make sales.

You can put no-bot code in your sites depending on if the option is available, if you truly do not need search engines at all.  Most of us still want to be found on search engines enough not to do that but I know some artists who do it and prefer it.

Being findable in an identifiable way is good. Being found on scraper sites, lousy misleading image searches, uncredited social media ‘shares’ etc, is not good. Watermarks continue to keep my work identifiable, and of little use to infringers. A potential buyer seeing an uncredited share with the watermark cropped off could do a reverse image search to find the owner, which would be much easier if the owner had marked images to compare it to.

It’s not free promotion unless people can readily see whose work it is.


Watermarking How-To’s

“How to ensure your watermarks are secure” https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2013/08/01/how-to-ensure-your-watermarks-are-secure/

A watermark is simply whatever text, symbol, etc you choose to ‘stamp’ onto an image to identify it. If it’s composed of legible typed text it’s identifiable as your work. This is why I don’t use a symbol; no one would know what it meant.

Please be cautious about using sites that offer a way to watermark your images. Some look kind of scammy. Some may be fine but I wonder how much control you really have. I have tried NONE of the watermarking sites, and prefer to mark my own in photo editing software.

Youtube and other video sources have videos demonstrating how to watermark in whatever software you have.  Gimp is free online art software. Photoshop Elements is a limited version of the full Photoshop and affordable, relatively speaking.

Save a version of your image file for watermarking, so your original unmarked image is not lost!

If you don’t know now, learn how the “layers” and “transparency” work so your mark will be part of the image, (flatten layers), but preferably semi-transparent. These are not as obnoxious as fully opaque type.

Use your unimportant snapshots,  or a copy of one of your image files to experiment on and have fun. It’s not fun when it’s an important image and you feel you have to get it just so.  Experimentation when it doesn’t matter is a great way to learn new tricks. Experiment with text tools, brushes, erasers, filters, transparency, scale, etc.

If all this is overwhelming, just use a text tool in even rudimentary software your computer or tablet comes with, and at least add your name in small print on the edge. It’s rare any PC or Mac does not come with something that can add text to an image, even if not as sophisticated as real art/editing software.

Unless your signature is normally an important, prominent, visual element of your artwork, I would not rely on it being large enough or legible enough to serve the same purpose as a watermark.




Templetons Copyright Myths



Watermarks and removal of copyright management information



Problem with False Creative Commons Licenses

(Not everything uploaded to stock or licensing sites, clip art, etc, is there legally!)



NOT Cool, Google!

(The irony of how search engines’ big view can take your traffic not drive it to you, and increase infringement at the same time.)



Public Domain Sherpa

(Learn about actual ‘public domain,’ which is not at all the same thing as ‘publicly displayed!’)



Cornell: Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States

(Useful chart)



Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA, and DMCA takedown process)

(A fairly brief explanation, I thought I’d spare you the novel-length documents of the copyright office, etc)



How to Do a Reverse Image Search on Google

(Not the only way but very useful.)





4 thoughts on “Why I Watermark, and When “Being Found” is Bad

  1. It is so sad that we have to focus on protecting intellectual property to such an extent. Thank you for sharing your approach. I am glad that employing protective tactics have also enhanced sales for you. You are so very talented.

  2. Excellent summary of property rights and how to use watermarks. Makes me wonder if I should watermark more of my photos. Thanks, Cindy!

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