Anyone Can Snip: Protect Your Art with Watermarks

Guest blogger: Kim Bruce

Alyson’s recent article on Pinterest covers the crux of the debate over this relatively new image-sharing site. So, while we’re debating “to pin or not to pin,” let’s remember that there are other tools that can capture your images and strip out your name, your copyright . . . the works!

Did I just scare you? Good, let me explain…

Photo Snipping Tools

The Snipping Tool in Windows.

Screen captures, snipping tools and many other utilities allow anyone to acquire your images. They are still vulnerable even if right-click is disabled, images are embedded with copyrights, and you have copyright notices on your website. This workaround also bypasses the “No Pin” code from Pinterest, which you can add to your site.

These “snipping tools” work for anyone to crop an image (or text for that matter) from any website, and save it as an entirely new image. Users are forced to provide a new name because your original name doesn’t come with the snipped or screen captured image. The default name for an image captured with Windows Snipping Tool is CAPTURE.JPG whereas Apple uses “Screen Shot” followed by the date and time and saves as a PNG file.

Not one iota of your title attributes or embedded copyright notice is attached to a screen captured image with, perhaps, the exception of any watermark included in the image. 

Sure, the snipper has the opportunity to crop off your watermark; however, I suggest that most people are not malicious. They truly find your work inspirational. That is why they want to save your image in the first place.

I believe snippers will also save your image with the watermark included.

While naming and embedding your images with copyright notices works well when people are reposting your images to their own sites, it does absolutely nothing for screen-captured or snipped images. Nor does it work with social media sites that strip meta data from images posted.

For Example

A well-meaning person has captured your image and renamed it “inspirational-image-21.jpg” and it sits in a folder on her desktop.

The same well-meaning person gets a Pinterest account and creates a board called “Inspiration.” She opens the inspiration folder on her desktop and starts pinning her inspiring collection of images – from websites everywhere – yours included.

She knows she should provide attribution on Pinterest, but for the life of her can’t remember the artist’s name, or where the image came from. So she just writes “artist unknown”.

I hear you saying that she should have named the image with your name when she snipped it. Yes, of course she should have, except it never crossed her mind. She’s often in a hurry online and all she really wanted at the time was the picture and to move on.

Watermark To Encourage Shares

My reason for watermarking is not to stop people from accessing my images, but rather, to allow these good people a trail back to me and my website.

Like I said, most of the time this lack of credit isn’t malevolent, but, rather, ignorance.

I agree with Alyson that watermarks should be unobtrusive and sit in the lower right hand corner. They should never be across the center of your art.

When you come across one of your images at another website, you can be flattered that someone liked your work enough to post it.

But if you don’t see a copyright credit, you are well within your rights to contact the site owner and request credit, copyright, and even removal of the image if you feel strongly about it.

Kim BruceAbout Our Guest Blogger

Kim Bruce is a working artist who runs Artbiz, where she creates websites for artists. She also teaches how to watermark images with NextGen Gallery at The WordPress for Artists School. Kim works out of her office/studio located in the foothills of Alberta just outside of Calgary.

Note from Alyson, Art Biz Blog Publisher: I am still trying to figure out how I feel about watermarked images, but I did want to share Kim’s viewpoint. And I haven’t been bothered at all by unobtrusive watermarks as Kim describes.

What are your thoughts about watermarking your images?

Send to Kindle

46 comments to Anyone Can Snip: Protect Your Art with Watermarks

  • Been fooling around with Impressions for Mac that tucks into the iPhoto program…You can use an image as a watermark with this…So I’ve been taking say a sculpture, opening it in Preview, using the annotate function to write my name across the sculpture in big, then uploading that as a cool watermark into the Impressions program…So instead of just writing your name or web address as a watermark, you can have a branding- a logo image…This of course is not subtle…But I started feeling that the watermark itself was a work of art, & needed its own pazzazz…(sp?)

    • Laura Tyler

      Would you show us an example? I’m having a hard time visualizing but would LOVE to see.

      • Laura: As I was reading this again last night I thought it might be a good idea to have an example, but then I thought of so many other aspects of watermarking. That might be another post.

        Anyhoo . . . I like the way Dan Sroka uses them on his photos:
        http://danielsroka.com/

        • Okay. Now I just realized that that’s not what you’re asking. You’re asking for an example from Sari.

        • I like that too – it doesn’t distract from the art. The problem is that it can easily be cropped off.

          I am so torn about watermarks – leave them off because of Alyson’s prior teaching and Jill’s valid opinion, or slather them all over to prevent theft.

          My usual solution is to be paralyzed and do nothing – add no more photos to my site, but leave the existing ones in place, and change nothing in the way I post or add to my site.

          Sigh.

  • http://www.bluecrowbar.com/impressionapp/ Here’s a link to Impression (since the name is so common I thought it might be harder to Google)…This app even watermarks your iPad or iPhone pics…!

    • *oops, I should mention that link above is just to the iPad or iPhone app(Impression)…The full app for a desktop is on another page on that link- I just thought it was a cool idea to consider watermarking those Instagram or quickie pics people post on Twitter all the time…Not for the security feature, but just so people know who you are…Today I was looking at pictures from Moosicorn Ranch, which were timecoded in red & had the ranch name also in red transparent at the bottom-the timecode with date was neat because the pics showed when the coyote, the two white tailed deer, the wild turkeys, & the human, came to check up on the chicken coop (fenced in btw)…Date & timecode as well as location info is really neat on nature photography online…(I think)

  • It seems to me that since artists’ sign their work, usually at the lower right corner, that a discreet watermark in the same location is very similar.

    The difference being; one can not normally read the signature, but can read the watermark.

  • I think discreet is for discreet people…If one is not discreet, their watermark should be allowed to show that…

  • Um Laura just go to my website…front page is a armature with a non-discreet branding watermark idea…

  • I teach in a university art program and I often snip images to show students. I always give credit to the artist and usually include their website link and often the students will use it, and begin following the artist’s work. I don’t snip images with watermarks because I don’t like the distortion and distraction. Instead, I’ll find a different example of what I’m trying to illustrate.

    • I disagree. By using watermarked images, the credits are already imbedded.
      If the teacher is showing a cross-section of artwork, which is often
      the case, this would involve more work on her/his behalf especially if
      websites were also provided and accurate. The watermarking is,
      ideally, a discrete web signature and the artwork is intended to be
      seen that way. How is that different from a work of art signed on the front?

  • If we place the watermark in the lower right, can’t the snipper / hacker just capture and crop to not include that part of our art?

    • Absolutely, the watermark can be cropped off, and there is nothing we can do to stop malicious snippers, other than not having images on the web at all. But in this day and age where having a web presents is so important for artists, I don’t believe that is the answer.

      Watermarking is by no means the ultimate solution. It is just one way of many ways to try and protect your images. One has to weigh the pros and cons for themselves, and then decide what is right for them.

  • For those wanting serious protection, document fingerprinting has teeth. It can be expensive, because the companies monitor the Net for violations. Many photographers make more $$ from lawsuits than they do from image sales. Picscout is but one method: http://picscout.com/ and the more well known being Digimarc: http://www.digimarc.com/

    For further research in this, try here: http://www.digitalwatermarkingalliance.org/app_contentid.asp

    However, if you just want to know if one of your images has been used, one free service you can try is using Tin Eye: http://www.tineye.com/

    • This is great info. Thanks.

      • The rabbit hole of image protection is endless. I *love* Dan Heller’s take on it, every image a business card and he has 50k, 100k images, I’m not sure he knows how many. Artists struggle with this issue but in my opinion the real battle is remaining obscure. I pray several million will eventually like my work enough to have “saved” an image for themselves, meaning several thousand might own an original. Cheers, -Steve

        • It’s unfortunate that the fear of having our work ripped off or copied may prevent artists from gaining the exposure that is available and obtainable online.

          I think the benefits of putting it out there far out weighs the risks that perhaps, maybe, our images might be saved, snipped or otherwise copied.

          Like Steve said: “real battle is remaining obscure”.

  • I absolutely agree with Kim and Alyson about watermarks. I know they can be taken off, but for those people who just take the image because they find it inspiring (non maliciously like Kim said) there’s always my name right there on the image burning directly into their retinas for permanent retention. Heh heh. Or so I hope. :)

    • I think we need to remember that “images” of your art, are not your actual art. Could we not draw an analogy, that not having copyrights, either embedded or visual, is akin to having a business card without your name on it? Just saying

      Crystal, that’s what your watermark reminds me of; a business card with your name on it. Looks good.

      • Agreed. Something to think about. If your art makes it into the Sotheby’s Contemporary Auction catalog, would you allow them to display the art’s image after the sale?

        To me, it is crazy not to, but *many* artists don’t give them this license, so there’s a big blank box (artist copyright, blah blah) next to the auction results.

  • Great article! I handle watermarks a little differently. I like to think that most people are good and don’t mean any harm. I don’t want to detract from the image, but I still want to make sure that people can find me in the future if they choose. You can view one of my images here: http://www.toddmcphetridge.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/old-tractor-art-prints-the-ox-by-todd-mcphetridge-sepia.jpg

    You’ll notice in the bottom right is my www as part of the image. I have also included my name in the image title along with the name of the particular image and a few keywords.

    I’m not worried about anyone taking a screenshot or using other methods to snag my image. We have tools that will allow us to easily track down images. You can use Google image search: http://www.google.com/imghp or Tiny Eye http://www.tineye.com/ to find your images online. Mean people will do what they want, that’s why I make sure I copyright all of my images. Just my two cents. :-)

    • I like the way you have enlarged the canvas for your images and located your watermark below and off the image itself. I imagine that you did this in Photoshop.

      • You can add a border & text for free using FotoFlexer’s free online service… http://fotoflexer.com/ …You upload a jpeg(make it web ready so you aren’t uploading a giant file), go to Decorate, go to Borders, then select simple border, change the colour to white (or whatever border colour you like), then click Apply…To add text, hit Text in the same function area, & drag the box to where you want your words to appear…Choose font etc…Apply…Then you can save the file to your desktop as a Jpeg or Png file(png file is what I use for Impression watermarking system)…

        • **I should add- the quick & free & easiest way to add writing to a photo on a Mac is to just open the pic in Preview…Click the button Annotate…A selection at the bottom left of the pic shows up…Choose the square box with the letter A in it…When you click that, a box opens up on your picture that you can type text into…You can adjust font size colour etc. as well as where the box goes…Done, click Save As…Fastest way to watermark in a hurry for free…(don’t know how to do a border here though yet…anybody know?)

      • Yep! I set up a quick action in photoshop to add the watermark below the image.

    • excellent photo Todd! I’ve been doing my watermark the same way–under the photo. But I didn’t think of creating an action in photoshop to do it. I just use layers, and drag it over. I’ll have to try out the actions. I’m not very familiar with them.

  • As an artist (and web developer), I find watermarks disturbing, annoying, and worthless.

    Disturbing, in that they interrupt the experience of viewing the art (which is already compromised by it’s being two generations away from the original, often not at life size, and even at its best, not true color). With so much already going against you, why add to the problems?

    Annoying, for the same reasons. It interrupts the visual and emotional experience of the work, and I’d rather have the viewer experience that than have a sudden jolt back in to ‘commercial land’ with a watermark designating ownership.

    The author pointed out the many ways images can be cannibalized from the web, but honestly, noone’s going to be able to do much with a low-res image pulled from a site. I’d rather let them enjoy the work.

    Who knows-maybe they’ll buy an original someday.

    • No doubt whether or not to watermark your images is debatable. In the end I believe it is a personal choice, where you weigh the pros and cons, make an informed decision, then follow your gut.

  • I think there are two distinct issues here that are getting cloudy…1)The artistic thought-does it look nice? is it pretty? is it ugly? is it discreet? is it legible? what does it say, my web address or just my name? 2)The business thought- will this help people to remember my name? Will people come to my shows because they read my name on a watermark & remember? Will people be less likely to copy my work because the presence of my name is greater? Will this hurt my business because it makes me look paranoid or it hampers enjoyment of the work? It is entirely possible that watermarking be both ugly yet good for business simultaneously-so much of business is in fact ugly…

  • [...] The debate about watermarks is on again after the recent Pinterest surge of unauthorised copying of artwork.  ArtBizBlog hosted an article last week by Guest blogger: Kim Bruce about Anyone Can Snip: Protect Your Art with Watermarks [...]

  • I personally find watermarks on the image distracting. There are levels of how distracting – I’ve seen perfectly beautiful images ruined by watermarks straight across the middle. Those people have completely succeeded in stopping thieves but have probably lost a good many people who just couldn’t see past the huge watermark.

    I struggled with this one for ages. I don’t like to put them on the image because anything that’s good enough to avoid being edited out ruins the image, but I agree with the thought above that it’s essentially a little business card. With no name at all, you’re not carrying your message out there. So, I’ve finally started including a small border with my name in the border. Yes, it can absolutely still be snipped off but the only way to avoid that is not to share online at all. The people who would purposefully remove your watermark or my border were never your target audience to begin with and concentrating on them and their actions is just a losing battle in the end, one huge distraction from getting it in front of people who matter.

    I think the best thing we can all do is try to watch out for each other. A couple of weeks ago I discovered an image on a popular travel page on Facebook that I was curious who had taken it since there was no attribution at all. Long story short, someone (maybe the page, maybe someone else in the wild wild west of the web) had cropped the photographer’s watermark off his image and he had no idea they were using it – free advertising for them…. 3000 likes, hundreds of comments and shares and it did nothing for him, but at least he found out and was able to confront them. So, if you see something that’s unconnected and you know how to use image searches and find the owner point it out to them! Wouldn’t you want someone to do the same for you? I don’t think any of us have time to be full time police but doing it every so often on something that’s gotten a lot of attention is worthwhile, IMO.

  • Well said Mark.

    I like the idea you and Todd have with adding a border to contain the watermark.

    • Well after alot of looking I found this great FREE plugin for iPhoto called BorderFX…
      http://www.iborderfx.com/iborderfx/ It plugs into iPhoto, then you pick the picture or pictures, click File Export, & it takes you to BorderFx where it adds a white border & gives you the option of watermarking & a bunch of other things I haven’t looked at yet…Hope this is helpful…

  • “Did I just scare you?”

    Fear is a powerful way to motivate people.

    Indeed our images can be snipped and pinned and stolen and probably even sold into slavery.

    The question I have is just how real is this threat? While speculation and individual horror stories make for good copy, what I’d like to see is some solid data showing that indeed there is a real risk putting my images out there naked. What exactly is it that I’m protecting myself against? What are the chances it will happen?

    Before I put an ugly watermarks on my images I need something other than a few anecdotes. Right now the stories don’t scare me.

    I believe most people mean well and if my attribution is lost now and then – oh well. I believe in good and I believe the universe will bring me good and I like sharing my art unblemished by ugly watermarks.

    • Lisa, I was going to find you data to back up the risks of having your images online, but then I realized that is not what I was writing about. A simple Google search will more than likely provide you the information you seek.

      I wrote the article to let artists know about snipping tools and how they strip out any metadata that has been embedded. So even though we think we are doing a good job by embedding our file info and naming out images we can never be 100% sure that our name is going to travel with the image.

      As mentioned in the article, most people are good and just don’t know about attribution. My intent here was to help artists and nice people understand how snipping works and maybe a few more people will provide credits the next time they snip or post someone else’s image online. The bad guys will always find a work around.

      Other than not having my work on line at all, I know there is nothing I can do to prevent images of my work from being stolen and maybe even reproduced in China.

      Everything thing on the internet is vulnerable to theft; it’s the nature of the beast. I submit that the advantages and exposure for artists being online far out weighs the disadvantages.

      Watermarking is a personal choice and can be done in such a way as not to interfere with the work itself. If I can provide the “good people” a trail back to me, then I choose to do so, you don’t have too.

      • Kim,

        I appreciate your attempt to educate, what I am responding to was your use of fear to motivate. Leading off with the “are you afraid” question didn’t indicate to me you were looking to inform, instead it indicated to me you were looking to persuade and scare people into watermarking.

        Some people view the universe as a scary place where they need to take precautions to protect themselves from the badness and some people view it as a friendly place where good comes their way and openness and sharing are how they choose to live.

        I see your article as presenting the first point of view and I am looking to present the other side of the coin.

        There are no “facts” to prove either way is correct because those statistics would be impossible to gather. We can kind of count how many people have had an image lose an attribution (take a poll) but it is nearly impossible to quantify the lost opportunities that might be associated with this. It’s also essentially impossible to calculate the probability of this happening as counting the number of images on the internet is nearly impossible.

        I asked about the facts to point out that this isn’t a discussion about facts but instead a discussion about world views.

        —lisa

  • Lisa, my intent was not, as you say “looking to persuade and scare people into watermarking”. I’m sorry that you took it that way.

    My only objective was to offer a solution to those who may be looking for one.

    As artists we spend a lot of time naming our images and embedding metadata only to turn around to find that it can all be removed by a simple snipping tool.

    To reiterate; watermarking is a personal choice.

  • Gee…One could cut the tension in this ‘world is a friendly place’ with a knife? Agree to disagree & let’s thank our free guest blogger for her free time while she is in the middle of an art show herself…I’ve been back & forth on this one myself, & am trying to get some factual results from doing some & not doing others…We are all hammering this out right now as we speak, & discussion is good, but not if it is starting to descend…Let’s be honest, both of you are great artists, & both of your opinions are valid…It happens…

  • I guess because I know both Kim and Lisa that I saw this differently – as a civilized discussion. Lisa is great at providing another opinion (she’s done so with me on many occasions), but she has never done it with malice or ugliness.

    It’s good to have different voices on this blog, but it’s easier to understand intent when we’re face to face in the same room together.

    I’m grateful that you’re all here. You, too, Sari!

  • [...] Anyone Can Snip: Protect Your Art with Watermarks (artbizblog.com) [...]

  • [...] discussion from Kim Bruce on Anyone Can Snip: Protect Your Art with Watermarks.  I love where she writes “My reason for watermarking is not to stop people from accessing [...]