Should You Watermark Your Art Online?

To Watermark or not to Watermark–

This is a question I get asked often, and I actually have some strong opinions about it. I am all about breaking the rules though, so don’t feel pressured to adopt my opinions as a new rule.

Personally, I loathe watermarks most of the time. I feel bad about this, but I have good reasons. First, why do people use watermarks?

  1. To prevent their art from being stolen and copied.
  2. To make sure if their art is shared without credit, viewers can trace back to the original creator.

That seems reasonable, right? So why do I dislike watermarks?

For one, a lot of people have used watermarks in such a distracting manner that it ruins the viewing experience of a photo. Two, depending on the way a watermark is used, it sends an unintentional message from an artist’s ego and fear. I’m all about being intentional about the message you communicate to your audience, so—this is a problem for me.

My opinion on the rhetoric of watermarks:

Everything you do as an artist sends a message. Deciding to use a watermark, and how that watermark is used tells me something about you. No matter what, using a watermark says “I think my art may be stolen or shared without credit.” And although I think all artwork has value and is worth stealing, when coupled with an artist’s personality, the declaration of “I think my art is worth stealing,” can leave a bad taste in the viewer’s mouth, because their ego or fear may be speaking to the audience before their art has a chance to.

Example: Picture me standing in front my art at a gallery and every time someone approached, I loudly said “This is MY art. It’s worth stealing. But you can’t steal it because I put my name on it. Look! LOOK AT MY NAME!”

That’s what a giant watermark on your photo says.

What would you think of me as an artist if I did this? Maybe “Wow, she sure thinks highly of her work. Pft. I don’t think it’s worth stealing.” When you present your ego, it evokes a response from the viewer’s ego as well. That’s probably not what you want to do.

That’s an extreme case, but check out these two contrasting examples:

A large watermark across the whole photo says: “I care so much about protecting my art that I did not consider how this will affect your visual experience of my work.”

Or with stylized text: “I at least wanted you to think my declaration of ownership of this art is pretty, but this work is still mine and good luck stealing this photo and reprinting my art.”

See how both images scream for you to look at the watermark and not at the art? Unless that is your intention, I’d avoid using that style of watermark.

Subtle and hidden watermarks say: “I know my photos/videos will get stolen and I want to make sure I get credit for them, but I don’t want to interfere with the quality of the photo.”

I’ve seen a lot of artists use this watermarking style and it’s my favorite. (@biophilicart, @jenaranyi) See how it doesn’t distract your eyes from the art? Do that. It’s basically like signing your photograph. It does not yell at the audience that they shouldn’t steal the art. It just credits the origin of the image.

So, should you watermark your art photos?

It’s up to you.

Small watermarks can be tastefully done. Big watermarks may be a distraction. Regardless of how you protect your art online, if someone is motivated enough, they will find a way to rip off what you do. Whether that’s through Photoshopping your watermark out, or just replicating your art and taking their own photographs.

A watermark can only do so much in the digital wild west.

No matter what, be smart about how you post your content online.

Protecting your content online is a good idea (Thieves be thieving), but there are different ways to go about it. You can do a few strategic things when posting your work to protect your art without distracting viewers. Big watermarks aren’t the only option.

  • Use lower quality photos if you post a straight on shot of your art. Don’t give a thief the ability to print your work easily by providing a high res, perfectly edited photo on your website. If you want to show details of a piece, zoom in on individual sections for multiple photos.
  • Take advantage of angles and dynamic shots of your art for social media. It’s harder to reproduce art from an incomplete view. Plus, dynamic shots make your art and your artist lifestyle look more interesting in photos.
  • Only use small subtle watermarks in your photos/videos. You want your art to be seen and shared, so make sure your photos look good and sneak in your mark.
  • Sign your work. Your signature can be your watermark.
  • Work on that original style of yours. Building brand recognition for yourself is the ultimate watermark.

***

I don’t watermark most of my social media posts, and it’s honestly out of laziness. Once you get into a routine of creating enough content to post multiple times a day, the fear of someone taking a photo or two really decreases. Like, go ahead. I’ve got 50 more where that came from.

The only time that I really make an effort to watermark my content is when it comes to videos. Videos have the potential to be shared and spread around with viral intensity, and I just want to maximize how many people see my brand when that happens.

So how about you? What do you think about watermarks? Leave your questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. I’d love to hear from you!

-Kelly

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