Friday, December 11, 2009

Add a Copyright Watermark to Your Photos

This pretty butterfly is unprotected. Or is it?

On Wednesday, a couple of readers asked the question, "How do you put the copyright watermark on your photos?" I've actually been asked this question many times, but have never posted the answer here.

So, Amanda (the librarian) and Herstoryan - thanks for asking. Here's your answer!


Why bother putting a copyright notice on my photos?

I do it because they're mine, and I want them to stay that way.

Seriously though, I'm willing to share, if I'm asked, but I won't play nice with kids who take my stuff without asking. So before posting photos online, I'll take the time to put a copyright notice on each one. Sure, it's an extra step, but in the long run, I think it's worth the effort.

And yes, I know that a copyright notice is not a deterrent for anyone who reeeeeeaally wants to lift one of my photos. They can be easily cropped off or cloned out by a persistent photo-thief. I suppose if I was really paranoid, I would put a great, big, ugly watermark right across the middle of every photo. But I don't make my living as a photographer, and those watermarks are unpleasantly distracting. Besides, if someone wants to steal, he/she is gonna steal. Period.

I don't want to be the picture police, but I also don't want to make it any easier for him/her.

How do *I* add the copyright watermark?

The simple answer: I do it in Adobe Photoshop Elements.

Watermark added in Photoshop Elements.

My camera takes photos of over 2-4 MB each in its highest resolution setting. I never use the lower resolution settings because you just never know when you'll need a high res version; better to start high and reduce than to start low and need something bigger later, in my opinion. This, of course, means that every photo I intend to post online will need to have its file size reduced.

For the record, images posted on the internet should not be larger than 72 dpi, with a file size of 500 KB (or smaller) each. Any larger, and your risk having your visitors leave your site in frustration. Even today, not everyone has a high-speed internet connection, and long downloads will drive them away. If you simply must post larger files, it's best to link to a "high resolution" image which will give your visitors the option of waiting to see your excellent work if they choose to do so.

While I'm reducing file sizes, I also typically do some cropping, editing and other tweaking (such as removing gray hairs and wrinkles from photos of myself). Then I add a text layer with the copyright watermark. I adjust the text color and opacity depending on how it looks on the photo.

Before I'm finished, I include my copyright notice in the photo's metadata. (Yes, I know that metadata can be erased, but you can't erase it if you don't think to look there, eh?)

You can embed your copyright, keywords, and other information, in the photo's metadata. (Click to enlarge)

I'm sure that the procedure is similar in most types of photo-editing software.

What if you don't have photo-editing software?

There are several web sites that offer free watermarking services. I tested a few and will share my thoughts on each.

PicMarkr (Beta)

PicMarkr works with photos uploaded from your computer, or already posted on Flickr, Facebook, or Picasa. It allows you to upload 5 photos at a time (up to 25 MB total) for a batch resize and custom watermark (text, image, or tiled). You can then right-click and download your photo.

Watermarked with PicMarkr

I found PicMarkr easy to work with and fairly customizable. As you can see, though, it added a box around my watermark, which I don't really like.

For $39.99, you can upgrade to PicMarkr Pro, which will allow you to add watermarks to your Flickr photos, batch resize and rotate, and a number of other features. You can download a free trial from the PicMarkr web site.


The standard (free) version of Watermarktool (WMT) allows you to upload and watermark up to 10 photos at a time. But the catch is that the maximum file size allowed per photo is 200 KB or less. I typically post photos of between 250-400 KB, so I had to reduce my butterfly photo before I could upload it to WMT.

Watermarked with Watermarktool

Watermarktool offers several customizeable options, but it does not give you a preview of what your watermarked photo will look like. I was surprised to see the box across the entire lower portion of my photo. Depending on the photo, I would find this to be very annoying.

For a subscription fee of $4.95 a month, you can join WMT Pro!, which allows you to upload files of up to 10 MB each, as well as several other features.

Ivertech Free Online Watermarker

Watermarked with Free Online Watermarker

This one says you can watermark one photo at a time, with a file size of less than 4 MB. You can upload a watermark image (for instance, your business or blog logo) or use "any text you want." To customize your watermark, click on the "Preferences" link (do this FIRST; you won't like the default - trust me.).

For onesie, twosie jobs, this service isn't too bad. But if you need to add watermarks to a bunch of photos, it would be a real time-eater. I do like the fact that no annoying box was added around my watermark, though, so that's a plus.

Of the four online tools I tested, this one was probably my favorite. It was the most intuitive, easiest to use, and offered the most custom options.

The free service allows you to upload multiple images at a time, each with a file size of up to 500 KB. You can customize and position your watermark, resize and compress your photo, all in a preview mode that lets you see what you'll get before you get it.

Watermarked with

After processing, you can download your photo(s) in a zip folder. I thought this was a nice feature, especially for batch jobs.

For a lifetime fee of $29.95, you can upgrade to Watermark Pro, which allows you to upload unlimited photos with no file size limit. If you watermark large file-size photos for printing, this might be worth the investment.

Want something with more power?

If you need, as Tim Allen used to say, "more power!" there are several excellent, free editing options that you should consider:
  • Picnik - Grab photos from your computer or any of several online sites, crop, resize, and add special effects. Works on Mac, Windows, or Linux. Picnik is the photo editor for Flickr.
  • - Upload photos and video from "virtually any device," store up to 2 GB, and they promise never to shrink your files. There seems to be a virtual plethora of editing options. Oh, and the photos on the homepage are fun to play around with, too.
  • FotoFlexer - Claims to be "the world's most advanced online photo editor." They offer several demos to show you how to get started (good for beginners). I'm thinking of changing my hair color in my profile picture to purple.
  • Picasa - "Picasa is free photo editing software from Google that makes your pictures look great. Sharing your best photos with friends and family is as easy as pressing a button!" This one has to be downloaded to your computer, but as long as you're not using a netbook with a teeny, tiny hard drive, it shouldn't be a problem. Also, if you're a Blogger user and you've uploaded photos, you've already got a Picasa album.
Hopefully these ideas will help you get started watermarking your photos!


In the spirit of full disclosure, I would like to say that I purchased my copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements with my very own money. No one paid or otherwise coerced me to review any product or web site discussed herein.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

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Amanda (the librarian) said...

Thanks Elizabeth, this was VERY helpful! I do have access to both Photoshop (full blown, at home) and Photoshop Elements (at work) so I will have to start doing this with photos I post online - at the very least the ones (like your butterfly photo) that are really good.

Barbara Poole said...

Hi Elizabeth. I have often used Martha Stewart's blog pictures (beautiful gardens and such) for my own viewing and saving, not for sharing or other purposes. And, I found a way around the watermark. I save the photo, then simply crop out the copyright notation. Most people make them so small, you don't lose much of a picture when you crop it. If I had a way to send back your photo, cropped I would. I love photography and often look at the professional's work online, their watermarks are either very large or across the picture in the middle. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this.

Lori E said...

I always forget to do this and you are so right that we shouldn't make it easy for the people to use them without permission.

girlreader said...

Thanks for the tips. Your timing was perfect for me. I've been playing around with just this sort of thing.

hummer said...

Thank you for the tutoring on how to use the watermark. I see it and as Lori says, forget to do it. I have Corel Paintshop Pro, maybe I will look into Photo Shop instead.
Thank you for stopping by my blog and leaving a note.

Annette said...

Great article. Very thorough and useful!

Cindy Bergeron Scherwinski said...

Terrific article and, as usual, very helpful. I've been "manually" adding copyright (when I remember!) to my photos when I do any post processing. Had not thought to add it as a tag. Sounds like I should hit the easy button!

Elizabeth said...

Glad to hear that you all found my post helpful!

Barbara - I've been pondering your comments. You raised some interestig questions, and I will probably answer in a separate post when things calm down a bit here (HA!). Holiday madness is at a frenzy right now! ;-)