Should You Use Watermarks to Protect Your Art?

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Do watermarks protect you from online art theft or devalue your work?

Let’s face it. Art theft is a reality. We see it happen all the time.

If you post your work anywhere online, you’re immediately vulnerable to those who want to grab it and use it for their latest article, T-shirt, company logo etc. It’s simply a risk you take by having an online presence.

Watering Down

Some Illustrators choose to protect themselves by placing “watermarks” over their image. This means that they overlay a copyright notice of some form on top of their Illustration to discourage others from using it without their permission, and in fact make it unusable at all.

The question is: Does this cause more harm than good?

As an Illustrator myself, I definitely understand the desire to protect one’s work. After all, the images you create are the lifeblood of your business, so why wouldn’t you want to defend yourself from online predators?

However, it is possible to go too far.

In my opinion, the use of a watermark degrades the experience an Art Director or other potential client has when viewing your work, which is the last thing you want to do. The value of an illustration, and an art buyer’s ability to appreciate it, all comes down to its visual impact, so why would you want to do anything to diminish that?

Even with the dangers of online art theft, I strongly believe that watermarks do more harm to the artist than to the thieves themselves. Furthermore, any persistent pilferer with a basic knowledge of Photoshop can easily remove the watermark from some images without too much trouble, so the benefit to the Illustrator is limited at best.

Finally, it’s important to consider the impression that this makes on your potential clients.

If you protect your images with watermarks, you may unintentionally convey paranoia, defensiveness, or unease, which just might make people uncomfortable, and deter them from contacting you to begin with. It’s not unlike the response you might get if you present them with a 10-page contract full of fine print and overstated legal jargon.

It’s simply not necessary.

Overkill?

Don’t get me wrong. Tracking down and stopping art theft is an incredibly frustrating activity, and it hurts to see your work being used without your permission, but I recommend thinking twice before using watermarks as a form of defense.

I don’t know about you, but when I enter a brick-and-mortar business and see security cameras at every turn, warning signs to “leave your bag at the desk”, and electronic sensors at the exits, I feel a little uneasy, even though I don’t plan on stealing anything.

Why would you want to do the same with your own business?

Do you use watermarks? Why? How do you feel when you see watermarks on an image?

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Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

Posted by Thomas James on 11/16/15 under business
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