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Watermarks: Should You Use Them to Prevent Image Theft?

promoting your products starting a soap business
a very annoying watermark over rainbow soaps

I've recently spoken about what is legal and illegal when it comes to content found on the web, but I wanted to dive into this more with a specific talk about images and watermarks.

I've seen a few of posts in soapmaking groups on Facebook about stolen images, logos, and the like, and one major thing concerned me...

The sheer number of people who adamantly recommended putting big ole fat watermarks in the center of all product photographs.

No, just no.

Like always, this is my opinion about watermarks specifically on product images and process shots by soapmakers who use these images to sell tangible things. Not photographers. Not artists. Not people who make their income by selling the images themselves.

But here it is: watermarks are entirely pointless, completely distracting, and deter business - simply put, watermarks suck.

Now, now, I know what you are thinking...

Let me explain why I don't use watermarks:

A watermark on an image does not protect from image theft. At all. Anyone who is going to steal your photos does not give two poo's if it has a watermark. Thieves don't follow the rules - that's why they're thieves. Plus, anyone with a decent shot in Photoshop can remove a watermark - heck, there are hundreds of tutorials out there on how to exactly do that.

Putting watermarks on your product photography can deter press. I've gotten press in both newspapers and blogs, unbeknownst to me until I saw the aftermath (read: sales.) Clearly, if you have a big old fat watermark on your product photos, they're going to have to get in touch with you to get clean images. If they're on a tight deadline, or have a ton of options to choose from - what's the likelihood of them taking that time?

Watermarks detract from ANY photograph, it's very rare that an image is not hurt by a watermark. They almost always look better without! The first thing you notice when you look at an image should be the content of the image - not a watermark. Plus, a watermark sends this message: You are looking at my work, and I don't trust you. Totally not what you want people who are looking at your products to feel, right?​

Watermarks encourage agony over your online presence. Wait, what?! So here's the deal: I was raised with the internet. I've been around since the days of chat rooms and text-based websites, I remember teaching a friend how to type in Word Perfect. When you watermark your images, you do so in fear of them being stolen. Fear is a precursor to all kinds of evil nasties like anger and hatred. You are going to be much more pissed off about someone stealing your photo when it carries a watermark then if you hadn't of watermarked it. The gall of people, am I right?! It's really difficult to see the internet as a beautiful place when all you see is the darkness, I'm not a fan of living in fear.

Should I use a watermark anyways?

That is always the question I get asked next, so let's talk over the reasons you might use a watermark:

  • Prevent image theft
  • ...

Does that about sum it up?

This is why I think watermarks suck, the reasons to use them are few and far in between while the reasons not to use them are sky-high. Some argue they build brand recognition, but your brand and work should speak for itself - that's real brand recognition.

A Subtle Watermark from Amathia Soapworks

There are numerous ways to find your images across the internet, like a Reverse Google Image Search.

If you really want to get technical about watermarking, digital watermarks are just as effective, and services like Digimarc make it easy.

Still want to watermark your product photos? Go for it, no one is going to stop you.

My only reason for writing this is to explain why I usually don't watermark (sometimes, I still do!) and to hopefully help others really think about what they are doing when they place watermarks on their images.

If you absolutely insist on using a graphic watermark, make it subtle.

Tag the corner of the image, use a small mark, or make it a graphic element of the photo itself. If done well, watermarks are slightly less distracting.

Do you watermark your images? Tell me why you choose to watermark or skip it, and if you think you might change it up in the comments below!

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