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Protecting Our Work: Watermarking Part I.

Protecting Our Work: Watermarking Part I.

Yes, I know. It’s a crime against art and beauty to put a watermark across model Hai Thi Ngo’s eyes. I had to. The placement was dictated by my site software.

But, in some ways, the placement is appropriate;  it shows the quandary in which we find ourselves when we take desperate measures to protect our work against unauthorized use and copying.

We spend all this time creating the “perfect image”, the image in which the viewer can get lost, and then we plop a big distraction on it. Hai has great eyes. I worked hard to present them correctly. What did most of you focus on first? My bet? The watermark.

At a time when most of our clients have access to the technology to copy and reproduce our work, without our permission, we are grasping for ways to protect ourselves.

Although there are ways to mark our images that minimize the damage, watermarks, by their very intent and nature, detract from the impact of our work. That’s what watermarks are supposed to do. They call attention to themselves. No one wants an image with a © symbol, logo, name, or the message “Do Not Copy” across the front. They diminish the value of the work. They render it less pleasing, less desirable, less worthy of copying.
Obviously, the best tack is to explain to our clients the laws of copyright and their reason for being. We need them to  understand and honor the laws that protect our creative rights. Some copying is done because people don’t know it is wrong. It’s our responsibility to make sure they do.

But, there is also copying that people know is wrong. They do it because they think they can get away with it. And, sometimes, they can.

In this post, and one to follow, I’ll show you how to make it more difficult for those who don’t want to respect your rights:

Using a Watermark Brush

The simplest way I’ve found to make clear that the work is copyrighted is to use a “signature brush” to put a mark somewhere on the image. I like the brush because I can easily choose where to put the mark, and vary its size, color and opacity. I try to get away with the least intrusive mark — I really don’t want to make the image look bad, I just want to remind people it is copyrighted.

I usually put it in a lower corner. It will let people know the image is protected without too deeply offending my artistic sensitivities. Yes, it is possible to crop the warning off, but that’s a risk I’ll normally run. However, if you want more protection, you can stamp the image anywhere you want. And, you can make it as big as you want. However, were I to want to make copying more difficult, I’d place it somewhere where it could not be cropped off or easily retouched out — and that’s usually somewhere in the middle and over skin.

More often than not, I use my least aggressive “message brush” and put the copyright info either in a corner or across the bottom. I don’t want to offend people or be in their face — I just want to remind them that the image is protected.

The mark on this image is subtle — a simple statement “Copyright: PrairieFire Productions (2010)”. I have brushes that are more aggressive, like “Please Do Not Copy” and the oft used giant copyright sign “©” (option g on my Mac — I think it’s a bit more difficult in Windows.)

Putting on the mark is the last step in my post-production work flow. After I have finished processing the image,  I place a blank layer, atop the stack of my layers in Photoshop, and use the brush to “stamp” my message.  One of the advantages of the “brush method” is that the brush is easily resizable. You can choose the size before you stamp the message by using the bracket keys, or after by using the Free Transform tool; with the latter, you can also orient and place it exactly where you want it. And, because it is a brush, you can choose an appropriate color. Often, I select a contrasting color from within the image, itself, as I did here choosing to sample the color from her lips.

Making a Brush

At the beginning of the year, I make a brush like the one I used on Hai’s image. It usually takes me about 5 minutes.

There are lots of ways to make a brush — just Google “photoshop signature brush” and you’ll find dozens of sites giving you different ways to get it done.

My process is really simple.

Step 1. I open up a New File in Photoshop. For a long signature I work in a 3×6 window, but smaller will work well, too. I only watermark images that I use online so my brush, here, uses a resolution of 72 pixels/inch; were I to make one for print, I’d use a higher resolution.  I use a white background because, as we will see in Step 2, it helps me see the type and effects as I apply them.

Step 2. Using the Text Tool: I add a new blank layer above the white background layer. That will be the type layer upon which I create the signature/message. For this example, I am showing you one of my more aggressive brushes — on two layers it says “Copyright: Prairieifire Productions (2010)/Please — Do Not Copy”. There’s really nothing to this, just type in and space what you want — in black type. When you are done, you will have block, black letters. This screen shot gives you both the image and the Layers Panel. (Note: the text layer is actually transparent. However, because the Background layer is still on, it appears to be white.)

Step 3. Making it “See Through”: For a pure “signature” brush, some people go directly to Step 5 to create their brush. But, for purposes of watermarking, most of us want a somewhat “see through” mark. Here’s where we turn our block letters into a mark. We do so by adding some Layer Styles to the upper, text layer. So, making sure we are working on the text layer, we click on the “fx” button at the bottom of the Layers Panel and go to Blending Options. Within the Blending options window, go to Advanced Blending>Fill Opacity. Drag the slider to the left. As you do, the inside of the lettering becomes more transparent. I usually slide down to 10% or so. The lettering will get very faint with the white layer turned on. It will almost disappear working on the transparent layer, alone. That’s why I use the white background layer. Here’s what you’ll see:

(For the moment, please disregard the check marks in the Bevel and Emboss boxes. They come next and I took these screen shots while switching between my options. Bad me. I couldn’t go slowly enough to capture each step separately.)

Step 4. Giving the Brush Some Style and Shape: In the same panel, choose the Bevel and Emboss section. Here’s where you add the 3D look. Go wild. Slide the sliders. Have some fun. Here are the settings I used:

You may want to add a few more effects — like drop shadows or glows. Knock yourself out. They are easy to add and delete.

When you have what you think will work, turn off the Background layer (click on the eyeball to the left of the layer) to see your signature/message on the transparent layer only.

Some people would save this image as a “file”. To use it, they would open it up and drop it over the image they wanted to protect. They’d use the Free Transform command to size and place it.

That’s way too many steps for me. So, I turn my “messages” into brushes. Doing so is incredibly easy.

Step: 5 Making a Brush: Now, the easy part. With the Background layer turned off, working on the transparent layer, make a selection of the text.

In the menus, go to Edit>Define Brush Preset. Name your brush and click “OK”. That’s it.

You’ll find your brush in with all of your other brushes, usually at the bottom of the stack.  Try it out. If you don’t like it, you can go back into the original .psd file and make some adjustments.

A few final tips: Work on a transparent layer at the top of your layers stack. You can change the size, location, opacity and color while working on that layer. And, by putting the message on its own layer, and not flattening the image, you retain the ability to turn off the layer, and the message so as to print or deliver a clean version of the image.

But Wait — There Will Be More!!!

The “brush” approach works great when you are working one image at a time. However, it’s not really helpful when you want to protect a large bunch of images.

Fortunately, there are ways to apply the message in batches.

In Part II. of this article I’ll show you two solutions I use, NAPP’s Watermark Creator, and onOne Software’s PhotoFrames Pro 4.5.

I’ll try to get Part II up, soon.

(Copyright: PrairieFire Productions/Stephen J. Herzberg — 2010)

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3 Responsesto “Protecting Our Work: Watermarking Part I.”

  1. Fay says:

    Thank you Stephen,
    I realized I was already doing it but with my signature. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Mar schmitt says:

    Thanks, This is a great idea I will make mine today.

  3. DorRae says:

    Hey thanks Steve,
    I watermarked the long way, this is much better and I love learning something new!

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