Prevent theft: watermark your art

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Here’s a nightmare scenario for illustrators and photographers: you send your proofs to a prospective client and never hear back: then, a few weeks later, you see your work on the client’s Website or in its advertising. This is the reason so many creative professionals opt to send out proofs with a text watermark. It discourages outright theft of artwork and photos, and helps avoid agonizing (and costly) litigation. Note that text watermarking is only one way to digitally ID your work, but it is a very simple and aesthetically acceptable way to get the job done quickly.

Adding a text watermark to single image is a simple process, but adding it to hundreds of images can be exhaustingly repetitive. I’ll show you how to automate the entire process using Photoshop CS3, CS4, or CS5.

A watermark overlays your image with large, transparent text.











Gather the images: The first task is to save copies of your images to a new folder. Go to the Finder, click the Desktop and choose File->New Folder. Now give it an appropriate name, such as “Proofs.”

If you’re preparing to send photos to a client, open iPhoto, Aperture, or Lightroom. Find the photos and export them as JPEGs to the folder on your Desktop. As you export your photos, you'll want to scale them down to a more manageable size, particularly if you plan to email the files. A maximum height or width of 800 pixels is a reasonable size for most proofs.

If you’re preparing to send non-photographic artwork (perhaps in PSD format) to a client, open the files in Photoshop, scale them down to email friendly dimensions (Image->Image Size), and then choose File->Save As. Choose JPEG from the format pop-up menu, check As a Copy, and then save to the folder on your Desktop. You'll need to repeat this process for each of your images, and remember that all images should have roughly the same pixel dimensions.

Resizing files individually can be cumbersome; to speed up the process, you can create a Photoshop action to do the job for you (see below) or use a shareware utility such as Downsize 2.7.2 ($20), which was made for the specific task of resizing and watermarking your images. The following procedure saves you $20, and shows you how Photoshop's actions can be used for all kinds of batch processing.

Build an Action: Once you’ve collected your properly sized images into the Proofs folder, create a Photoshop action to automate the application of a watermark. Select an image in your folder to use as a dummy file; if your images are a mix of both portrait (tall) and landscape (wide) orientations, choose one with a portrait orientation. This lets you set the width of the watermark text so that it fits on all images.

Open the dummy image in Photoshop and choose Window->Actions. At the bottom of the Actions panel, you’ll see a row of tiny icons. First, click the folder icon to add a new set; name it “My Actions” and click OK. Follow up by clicking the notepad icon to create a new action within that set; name it “Watermark” and click the Record button.

The Action window lists each step of your action; if one isn’t working right, delete it and re-record.

Now, with the application monitoring your every move, perform these steps:

  1. Click the Foreground Color in the Tools palette and choose a color. White is best, unless your artwork or photos are unusually light.
  2. Choose the Text Tool. At the top, you’ll see the Options bar (Window->Option) change, giving you options for font family, font style, font size, anti-aliasing method, and text justification. Set your font preferences and then click the button to center justify the text. Now type in your watermark; for example, “Chris McVeigh, © 2010.” (Type Option-G to create the copyright symbol.) If the text is too large or too small, select the text and tweak the font size.
  3. Open the Layers panel (Window->Layers). Click the text layer to highlight it and then choose Layer->Layer Style-> Blending Options. Under General Blending, set the Blend Mode to Overlay and then set opacity to 60 percent. Click OK to continue.
  4. Choose Select->All and then Layer->Align Layers to Selection->Vertical Centers. This centers the text vertically.
  5. Choose Select->All, and then Layer->Align Layers to Selection->Horizontal Centers. This centers the text horizontally.
  6. Choose Layer->Flatten Image.
  7. Choose File->Save. If asked, set the JPEG Quality to 10 (or better) and click OK.

And that’s it. Stop the recording by clicking the square button at the right of the Record button. If you’ve made a mistake, choose the step in question and then click the trash icon to delete it. You can then re-record the step by clicking the circle icon. If your image is still selected, you can deselect it by choosing Select->Deselect.

Choosing “Folder” as a destination allows you to set a custom naming scheme for your image files.

Batch process: Now that the action has been defined, you can use it to batch watermark your images. Close the current image and then choose File->Automate->Batch. Under Play, choose the set My Actions, and then choose your new action, Watermark. Under Source, select Folder and then click Choose. Find the Proofs folder on your Desktop and click Choose. Under Destination, you have two choices. Save and Close saves over your existing files and is the simplest choice, since they're already copies of your originals. Folder, on the other hand, lets you save the revised images to another folder and also lets you set a file-naming scheme. Once you’ve made your selections, click OK. Now watch as hours of manual labor are condensed into a few minutes!

Watermarking in this fashion provides a measure of protection when dealing with unfamiliar clients. And with a watermark action in your digital utility belt, you’ll make quick work of an otherwise grueling process.

[Chris McVeigh is an author, illustrator, and toy photographer based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.]

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