What is a watermark?

Find out why watermarking is so important for you and your brand, and discover the best ways to do it.

A photo of a family photoshoot with digital watermarking

What does watermark mean?

Watermarking is the process of superimposing a logo or piece of text atop a document or image file, and it’s an important process when it comes to both the copyright protection and marketing of digital works.

Let’s take a look at a few reasons why watermarking images and documents is important, and explore how to create a watermark that’s effective for your work.

While the watermarking process is mostly digital these days, the term ‘watermarking’ itself dates back centuries. Traditionally, a watermark was only visible when the paper was held up to the light or when it was wet, and the process of watermarking paper occurred while the paper was wet – hence the term we still use today.

What is watermarking used for?

There are a couple of key reasons why you might need to watermark a document or image. On one end, watermarking helps protect the copyright of your work and ensures that it cannot be reused or altered without your permission. This means that people can still preview your work before purchasing it, without the risk of them stealing it.

On the other end, watermarking can simply be used as a branding tactic. Much like a painter will mark their work with a signature, digital watermarking is a way to get your name out and heighten brand awareness, so you know that any time your work is shared, say on Instagram for example, your name or brand is always attached to it.

In other cases, a digital watermark may act as a stamp, to indicate the status of a document, with terms like ‘VOID’, ‘COPY’, or ‘SAMPLE’. This ensures that important documents are never mishandled, helping you keep your work organised as you take it from draft to finalisation.

Where do you find watermarks?

You probably come across watermarks a lot more than you realise.

You’ll notice watermarks on a lot of stock imagery or professional photography. When you’re searching for an image on Google Images, you’re bound to see a bunch of stock photos that are covered with watermarks so that you can only access the original, un-doctored image if you purchase it from the copyright owner.

The same goes for a lot of text files you might view online, like a preview for an e-book or an academic paper.

If you ever deal with digital contracts or other legal paperwork online, you very well may have seen watermarks there. Watermarks can be used to protect confidential information and to indicate the validity of a legal document.

You’ll also see watermarks on any paper banknote, where they’re used to help prevent counterfeiting.

On the branding side, you’ll notice visible watermarks on a lot of professional photography, design, visual art and even memes, particularly on social media. Influencers and content creators will watermark their work to ensure that if anything they make ends up going viral, their brand is recognised.

Some websites and media companies will automatically add watermarks when users save images they’ve published. Reddit, for instance, will add its own watermark to images you download from the Reddit app.

You might even want to watermark personal files and photos. Just because you share personal photos on social media doesn’t mean you’re giving anyone permission to use them as they please. To protect your own precious memories, and simply your identity, you may opt to watermark any personal photos you share online.

How to make a watermark that works for you

How your watermark looks is really up to you, and you may opt to have different watermarks for different file types or purposes.

A watermark could be a logo, an image or text, and it can be as subtle or prominent on a document or photo as you’d like. You may want your watermark to feature copyright information, an identifier like your name or logo or status information like ‘Draft’ or ‘For Review’.

If you’re watermarking photos or video files that you hope to sell online, you might opt for a semi-transparent watermark that covers the entire frame. It’s important to remember that if your watermark is small and tucked into the corner of your image, it could still be cropped out by crafty content thieves.

If you’re watermarking a digital image to protect your work, it’d be wise to place your watermark somewhere where it can’t be easily Photoshopped out. If you position it over a smooth, solid background, it would be fairly simple to edit out, so it’s best to place it over a busier part of the image.

You’ll notice this on many tabloid and photojournalist shots, where the watermark is placed directly over the subject of the photo. They know where the money is – and by placing watermarks over the part people want to see, they’re ensuring nobody else can profit off their work, not least without exposing their theft.

On the other hand, if your watermark is obtrusive and covers an entire image, it might distract from the quality of the work.

You may want a watermark that appears to blend into the photograph, to give it a more natural look that still promotes your brand. Some would prefer more transparent, modest branding, while others might favour an opaque, eye-catching watermark.

It’s important to strike a balance that works for you based on what you’re watermarking and why you’re watermarking it.

How to add a watermark to photos and PDFs on Dropbox

On Dropbox, you can watermark digital files without needing to use any third-party service and without having to leave Dropbox at all. Dropbox allows you to enable customisable watermarking for any JPEG, PNG, BMP or PDF file.

Learn how to add a watermark to an image or PDF file in your Dropbox account here.

Watermarks are completely customisable on Dropbox. You can choose between text or image, then choose the position of the watermark, its size, rotation and opacity. Then, you can save your watermarked images as copies of the original files, so you still have the untouched version ready when you need it.

If you do accidentally save over your original image with the watermarked version, it’s easy to remove watermarks using version history on Dropbox. This also means it’s easy to trial different kinds of watermarks and find what works for you.

Remember that image theft is as easy as right-clicking and pressing Save As, and if your work exists publicly online, it can be stolen. Watermarking images and documents gives you another layer of protection and ensures your hard work never ends up in the wrong hands.

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