What Is a Watermark? Why (and How) to Use One

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What Is a Watermark? Why (and How) to Use One

Digital content is big business nowadays, and this is even more true since the pandemic. Developing your skills and effectively marketing your work can be not only an enjoyable career path or side hustle, but very lucrative as well. But one of the biggest potential pitfalls of producing online content is the unpleasant risk of having your work ripped off by someone else and shared without your consent or recognition. This is where the use of watermarks comes into play. Read on to find out exactly what watermarks are, why people use them, and how to make one yourself.

What Is a Watermark?

The term can seem confusing and misleading. But, essentially, a watermark is a recognizable design that identifies your work. This could be a logo for your business or brand, a specific symbol, or a particular pattern. Even your name or initials could be a watermark. Whenever you see a watermark, you know that the photo, video, or piece of content in question belongs to that person or that brand.

Traditionally, the term came into play when people used images and patterns to identify physical documents as authentic. This includes currency, postage stamps, and even official documents such as those from the government. These are designed to be either visible to the naked eye, under UV light, or after applying a special liquid known as a watermark fluid. You’ll also see watermarks in creative works, like artists’ signatures that identify their paintings and drawings.

In the digital age, watermarks tend to be used more often to refer to symbols and patterns that identify digital content and documents. Content creators could produce these, or companies could for unlicensed or trial versions of software. This is largely to incentivize you to purchase the licensed version. A similar concept is the particular codes inside digital files like videos and music. These help to confirm their authenticity.

Why Use One?

Watermarks have many uses, but the most prominent are:

  • Theft protection: When sharing your content online or on social media, having an identifiable watermark makes it easy to let viewers know who the original creator is. Of course, this doesn’t completely stop the possibility that someone may share the content. There are even some software programs out there that people use to get rid of the watermark. However, it offers a first-line defense against this, as most people won’t bother to attempt to remove it. In a world where over 2.5 billion images are stolen every day, this is a crucial point to consider.
  • Brand awareness: Aside from mitigating the risk of theft, watermarks also achieve a similarly important objective. Since one of the major aims of using the internet to promote your content and brand is to increase awareness and sales, having a consistent and impactful watermark goes a long way toward accomplishing these goals. This is especially true if your content ends up being extremely popular and goes viral. Whoever looks at your images and videos will instantly know who they belong to and be able to spread the word more effectively.
  • Indicator of legitimacy: This arguably isn’t as crucial for a smaller brand, as they tend to have a more personal feel. However, if you’re viewing content from a large corporation most are familiar with, such as a sports brand or news company, you’d probably expect to at least see an identifying logo. This is even more important as misinformation is rife these days and signals authenticity to the observer.
A man examines a red check mark through a magnifying glass. Assessing the transparency of the legitimacy of an election or referendum. Illegal Anex, falsifications and violations. Democracy.
Watermarks can be great for providing legitimacy to content and authenticating it.

©Andrii Yalanskyi/Shutterstock.com

What Types Are There?

As previously mentioned, typical watermarks include a signature, a logo, or a pattern. However, you can see some variations on this, particularly in the corporate world. Often, companies will brand documents with terms like “Confidential”, and “All rights reserved”. Where employees are dealing with clients directly, they may watermark their contact information, such as phone numbers and email addresses. This is especially common in the real estate business.

How to Add a Watermark to Your Content

Once you’ve decided to watermark your content, there are watermark creators you can use.

If you’re a Dropbox user and want to watermark images or PDF files, you’re in luck. You can do this from within Dropbox without needing to download and get to grips with a third-party application. Dropbox gives you the means to watermark files in PNG, JPEG, BMP, or PDF formats. You can create watermarks as either text or images and adjust factors like opacity and size as you desire. Even better, if you accidentally save over the original file, you can remove the watermark and revert to the original file, so nothing will be lost.

However, if you have videos that you want to watermark, you’re going to need to invest in some third-party software. An example is the Descript video editor. Using Descript, you can create watermarks in a similar vein to Dropbox, including text (i.e., your name, web URL, or social media handle) or images (i.e., your logo). Simply open your video within Descript, and drag and drop your watermark file into the project timeline. Then, extend it over the full duration of the video. After this, you can edit the watermark’s qualities and save it.

Before and after example of AI watermark remover tool erasing watermarks from a photo of a man.
It is best to add a watermark to your photos so that it cannot be copied and used easily.

©MDV Edwards/Shutterstock.com

Tips On Making a Good Watermark

When creating a watermark, you need to be sure it’s fit for purpose. To this end, there are some mistakes that you want to avoid:

  • Incorrect size: If your watermark is too small, it’ll barely be visible and not be doing its job properly. And if someone intends to steal your work, they may not even have to resort to software to do this. Therefore, your watermark must be big enough that people can identify your work.
  • Obstructing your work: On the other end of the spectrum, a watermark that’s too visible can ruin the quality of your content. This could be a watermark that’s too large, not transparent enough (too opaque), or too colorful or patterned. In most cases, you can have a big watermark. But make sure that it’s transparent enough so viewers can still see your work underneath.
  • Placement isn’t ideal: The location of your watermark is arguably just as important as its size. If it’s too inconspicuous, it opens you up to two problems. First, your target audience may not notice it. Secondly, especially if it’s on a fairly clear background, it’ll be even easier for somebody to remove it with a simple crop and plagiarize your content.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a watermark?

A watermark is a clearly visible or partially visible image, usually of text, a logo, or a symbol, that identifies a creator’s work. They can be used for physical documents or currencies, but also for digital files.

Why do people use watermarks?

People use watermarks mainly to try and prevent theft of their content and to help their audience recognize their work for brand awareness. Watermarks also help to provide some proof of legitimacy, particularly for large corporations such as news outlets.

Can watermarks be removed?

Yes, watermarks can be removed under certain circumstances. Through the use of complex software, people can potentially remove a watermark and share content as if it were their own. Removing a watermark can be even simpler, however, if the watermark is on a clear background and easy to crop out. The more complex and integrated the watermark is, the harder it is to remove. Digital files (i.e., videos and music) can also have identification codes integrated into their code, which is a more secure way to authenticate the work.

Do watermarks have to be visible?

Not necessarily. Most digital watermarks that are used for brand awareness are clearly visible; however, for secure documents, watermarks can be invisible to the naked eye. Invisible watermarks on tangible objects can only be visible under certain light or by using specific solutions. Digital documents can be encoded with watermarks that are much harder to remove.

What kinds of watermarks are there?

There are lots of different kinds of watermarks: text, images, symbols, patterns, and codes.

How do I create my own watermark?

You can create your own watermark directly through software such as Dropbox, which can be used to make PDF, BMP, PNG, and JPEG watermarked files. Alternatively, you can use software like Descript to add watermarks to your video content.

What are some best tips for creating a watermark?

If your watermark is for brand awareness, you want it to be clearly conspicuous without obscuring your content. Therefore, it needs to be of a visible size but also transparent enough that it doesn’t ruin the viewing of your file. To protect against theft, it’s a good idea to integrate your watermark into the entire image or document, or at least on a complex background, so it can’t be quickly removed.

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