I am an art student who is trying to upload some digital work on a website. Do graphic designers typically watermark their work? If no, how do graphic designers protect their work?

Update: The website I am using is squarespace. The digital work that I am uploading consists of typographic work(logos, lettering), infographics, package design, and branding. I've noticed illustrators would upload their work with a 72 dpi and watermark. On the other hand, graphic designers--not so much. I'm still new to the whole copyright issue, so I was just wondering if watermarking was a "thing" for graphic designers.


4 Answers 4


Depends on why you watermark

You should not be so concerned with others swiping your designs. What you should be concerned is how to find clients and getting paid. Don't fall into the trap of thinking you're going to lose money at this stage from copying, because even if it happens there's no real way for you to turn it into money.

Only care about money you can actually make. You can look at all the virtual money you've lost, but all that gets you is a bad feeling and is nonconstructive. You're not going to be very efficient in converting that effort into more money. So it's waste of your resources.

Second, even if you would watermark your work it is still not usable in a direct form. Rather, they would take your idea and reuse it because more than likely they need to alter your message. In these cases a watermark does not help, since there's nothing illegal about doing that.

Illustrators have a slightly different value proposition as their images might be applicable for a wide range of uses. Even so they should not care all that much. You can not protect yourself, really, sharing carries risk of re-purposing.

Using watermark as promotional

Now the watermark is not a terribly good defense for shielding you. Instead it can serve as a link back to you. Watermarks in this capacity would work more like signatures, and indeed you should consider not using a prominent watermark but rather have an easily removable one (e.g "done by XXX contact me at XYZ.org for work" etc.)

This is free promotion. In fact showing your work is free promotion. Treat it as such, not as something others take. Even if they do, don't bother, it's inconsequential. Treat the ones that like your work with respect and don't clutter them with things that degrade your work, these are the ones you want to concentrate on. Do promotional stuff with style and respect.


Only watermark if you're trying to license

There is only one time to watermark - when you're trying to sell the rights to the image such as a stock graphic. That's it.

A good watermark that can actually slow someone down, and I say slow down not stop, is one that ruins your photo, graphic or illustration. All it will do is make your art less appealing to people on the whole.

If its promotion you're after then just put in very small at the bottom your company name or website. If someone crops it off, oh well.

Also consider the additional space and time to watermark things. And oh does your Watermark not work on that image, so you had to create a variant watermark, awesome even more work for you for no reason.

The only exception is if you're trying to sell that actual piece.

So say I take a portrait of a model and turn it into an album cover for Acme Band with their logo and some other design elements and such. I'm not ever, ever, going to Watermark this.

If on the other hand I take a portrait of a model friend and put it up online to license then, and only then, would I watermark it.

Consider music. In recent times music theft has become a real problem first with Napster then Torrent. Do musicians play some very soft loop of their band name over every track now? Of course not!

  • 3
    Wow I completely forgot about Napster! To continue your point about music - and prove your point about licensing - back when I was using audio samples for music production they often had 'audio watermarks' looped over previews.. Because they were licensed. As soon as you buy the license, you get a clean un-watermarked version.
    – Cai
    Feb 17, 2016 at 19:51
  • Right good strategy, your playing where it matters. Not elsewhere.
    – joojaa
    Feb 17, 2016 at 20:32
  • lol @ "Do musicians play some very soft loop of their band name over every track now?"
    – Michael
    Feb 18, 2016 at 1:42
  • audio jungle . . .
    – J Sargent
    Feb 18, 2016 at 1:53
  • @NᴏᴠɪᴄᴇIɴDɪsɢᴜɪsᴇ yes I'm aware. I was trying to be brief in the analogy. Yes, in music like in pictures you can put watermark if its for licensing.
    – Ryan
    Feb 18, 2016 at 13:30

If it's on the web.. watermarking doesn't hurt... but realize anything on the web will be stolen at some point.

If you are the over-protective type, never put anything on the web you don't want stolen.

A watermark really only deters casual theft, but anyone serious about using your work will either:

  • A) not care there's a mark or
  • B) use Photoshop to remove the mark as best they can.

So.... well... it's like putting your name on your lunch in the company refrigerator... sure it's supposed to stop people from eating it... but there's always that one guy.....

Photographers and Illustrators more commonly watermark because their final product is one image and for the web, that means it's often merely a low-resolution RGB version of their final creation.

Whereas designers often employ "construction" across multiple applications and a web image is often merely a "screenshot" of a final InDesign, or HTML layout. So the designer has native construction files that are far more involved -- leading to easier proof of ownership should it be needed.

Ultimately, I watermark web images. However, I have no illusion that watermarking is any sort of real deterrent. Just ask the guy that was making T-shirts of my artwork with the watermark in place :)

  • 4
    +1 just for the watermarked t-shirts! (The rest too but that made me laugh)
    – Cai
    Feb 17, 2016 at 19:03

In my line of work, I use vector based art 95% of the time. Basing a vector on a water marked photo is just as easy as a non-water marked one.

However absolutely water mark things you intend to sell such as stock photo's vector files, etc. At my job I am currently working on a program that uses high resolution images dye sublimated on to fabric. There is someone out there making good money off of my company buying those stock images.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.