Guarding Against Image Theft: Part 2, The Watermark

6 Aug

Another technique in guarding against image theft is adding a watermark to your image.  What is a watermark?  In the print world a watermark is defined as “a recognizable image or pattern in paper that appears as various shades of lightness/darkness”.  We love Wikipedia, here.  In the digital world, a watermark is a pattern imposed on a digital image for the purposes of preventing unauthorized reproduction and/or image theft.  For the nightmare scenario on image theft, check out our previous blog entry on this subject.

There are a number of Photoshop plug-ins for generating generic watermarks.  But, let’s say you want some form of custom image for a watermark.  First step, make a new Photoshop document with a transparent background.  Here’s a simple one with a spiral drawn with the Photoshop brush tool.

Sample Pattern

It’s a little larger than anyone would normally need.  Next, select your image (Cmd/Ctrl A) and make a pattern, Edit > Define Pattern. Since my imagination is a bit strained at the moment, I simply named this one “Spiral”.

Pattern Named

Now let’s open an image and apply the watermark.  Here you see an image designed by BPI Inc. for Tombstone Pizza. It’s already been downsized for web display so we’ll skip those rather boring steps and get right to watermarkin’.

Tombstone WebImage

  1. Make a new layer – Cmd/Cntrl Shift N.
  2. Paint the new layer black and set the Fill to 0%
  3. Double-click the new layer in the Layers Palette. This action launches the “Layer Style” dialog box.   Notice that the Preview option is checked
  4. Select the “Pattern Overlay” option. Don’t worry about all the bubbles, that’s just the default.  We’re going to change this.
  5. You may have noticed the small square preview of the bubble patter in the middle of the dialog box.  Click the small down arrow directly to the right of the bubbles icon and select your custom spiral pattern.  Your preview should now resemble the Spiral_Pattern screenshot.

Spiral Pattern

This mark is a little on the ugly side.  Let’s fine tune this.  Change the Blend Mode to Divide, set Opacity to 15% and change the Scale to 20%.  Now your preview should look something like the Watermark.jpg image.  Try fiddling with the settings for scale, opacity and blending mode on your own.  Remember the point is to protect your work without destroying your image.


So, your image is now protected but it lacks a signature.  A lot of photographers employ social media to distribute their work.  If your image is picked up and shared across the web, your name may get lost in the shuffle.  Try this simple strategy for adding a quick signature.  First, select your text tool in Photoshop and sent some text identifying your company.   Just like the previous watermark, set your layer fill to 0%.  Next, double-click your text layer and launch the Layer Style dialog.  This time, select the top most option, “Bevel & Emboss” (Bevel-Emboss screenshot). Perhaps this signature appears a little weak for your particular image.  Try adding “Inner Glow” and “Outer Glow” to your style (see Add_Glows screenshot). And at last, the image is ready for its social debut.


The Layer Style dialog box is an extraordinary tool for adding effects to your Photoshop documents.  If you want to know more, we suggest you check out some of the Photoshop WOW books by Peachpit Press or the Adobe Photoshop Classroom in a Book.


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