Debate | Should You Watermark Art You Are Posting Online?

I am frequently asked by artists whether they should watermark their artwork before sharing it online. There seems to be a pretty widespread concern that posting artwork images online could lead to unauthorized reproduction or theft of the artwork. I don’t dismiss this threat out of hand; the theft of intellectual property is a very real problem. I would argue, however, that a watermark is a pretty poor way to deal with the problem and that watermarks defeat the purpose of sharing work online in the first place.

If you are sharing your artwork online, you are likely doing so in order to achieve broader exposure for your work, build recognition for yourself and your work, and generate sales. In order to achieve these aims you want to show your art in its best possible light. Having looked at thousands (probably tens of thousands) of artwork images online, I would argue that the appeal of artwork is considerably diminished by including a watermark. Think about what a watermark accomplishes – it mars the artwork to an extent that a would-be thief wouldn’t want to steal it to reproduce it. That marring of the image will just as certainly diminish the appeal of the piece to a potential promoter or buyer of your work.

I would also argue that the decrease in appeal outweighs any protection you receive from a watermark. An important benefit of posting your art online is the increased exposure your work gets when it is shared.  Viewers are less likely to share artwork that is watermarked.

The likelihood of theft is pretty low. While there is a lot of intellectual property theft occurring online, it’s good to remember that there is an overwhelming amount of art online. The chances of your work showing up on t-shirts made in China is extremely low.

Typically, the images you share online are pretty low resolution. These images would result in poor reproductions.

There are legitimate legal reasons to assert your copyright when you post your work online, but a general notice on your website or a caption below your artwork will provide the same benefit without diminishing the appearance of your actual artwork.

If you have questions or concerns about your copyright and how to protect it, you should discuss the issues with an attorney who has experience protecting intellectual property. Last year I interviewed Steve Schlachman, a prominent IP attorney – watch that interview here.

What Do You Think – Should Online Artwork Be Watermarked?

Do you watermark the art you post online? Why, or why not? Do you have counter-arguments that I’ve failed to consider? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Updated: Examples of Watermarks Added

Thanks to everyone for posting your opinions on this matter in the comments – you’ve made excellent points. Some of you have been kind enough to send examples of your watermarking to give some ideas of your approach.

Jillian Chilson
Jillian Chilson


Matt Suess
Matt Suess
Karen Kyle Ericson
ren Kyle Ericson
John Haker
John Haker

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.


  1. Unobtrusively. More important is to not give away the image in a large size. I limit my postings to either 500 or 600 pixels long dimension and add my ©Larry Berman in 18 point arial font. In the corner. My sports pictures, which are much more valuable than my art pictures have my copyright filling the vertical width of the 500 (short dimension) pixel image because those images get taken and used all the time. And they are 99% verticals. I just finished scanning over 5000 slides from my film days and are posting 600 pixel images on Facebook with my 18 point copyright.

  2. Thanks for a thought-provoking article! I have a couple of thoughts.

    First, I’ve seen mentions of programs that “erase” watermarks. I don’t know how good they are… and I’m sure that they’d work better on some watermarks (for instance, watermarks with fine lines) than others. Someone who’s that desperate to get low-resolution copies probably isn’t going to buy the art anyway.

    Second, I’ve seen elegant watermarks that enhance a photo. That’s especially true if the watermark is fairly small and put in a spot that fits the composition so it isn’t obtrusive (vs. always putting the watermark in the same place, and the same size, on every photo). It’s something like the way a painter might sign their work — not necessarily in the lower right corner.

  3. I don’t “watermark” but I do add my logo (usually, when sharing on IG or FB) – either my stylized signature or my chop. That way when people share my images, other people who see them will know who the artist is. It drives me crazy when people share images without attribution.

  4. I’m in the process of switching website hosts, and the new one has a protocol I agree with: the watermark is not opaque so you can see the painting beneath, and it’s only applied to the Original works whose files are large enough to reproduce with any quality. The giclee print pages of the same images do not have the watermark, but copying is prohibited on those images and the image files are too small to reproduce anyway. That works for me.

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