The Encyclopedia of the Watermark

Alright, photographers. Since SmugMug started offering a non-destructive watermarking feature it’s been a favorite of lots of you, and it certainly has been one of ours. But our Support Heroes get questions about the nitty-gritty details all the time, so let’s dig deep and show those of you who haven’t tried it yet how much it rocks.

Watermarked wrinkly dog with glasses

What’s a Watermark?

Watermarks are custom graphics or text that SmugMug Pros can apply to their photos. They appear on all the photos that appear in your SmugMug galleries. Your original uploaded files won’t contain them, which means that all downloads, print or gift items that clients purchased from your galleries will remain clean and pristine.

Who Can Use Watermarks?

At SmugMug, Portfolio and Business account holders can use Watermarks. If you have a Basic or a Power User account you can use programs (like Lightroom) to apply watermarks to your photos before uploading to SmugMug, but if you do this just remember that this means your original photo file will be marked and anything purchased from your site will contain them.

Why Use Watermarks?

Watermarks are awesome for keeping your name and brand associated with the photos you take. Especially if you sell your photos for profit, using this feature ensures that people pay you for your images.

Watermarks and image protection gallery settings

Plus, once you set them up in your Gallery Settings (shown above), we’ll automatically apply them to new photos as you upload, so you don’t even have to think about it.

Tip: When you Watermark, why not consider letting your fans use your display copies for free? They get to share the low-res files with their friends, which means free advertising for you.

You can add watermarks to your images prior to uploading to SmugMug (through Lightroom or other image editors) but that watermark becomes a part of the original file that we print from. If you do this we, recommend that you disable printing in your galleries. By using the SmugMug Watermark tool, the custom watermark is applied to your display copies only after upload, leaving your originals in pristine condition.

Finally, you can have as many different Watermarks as you wish on file in your SmugMug account. We just recommend that you don’t keep too many, or the list can start to get confusing.

Where to Find Your Watermarks

Your SmugMug Account Settings

Look in your Account Settings > Business tab. The first section there, Branding, will contain several important pro features, including Watermarks. This is your home base where you can manage, edit or delete any Watermarks you’ve uploaded to your site.

Tip: To change or remove the watermarks on your photos, you’ll go to your gallery’s Tools button. We’ll cover this in a minute.

How to Create and Apply Your Custom Watermark

Create transparent png file in Photoshop

First, you’ll create a special file using your favorite image editing program, like Photoshop. We suggest starting with a transparent file about 1000 x 2000 pixels in size (you can always crop it down or change this later), adding in any text that you wish and/or using your logo. When in doubt, start with a large canvas so that your finished watermark looks good on our full range of display sizes.

Tip: Given that your Watermark will be sitting over colorful images, you may want to keep the font color a simple opaque white, but it’s up to you.

Save your file as a transparent PNG file and upload it to an unlisted gallery on your site. Then click the gallery Tools button > This Photo > Make into Watermark. We’ll then let you set up the opacity, placement and other settings for that Watermark. Don’t forget to give it a unique name!

Tip: If you plan on using several watermarks, or if you’re experimenting with different ones, you may want to be specific and call out placement and the font, like “Center Helvetica for portraits” or “Bottom right logo 2013.” Being tidy is just a good idea, anyway.

We have a comprehensive step-by-step tutorial showing you how to make a sample Watermark file on our help pages. And we have a fabulous video tutorial, too, where you can see watermarks in action.

How to Change or Remove Your Watermarks

First, create and upload your new Watermark to your site, then set it up as aWatermark with a new, unique name. Once that’s done, you can go to any gallery on your site and open the Tools button > Many Photos > Watermarking.

Change or remove watermarks

You’ll see a new screen with thumbnails of every image in that gallery. Click to select one, a few, or all of them so that they’re highlighted in red, pick the new Watermark name from the menu bar at the top and click “Watermark.”

If you want to remove watermarks from your photos completely, it’s the same deal. Only choose the “Remove” radio button at the top. Again, click the “Watermark” button to save your changes.

Note that it can take a few minutes before you see the changes on your photos, so it’s a great time to put the kettle on or stretch your legs.

How to Fit Both Landscape and Portrait Images

We get this question from time to time, but it’s a bit tricky. After all, your camera’s sensor and how you crop your images can drastically affect the aspect ratio of your final image, which changes the placement of your Watermark.

If you want your Watermark to look good on both portrait and landscape-oriented images, here’s a suggestion: Go square! This doesn’t mean that the visible Watermark has to be square, only the image file that you’re using. So try creating a square transparent PNG, center your watermark text and make sure you keep it centered when you set it up in SmugMug.

Another alternative is to make a corner edge Watermark. Simply align your Watermark’s text along the bottom and one side of your image file and when setting it up in SmugMug, choose one of the Bottom left or Bottom right placement options.

Option 3: You can always tile your Watermark so that your design is repeated uniformly across the image. (See below for example)

And finally, if you’re really picky about perfect Watermarks on all your images, you may want to create and set up two versions of your design: one for landscape photos and one for portraits. Note that you can only set your Gallery Settings to automatically apply one Watermark, but you can manually apply the second one to only the photos you want to switch.

Watermarks vs Printmarks: What’s the Diff?

These two features are cousins. The thing to remember is that Watermarks are applied to the photos displayed on your website. Printmarks are like watermarks for your prints, and only appear on products that you and your customers buy.

Set Printmarks up just like you set up your Watermarks! The only thing to keep in mind is that Printmarks, unlike Watermarks, are limited in the size and area of the photo so they stay unobtrusive. Check the preview if you’re unsure.

Tip: Great ideas for Printmarks include the event date, your handwritten signature, team name, graduation year. What else can you dream up?

When They Work Great and When They Won’t

Watermarks go a long way towards preventing image theft by right-clickers and screen-grabbers, plus they’re great for spreading the word about you… but not everyone loves them. Some people find anything extra on the image distracting, and large Watermarks can sometimes cover up vital parts of the photo.

Unobtrusive Watermarks close to the edge or in corners can be cropped out, and of course there’s always the chance (however slight) that someone with lots of time and Photoshop experience can remove it.

Finally, Watermarks can be applied to photos only, so they won’t work on your video files. For security on your videos, and for better image protection all-around, we recommend using Right-Click Protection as well.

Great Watermarks We’ve Known

For your inspiration, here’s a few examples of various watermarks we’ve found along the way. You may want to try these  yourself!


Photo by Schmootography

Center logo:

Photo by Brian Rice Photography

Photo by Creative Focus Portrait Photography

Banner style:

Photo by Barnet Photography

Photo by Barn Door Studio

Photo by Meghan MacAskill Photography


Photo by Trick The Light Studio


Photo by MJR Photography

Let’s Get You Started!

Are you ready to dive in? We’ve already pre-loaded a generic “PROOF” watermark into your website that you can use right away, but here’s a few basic watermarks you can snag to change it up.

Grab PNG files for square, portrait, landscape and banner watermarks

We hope that these questions hit all the points you may have been wondering about this powerful feature. If we missed one and you still need help, give our Heroes a shout!

Published by


I'm a freelance documentary photographer who loves travel, rangefinders, medium format film photography, and everything in-between.

19 thoughts on “The Encyclopedia of the Watermark”

  1. good article.
    i have said this before and will again why don’t you have right click protection on as standard?
    its a bit lame telling us its the best way to protect whilst all the time every me user to.smug mug gets thrown to the.dogs till they find out how to enable it.
    best to start from protected rather than not. A bit like a condom.. no one likes them don’t want to throw it out without protection..

    1. I disagree. Anything downloadable to the web browser is public information. It does not matter if you disable right clicking. That’s a JS implementation which can and will easily be circumvented if required.

      If you can view content on a web page, you have already downloaded it and you can save it. Period.

      1. Mikael
        i can take it therefore its mine.
        Very naive to say the least
        of course you can circumvent it
        but my work is my work not your work….
        you can steal it all you want but
        My work is not public property copyright protects me they might be able to steal it but that does not change the copyright i hold on it
        You might be happy to give your stuff away but like hell i will be
        I do take it you know your stuff is on the smug mug site at full res and downloadable?

        1. Misunderstand me correctly. I am just saying that a right click protection is not a protection, nor sufficient nor good. I am not defending the right for anyone to abuse your photos in violation with your licensing terms.

          Your question was “why is this not on by default”. Where as it does not really matter if it is on or not. And actually enabling it gives you false sense of security.

          Yes I am aware that you can download all images from my gallery. And I have made the decision not to water mark them.

  2. Misunderstand me correctly. I am just saying that a right click protection is not a protection, nor sufficient nor good. I am not defending the right for anyone to abuse your photos in violation with your licensing terms.

    Your question was “why is this not on by default”. Where as it does not really matter if it is on or not. And actually enabling it gives you false sense of security.

    Yes I am aware that you can download all images from my gallery. And I have made the decision not to water mark them.

    1. Ah ok i get you now thanks for clarifying that i thought you were one of the its on the internet therefore everyone own it mob.
      i am under no illusion that my work is not steal able but it would be better to have it on initially and allow people to turn it off i for one nearly had a heart attack when i realised my high res images were fair game.

  3. Sgt Rock :
    folks can always screenshot!

    Of course they can
    let them i dont sell 5×7 prints which is about all they will get from a low res screen capture.
    Before the i know better than that mob jump in.. The average screen grabber does not have the interpolating tools needed to make it bigger and even if they did it’s still gonna look gash
    And if they use it on a website then i will come across it at some point😉

  4. I am seeing many visits from people in Russia, Ukraine, Romania … they always try to login in and spend a good amount of time on my portfolio. I’m sure they are stealing photos. My images are watermarked and not displayed in full format and right-click protected (although I do know about the screen-shot thing). Anyone else seeing a lot of visits?

  5. Hi guys. 2 things. Firstly let me pass on this piece of wisdom from Denise Goldberg on the Digital Grin Forums gave to me a year ago:

    Are you aware that no one needs to purchase your photos because you are allowing access to the Original-sized images? I know, you have right click protection turned on. That doesn’t protect anything – the viewer can view the Original then grab the file from the browser cache. I’d recommend you set the largest display size to something other than Original. See ORIGINALS = a gateway to free photos, & right click protection is NOT PROTECTION.

    You have been warned!

    Secondly and this is a massive problem with Smugmug, videos cannot be protected in any way. Sure a viewer cannot right-click to download but screen grabbing is common place. Unfortunately there is no way you can host videos for sale on Smugmug without them being stolen.

    So thanks for the lesson on watermarking Smugmug, but please sort out the video problem soon.

  6. To water mark or to not water mark???

    I have had my website up and running for two years…or so. In the past I had not watermarked my photos thinking that it was a distraction to my art….And I had false hope that they were protected by right clicking protection. This DID NOT keep others from stealing my pictures.

    80% of my business is sports photography and shoot for my local high school. Everyone wants something for nothing…. or at least pay very little for something. Almost everyone wants pictures for their social media pages. And will do anything to get them.

    About a year ago…I found lots of my pictures on people’s facebook pages & they didn;t pay for them. I was told by several mothers and students that there are MANY ways to down load a picture with out “right clicking”. The bummer thing about this whole experience was that… I never got credit for the work that was stolen. If my “watermark” would have been on it when they stole it… at least people who have know it was mine… rather than me being the only one who knew it was my work. To add to the frustration…I’d see comments from people who had seen “my photos” on other’s facebook pages… comments like “wow!”… “Awesome shot!”… who did this? The “thief’s” never said who did….maybe in fear that they will get busted.

    So the moral of my story is…if you want credit for your amazing work that you have worked hard creating you might think about watermarking your beautiful art. One way to think of it as being an “artist” (as all of us are ) …..and you are just signing your work for everyone one to know who to give the worthy & deserved credit to. If someone is going to like it enough to go out of their way to steal it and post it some where… let them do your marketing for you and give you credit where it is due.

    Good luck everyone :0) May the force be with you.

    How did you know that other counties have been looking at your stuff?? Is there a button for that to be able to know??


    1. Heather: Your web site provider can tell you everything. Just ask for a report. Give them a call and say that you would like to know how many hits your site has had, were did they come from, etc. They can tell, almost, everything. Unless you are the CIA, they will not tell you exactly who accessed your site.
      Hope this helps,

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