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Creative Watermarking – How to Integrate Your Signature into Your Photos

Watermarking is a topic that many photographers are quite passionate about. It seems to be a viable way of protecting your images from online theft, but a watermark can ruin a photo if placed carelessly. Indeed, with a semi-transparent giant piece of text (and maybe Comic Sans as a font) written straight across the image, many people won’t bother looking at the image for more than a second. I have been applying watermarks (or, to be more precise, signatures) to my images for some time now, but I use a different philosophy by making it an integral part of each image, almost as if it was there in the original scene. In this recipe, I will show you how you can apply similar signatures to your images.

Assumptions and Requirements

The terms watermark and signature are a bit blurred. Most signatures serve as a kind of watermark. For the purpose of this recipe, I will continue using the term signature because it fits better.

I am assuming that you have finished all the post-processing work you need and that adding the signature is the final step. Applying a signature like this can take some time, and applying it half-way through the process may mean that you have to repeat this work. Furthermore, I am demonstrating the process using Photoshop. It should be possible to use CS3 and above or a current version of Photoshop Elements. If you are using some other photo editing tool, you may have to adapt some steps.

Update: As Mike Francis reports (see comments below), you can apply this watermarking method using Photoshop Elements (version 10 or above) in the same way it is described here. So there is no need to get the much more expensive Photoshop CS. If you have any question concerning the usage of Photoshop Elements for your watermarking, feel free to post your question in a comment below. I will forward it to Mike so that he may answer it.

The Purpose of a Signature

A well-placed signature can keep people from stealing your work on the web. It reveals information about the artist if it is stolen anyway, and it associates your name (or logo) with the image which may help you in getting recognition. Many people frown when they see a signature on a photograph, but for most painters, signing their work is simply common sense.

Since the kind of signature we will be applying here requires some effort and actually alters the image, it may not be suited for all types of photography. For example, it should not be applied in photo-journalistic work. But if you are into fine art photography, this recipe may be for you.

Further Examples

Below, you see further examples of signatures that are integrated into the respective scene. Except maybe for the first example, a viewer will not notice them straight away. They are not destructive, and they appear to be a natural part of the scene. A thief needs to notice them first to remove them, and removing them can be tricky.

Overview of the Process

The process of adding a signature to a scene consists of the following major steps:

  1. Creating your signature template. This is some kind of personal logo that can be placed on the image. The signature template should be as compact as possible. A line of text containing multiple words is very difficult to apply. It could be your initials, a copyright sign and the year, for example.
  2. Selecting the right spot for the signature, and placing the template onto your finished image.
  3. Applying  the correct perspective distortion to the signature to fit it into the scene.
  4. Blending the signature with the rest of the image so that it looks like it has been there when you took the photograph.

In the following, I will give detailed step-by-step instructions on how to achieve each of these objective.

Creating a Signature Template

The signature template is a separate Photoshop file that contains your signature. For every image that you would like to add the signature to, you can load it into Photoshop and duplicate the signature into you new image. Thus, you need to create the actual signature only once, and you can reuse it for every image.


STEP 1: Make a new image ( File > New… ) and make it about 800×400 pixels large. The size may vary depending on the typical resolution of your images. In general, shrinking the signature is much less problematic than enlarging it. So make it big enough to fit all your needs.

Make a new image ( File > New... ) and make it about 800x400 pixels large.


STEP 2: Use the Type Tool (T) to create your actual signature. The design it totally up to you. You can use combinations of text layers and arrange them accordingly, or you may use graphics elements. Just make sure that it can be clearly read even when it is rather small in your final signed image.

Use the Type Tool (1) to combine your signature (2) from a number of text layers (3).


STEP 3: Create a new black fill layer. Choose Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color… ) from the menu and choose black from the color picker that will be displayed.


STEP 4: Make a selection from all the layers of your signature as follows: Hold down the Ctrl key and click on the first layer you want to add (click on the layer icon or on the layer mask – whichever defines the element you would like to add). For all the following layers, right-click on the layer icon (or mask) and choose Add Transparency Mask from the pup-up menu. The shape of each layer will be added to the current selection.

Turn the signature elements into a selection (1) by using the Add Transparency Mask command (2) on each layer.

IMPORTANT: The Add Transparency Mask menu item is really only available if you right-click directly on the layer icon. Clicking anywhere else on the layer in the layers palette will open a different menu.

TIP: If you are having difficulties combining the different elements of your watermark into a single selection, have a look at my video tutorial on combining masks.


STEP 5: Remove the existing mask from the black fill layer you have made, click on the Add layer mask button and set the blending mode of the black fill layer to Color Dodge .

Add a new layer mask (1) by clicking on the Add layer mask button (2) and set the blending mode (3) to Color Dodge.


STEP 6: Bring up the Layer Style Dialog by double-clicking on the black fill layer in the layers panel. To bring up the dialog, you have to double-click on some spot to the right of the layer name.


STEP 7: In the Layer Style dialog, add a Drop shadow and a Bevel and Emboss effect. It does not really matter which parameters you choose for those two effects. The Color Dodge blending mode and these two layer styles will make your signature semi-transparent when you put it onto your images. This makes the following steps easier. However, the final look will be created later.

Open the Layer Style dialog and add a Drop Shadow effect (1) and a Bevel and Emboss effect (2).


STEP 8: Save your signature to a file. You are now ready for putting it onto any image you process.


 

Selecting the Right Spot and Copying the Template

I assume that you have opened your image and the signature template in Photoshop. Once you have finished all the post-processing work on the image, it is time to apply the signature. The first thing you need to do is to identify a good spot for it. If you want it to be some sort of protective mechanism, do not put it at the very edge of the image, since you want to avoid that a thief can simply crop it out. The selection of the right spot is different for each image (see the examples above) and comes down to your creativity.

To copy the signature template into your image, do the following:


STEP 1: Go to the open signature template document.


STEP 2: Right-click on the signature layer (the fill layer with the mask we created) and choose Duplicate Layer… from the pop-up menu.


STEP 3: In the dialog that appears, select the image that you want to apply the signature to as the destination and hit OK .


STEP 4: Go to the image document and you will see the signature layer in the layers panel. The semi-transparent  signature appears in the upper left corner of the image. If it does not, simply drag the signature layer to the top position in the layer stack.

After duplicating the signature layer, it appears in the layers panel (1) and on the image.


 

Applying the Correct Perspective

At this point, your signature will not at all look as if it was a part of the actual scene. The next thing we need to do is to resize it to fit it into the spot you have chosen and to correct the perspective. For both adjustments, you can use the Distort tool ( Edit > Transform > Distort ). But before we do that, we need to create some guiding lines to get the perspective right.


STEP 1: Select the Line Tool and change the foreground color such that anything you draw onto the image can easily be identified. In our case, we will use a light green and blue.


STEP 2: In the area where you want to put the signature, look for straight lines in the image (walls, grooves, windows etc.) – anything that creates a horizontal line on the real object you photographed helps you in finding the actual perspective of the image.


STEP 3: Once you have identified those lines, use the Line Tool to create two intersecting lines straight along those natural lines in the image. The important part here are not the lines themselves but the point where they intersect. This is the vanishing point of your image, and any line starting from that point will naturally have the right perspective. Note that if your image has two vanishing points (horizontal and vertical lines each converging to a different point), you have to create guiding lines for the second point too. Our sample image is straight enough to say that it has only one vanishing point.


STEP 4: Use the vanishing point to draw the actual guiding lines along which the top and bottom edges of your signature will run: Activate the Line Tool in the toolbar, start at the vanishing point and draw lines from there.

Draw two guiding lines along the lines that are present in the image (1). From the point where those lines intersect (3), draw additional lines (2) that will define the top and bottom edges of your signature.


STEP 5: Move the signature roughly to the position where you would like to apply it using the Move Tool.


STEP 6: Activate the Distort tool ( Edit > Transform > Distort ) with the signature layer selected in the layers panel. A bounding box will appear around the signature. Move the four corners of that box such that they fall onto your guiding lines.

Signature with perspective corrected (signature displayed in black for better visibility only)


STEP 7: Hit Enter to apply the distortion.


STEP 8: Delete the guide line layers or make them invisible by clicking the eye to the left of the respective layers. We do not need them anymore.


 

Blending the Signature into the Image

Now the signature has the right perspective but it still looks strange because it has sharp edges and does not blend with the background well. We will do the following things to fix this:

  • We will use the signature to create a selection and copy the respective parts from the image to replace the signature with actual image pixels that we can manipulate for the blending.
  • We will apply a layer style with the right lighting.
  • We will use the Smudge Tool to create a smooth transition between the signature and the image.

Replacing the signature layer with actual image data


STEP 1: Hold down the Ctrl key on your keyboard (Option key on Mac) and click on the layer mask of your signature layer. This will create a selection.


STEP 2: Select the image layer (Layer 0 in the screenshot below), hit Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V to copy and paste the selected part of that image layer. A new layer will be created that contains only the parts under signature.

Create a selection from the mask of the signature layer and copy/paste the selected parts as a new layer (1).


Applying a layer style


STEP 1: Double-click on the new layer (right of the layer name) that you just created in the previous step to bring up the Layer Style dialog.


STEP 2: Check the Bevel and Emboss section in the Styles list at the left side of the dialog.


STEP 3: Be creative and play with the controls that appear. I like the Pillow Emboss option in many cases as it creates the illusion that somebody used a hammer and a chisel to actually carve the signature in. The best choise very much depends on the scene though. You need to experiment. Also try different setting of the parameters in the Structure panel. The effect of each setting is pretty straight forward, and you will find out quickly what works and what doesn’t.


STEP 4: Adjust the Shading settings to the scene. This is very important as the signature needs to have the same lighting as the scene itself. Otherwise, it will look fake. Check where the light comes from in the image and drag the little cross in the Angle section respectively until the lighting looks natural.


STEP 5: Choose the colors and the Opacity settings for Highlight Mode and Shadow Mode such that they match the coloring of the image.

Double-click on the new layer (1) to bring up the Layer Style dialog. Activate the Preview (3) to see the effects of your changes in the image (4). In the Bevel and Emboss section (2) choose a style (6). Adapt the Shading (5) to the light in the image.


There is really no one-size-fits-all with respect to the right parameters. You have to experiment and find the right settings for each individual image.

Blending the signature with the image

The final step is to make the sharp rough edges of your signature smoother such that they blend with the image. No matter how sharp your original image is, the extremely sharp and somewhat pixelated edges of the signature will always look unnatural. We will fix this using the Smudge Tool.


STEP 1: Select the signature layer by clicking on it.


STEP 2: Select the Smudge Tool from the tool bar. Set the size of the brush tip to about 15-20 pixels (may vary depending on the size of the signature), and set the Strength to about 10%. Keep the other options unchecked.


STEP 3: Start brushing along the edges of the signature. You will notice that the sharp edge blurs and blends with the pixels around the signature. You may have to brush over the same spot multiple times to get the effect you want.


STEP 4: Do this for all edges of the signature until it blends with the background nicely.

Select the layer created from the signature selection (1) and activate the Smudge Tool (2). Set the brush size to 15-20 pixels (3), the Strength to 10% (4) and leave the other options unchecked (5). As you brush along the edge (6) of your signature, the sharp edge (8) will be blurred and blends with the background (7).


Now you are done. You have successfully applied your signature to your image.

Summary and Take-away Points

  • If you want to apply a watermark / signature to your images, do not simply paste a huge piece of ugly text over it. This will deter viewers.
  • If you are willing to invest a bit more time, you can produce a signature that seamlessly blends into the image, tagging it as being yours without turning off viewers.
  • Choosing the right spot for the signature is a part of the creative work you put into an image. By making the signature and the placement your little personal touch, you can actually make your images even more interesting to view.
  • You can work in an efficient way by creating a template that you can reuse for every image.
  • Blending your signature into the image can be achieved by 1. giving it the correct perspective, 2. using layer styles to give it the right lighting and to make it look as if it was carved out of some object in your image, and 3. using the Smudge Tool to blend the edges with the background.
  • Remember to make your signature unique: Experiment with different logos, styles, and positions.

Leave a reply

105 Comments on "Creative Watermarking – How to Integrate Your Signature into Your Photos"


Guest
Lynne
3 years 5 days ago

This is fantastic! I was *just* drafting you an email requesting that you share your watermarking technique.

Thanks!

Author
farbspiel
3 years 4 days ago

Hi Lynne,

you see, I already know what you want before you even know it. Mysterious… ;-)

I hope you’re having fun with the tutorial!

Guest
David Salahi
3 years 5 days ago

This is a really nice technique to subtly add a watermark that would be difficult to remove. Great tutorial!

Guest
Kirk
3 years 5 days ago

I have a similar technique. I’ve seen this question asked a lot. I made mine into a brush and then tweak the B&E and opacity as well after “stamping” it on it’s own layer and then finally merging down. Nice easy explanation here.

Author
farbspiel
3 years 4 days ago

Thanks Kirk!

Are you changing the perspective after brushing it on?

Guest
Kirk
3 years 4 days ago

Depending on the image yes. This one in particular:
http://arphot.deviantart.com/gallery/?q=boston#/d3gdz95

Guest
Kirk
3 years 4 days ago

This one is actually an older version of my WM or signature. But, the best example of what we’re talking about :)

Guest
Rick Floyd
3 years 5 days ago

Wow.

Guest
Ritu
3 years 4 days ago

well explained:)