08 Oct 2007 Which Microstock Websites have the Best Watermarks?

Watermarks are the topic of much discussion in the microstock world. Particularly after two agencies recently updated their watermarks. Let’s take a look at the current state of microstock watermarks.

iStockphoto watermark example Shutterstock watermark example Dreamstime watermark example Fotolia watermark example
StockXpert watermark example Crestock watermark example BigStockPhoto watermark example LuckyOliver watermark example
123rf watermark example SnapVillage watermark example CanStockPhoto watermark example

These example photos have been resized, which alters the appearance of the watermark. Click each photo to see the watermark as it was designed to be seen on each agency website.

What’s the Purpose of a Watermark?

Watermarks balance the dual objectives of protecting the photo from theft and providing a workable view of the photo for potential buyers. If the watermark is too little or too light, it can too easily be removed, making the photo vulnerable to theft. If the watermark is too strong or too heavy, buyers can’t get a good look at the photo to determine whether it meets their needs.

A good watermark achieves theft prevention without being overly distracting to buyers.

Do They Work Well On All Photos?

All watermarks in the above examples protect that photo well. But it’s not always the case. The images below were chosen specifically to highlight deficiencies in particular watermarks.

Fotolia watermark example Fotolia watermark example
Fotolia watermark example Fotolia watermark example
LuckyOliver watermark example LuckyOliver watermark example
123rf watermark example

Again, these examples have been reduced in size, so click the image to see the actual watermark in action on the agency website.

Fotolia have received more criticism than any other agency for their current watermark. Where the subject doesn’t occupy all areas of the photo, the watermark is easy to remove, as you can see in the above examples.

Help is at Hand

  • LuckyOliver will adjust the watermark on a per-image basis if you email them and ask nicely.
  • Shutterstock provides a facility to re-position the watermark towards the top or bottom of the photo. As you can see below, this saves many photos that would otherwise be poorly protected.
Shutterstock watermark example Shutterstock watermark example

Recent Changes

  • SnapVillage have recently updated their watermark to provide better protection.
  • Fotolia’s current watermark arrived with their infamous V2 upgrade.

So What?

I have no supporting evidence, but I can’t imagine too many sales are lost at microstock agencies due to heavy watermarks. However, I have lots of evidence of photo theft due to watermarks being too light. Simplistically, it seems contributors’ interests are better served by heavier watermarks.

  • john
    Posted at 16:43h, 10 October Reply

    very interesting write-up. getting the watermark right is key. allowing the submitter the option to move it to best protect their work is ideal. the more control the better for the sumitter

  • Microstock Photo UK
    Posted at 06:03h, 21 September Reply


    I’m not very concerned about the watermark really.

    Those which are going to try and remove a watermark are clearly not interested in buying a picture, and they will probably use that picture for personal use, which I don’t mind at all if they do.

    Someone which is serious about legality will not risk infringing copyright instead of buying a picture for a few pence.

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 21:07h, 21 September Reply

      I agree that those who take the risk aren’t interested in paying for photos, but there’s also the illegal DVDs of millions of photos which have had the watermark removed, and I’d prefer my images didn’t get onto those.


  • Tony Roberts
    Posted at 10:00h, 28 August Reply

    I have had excellent results with a “this photo being illegally used” watermark.

  • Vik
    Posted at 06:34h, 03 September Reply

    Thanks for this article, I needed some inspiration on what would be the best way to protect my photos on my website gallery.

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