Has Your Art Been Stolen Online? 5 Ways To Protect Your Images

Putting your artwork and photographs out into the online world can be exciting and scary. You worked so hard to create those images, and want to be sure to get them in front of other artists, brands, and potential buyers - but you might wonder, what if something bad happens to them? While fear shouldn't ever stand in the way of you successfully building your business online, there are ways to protect your images so they aren't used by others in ways you aren't okay with.

 
Are your photographs and art images at risk of being stolen online? Check out these five strategies for protecting your images on danielleandco.com + a video tutorial on two ways to easily add a watermark to your photos!
 

To be fair, images aren't always stolen by a super shady person. For instance, someone writing a blog post about motherhood might want a great image of a mother and a baby playing with blocks together. So, they google "mother and baby playing with blocks", then click on google images and see a great, high-quality photo that is exactly what they were looking for! So, they just right-click, choose "save image" and add it right into their own blog post graphic, with their title and blog name right on top of it.

Ugh! Didn't they even care that someone else worked really hard to create that great photo, and isn't getting any credit? Honestly, it may have not even crossed their mind - some people think if an image is right there on Google, it must be okay to use, or that it's unlikely they would get caught.

(BTW, if you're looking for a way to find great photos without using another person's work without permission, may I suggest Unsplash? This isn't sponsored, they are just a great resource!)

There are ways to protect your images using both technical and strategic moves, so let's dive into 5 simple things you can do today, to protect your images before you upload that Etsy listing photo or awesome Instagram post!

5 WAYS TO PROTECT YOUR IMAGES FROM ONLINE THEFT


Clearly explain what you're okay with

A little clear communication can go a long way! It seems obvious but people often forget about simply stating your expectations. You can add a brief statement on your website or alongside your images, letting viewers know what you're comfortable with in terms of sharing your work. For instance, if you have a portfolio or gallery page you can add a sentence at the top stating how much you hope the viewer enjoys your work, to let you know if they have any questions, and to please not share your images without your written permission.

There is also the matter of commercial use vs. personal use. If you're selling your work online, you want to be really clear about this in your listing language. Let's say you're selling a digital download of a repeating pattern you created. First, you'll need to decide exactly what you're selling - and it's not just the PDF file. Is the buyer purchasing the rights to use this image only for personal use (such as to print out and hang on a wall in their home), or limited commercial use (such as a header image on their website) or for commercial use (such as printing the image on throw pillows and then selling them, without your name anywhere on that pillow).

This is really a personal choice, and you'll need to decide what you're okay with. My suggestion is that if you choose to sell your products for personal use only, you offer another way for others to collaborate with you. For instance, you could offer an extended commercial license where they could pay an additional amount of money to use your design on items for resale, or you could encourage them to contact you to discuss options for working together. Here is some sample language you can use (feel free to copy & paste the paragraph and/or edit it into your own listings!):

You are purchasing a digital file that you download and print out yourself. No physical item is shipped. You cannot alter/resell/share, or claim it as your own. You can use this artwork for personal use only. You cannot use it for commercial purposes. Since this listing is delivered via instant download, no refund can be issued. All sales are final.

If you would like to use this artwork for commercial use (such as a logo, branding, or printing on an item for resale) please contact me and I will provide options. I would love to work with you!

Have a visible copyright notice

You don't technically need to provide a written copyright notice with your work. When you create an image or artwork, it automatically is copyrighted to it's creator. However, it's a great reminder to others and helps clearly communicate your intentions about use of your work. It's a quick, simple thing to add if you haven't already - mine is right in the footer of my website, and at the bottom of every sales listing I create.

You may also want to consider adding a free DMCA button to your website. You can find more information on the DMCA website, but essentially they provide free assistance in the form of buttons and "take-down notices" to help you protect your work online. I've never had to utilize their services, but I've heard they are a great resource!

Watermark Your Images

This is an important one! You don't need to watermark every single image you put on the internet (for instance, I've never watermarked an Instagram post - that would feel weird), but anytime you are uploading a full-size, clear image of your work you need to make sure you get a watermark on it first.

A watermark is simply a semitransparent layer of text or image that you save on top of your image, that would make it difficult for anyone to save and use it. It is a great deterrent, and something you can easily do while you're already editing your images - it only adds about 30 seconds of work, once you have a method down!

Are your photographs and art images at risk of being stolen online? Check out these five strategies for protecting your images on danielleandco.com + a video tutorial on two ways to easily add a watermark to your photos!
Are your photographs and art images at risk of being stolen online? Check out these five strategies for protecting your images on danielleandco.com + a video tutorial on two ways to easily add a watermark to your photos!

Above, I used a simple text layer to add my website name on top of the images. My goal is to watermark it enough to make it difficult to save and edit the image without permission, but not so intrusive that a potential buyer can't view the details.

For a brief tutorial of two ways I add watermarks to images in Photoshop CC (but can be done in all sorts of photo editing software!) check out my YouTube video below. Consider subscribing to my YouTube channel to stay caught up on future videos, too!

 

If you use Squarespace as your web host, you can also watermark text on top of an image right in Squarespace, using the built-in Adobe Creative Cloud Image Editor.

Reduce your image sizes

The higher-quality and larger the image size, the easier it is for others to print it, enlarge it, and use it in all sorts of ways. While you need to keep a high-quality version of the image for yourself to order prints of your work or sell it as a download, the images you upload to social media or online shops can be much smaller.

A 500kb image that is 1500 pixels wide will still look great as a listing image, on Instagram, etc. but won't be very useful for someone to save and re-use. That is the size Squarespace recommends using for images you upload to the web, and it has always worked for me! If you use the max file size (for many web hosts and online shops that is 20MB), it not only makes it easier for others to steal your images, but might also slow down your website load time. Smaller image sizes is a win-win!

If you're looking for a way to reduce the size of your images without sacrificing quality, I've heard great things about JPEGmini.

Use styled photos and mock-ups

Another strategy that pays off in multiple ways is using styled photos and mock-ups to showcase your work. When your image is used as a part of a larger image, it's going to be challenging for another person to save it and crop out that section, and have it be of a high-enough quality to do anything with. The big bonus is, it also looks great for your viewers! Etsy and other online sellers recommend sharing photos of your products in a variety of ways, including close-ups and mock-ups. It helps potential viewers envision how the work might look framed, above a sofa, as part of a table-scape, etc.

 
 

You can use props and backgrounds to add a sense of warmth to your work, and make it really stand out! Above, you can see examples of where I have styled images to use on social media, as well as used mock-up frames against wood backgrounds for listing images of my work. I have a whole blog post on how to style flatlay images of your artwork, so check that out for more ideas!

Having others use your image is not always a bad thing!

When someone takes an image from your website or social media and uses it without your permission, it can instinctively feel icky. However, there are circumstances where it can actually be beneficial and positive. For instance, a blog using an image of your work in a post such as a "round-up", crediting you, and linking to your website or shop can be awesome! You may not know in advance they are going to do this, and it can be a surprise to stumble on, but if you're being appropriately credited and linked to it can mean your work reaching a whole new audience. It's also super flattering to know your work was appreciated.


Well, that's a wrap!

You might notice that I left out "disable right-clicking" as a strategy, and if you've read other tutorials online you might wonder why. I honestly don't think it is very effective or worth the effort, at this point. Technology has advanced enough that it is so easy for someone to screenshot your image, and anything you do to prevent it can be undone within the viewer's browser. I'd rather spend my time on more effective methods such as adding a watermark.

Overall, don't stress too much about it! The more time you spend worrying your images have been stolen, or searching frantically online to see if anyone else is using them, the less time you're spending on producing more amazing work and content. Take a deep breath, take reasonable precautions, and then turn your focus back on what matters.

Curious what to do after you discover your image has been taken and used without your permission? Check out this post from the Spruce, which I think is really helpful.

Are you utilizing these strategies to protect your images online? Do you have other tips to add? Please chime in, in the comments!

- Dani

Are your photographs and art images at risk of being stolen online? Check out these five strategies for protecting your images on danielleandco.com + a video tutorial on two ways to easily add a watermark to your photos!
 

 

 

Launching an Etsy Shop, and Making All Those Decisions

I've spent the last three (maybe four...) years meaning to open an Etsy shop. It’s been on my “in 6 months” list the entire time. This summer, I decided enough was enough and I would slowly start to set it up, giving myself a goal of just two weeks. Wouldn't you know it – that night it was live! It just suddenly clicked. It wasn't all perfect, though - despite having read 20+ articles and guides on the topic, I wish I had been more prepared for the amount of decisions that needed to be made right in the moment. Today I wanted to share what they were, and how I ended up where I did.

 
Tips on Making Intential Decisions When Setting Up An Etsy Shop

Tips on Making Intential Decisions When Setting Up An Etsy Shop

 

Decisions To Make When Opening an Etsy Shop

  • Types of items to sell. I don't know about you, but I have so many things I want to do someday. All the ideas sound like fun,  it was challenging to realize I was never going to get this thing off the ground if I didn't narrow things down. One thing really hanging me up was whether to sell digital or physical prints. There are so many of both on Etsy, but there does seem to be a shift toward digital over the past 5+ years. Some of the pros and cons I had to consider were:
    • Theft of digital images. Having your artwork so accessible to someone else digitally can be nerve-wracking. There are so many stories of someone's work being ripped off, and having to prove it was yours first. It took my realizing that there is risk in putting yourself and your work out into the world no matter how you do it, and without risk I wasn't ever going to achieve anything.
    • Customer service. Buyer's having the option of printing at home can be great - it's convenient, they can re-print if something goes wrong, and it cuts down on cost. However, no matter how much you emphasize in your listing that they should use archival inks and a quality paper, many people won't. And when the print doesn't look or feel great, they will be disappointed. Even if it isn't your fault, when they go to leave feedback it could end up reflecting poorly on you. Once you send that digital file, it's out of your hands!
    • Managing expectations. Similarly to above, it can be hard to manage a buyer's high expectations. Colors can look different on a computer screen than in your hand, and so a physical print may not always be exactly what they had pictured when they purchased it. Likewise, with digital files a buyer may not realize what software they have on their computer, or what file size they have space for, or that it won't look quite as good printed on regular weight computer paper.
    • Shipping costs and packaging materials. While Etsy still takes both a listing fee and percentage of the sale on digital items, there is almost (or actually) no cost to selling a digital file to someone. However, selling a physical print not only means packaging and mailing it to a buyer but doing so with cute packaging and in a sturdy, safe way that ensures it gets to it's new home without getting too banged up. I went ahead and bit the bullet, and bought in bulk a lot of packaging material in different sizes including clear bags, sturdy mailers, and cardboard inserts. I even printed some postcards with a pretty design on it, as a freebie to include.

Ultimately, I knew I had artwork I felt compelled to sell as a physical print; it just felt right that way. I also knew I wanted to eventually add seamless patterns available to download, because I enjoy making them so much. I decided I would diversify my offerings to have both for now, and eventually could roll back on a type of listing if it wasn't doing as well.

 
Art prints being packaged for shipping!

Art prints being packaged for shipping!

 
  • Images! Of all sizes and types! This I was actually prepared for, but ended up changingthings at the last minute when I didn't love how it looked. I recommend looking at other shops you intuitively are drawn to. For me, that included Yao Cheng Design and Emily Jeffords (two amazing artists - see photos of their shops below!). That can give you clues on if you prefer the look of shops with or without header images, what sort of logo stands out to you, etc. For now, I have a raindrop design in watercolor textures chosen to represent what it is I sell and to be a little "neutral" in terms of audience. I anticipate changing it, but for now I'm just getting started. For a logo, I wanted it to connect with the header image and otherwise kept it simple - someday, I hope to whip up a fancy logo! I had a lovely college student I worked with take some head shots a couple of years back (thanks, Patricia Wall!) and have used this one as a profile picture ever since. Also, that pineapple shirt is still one of my favorites. 
Emily Jefford's Etsy Shop

Emily Jefford's Etsy Shop

Yao Cheng's Etsy Shop

Yao Cheng's Etsy Shop

  • Deciding on a consistent “look”. I tested out a few "mock-up" images of blank picture frames, and put them side-by-side to see which I preferred. Originally, I tested out using a variety of mock-up frames all in one color, but I realized I was missing that clean, consistent look I prefer from other shops and which has a higher-end, more polished look. However, when I've added digital pattern & clip art packs, I've gone with a different look completely in order to showcase what those packs include. I may eventually find a compromise, to help them blend in with the other listing images - let me know if you have any suggestions!
  • Setting up for future plans. While I'm open to seeing what works and what doesn't, I also have some future ventures planned. If you're setting up a shop or website now and know you plan to head things into a particular direction a year down the road, you might as well make sure your current set-up will work for it to. You don't want to have to re-do everything! I would recommend looking over your "big future idea" list (if you don't have one, jot those down asap!) and see how your current work can be moving you towards accomplishing those goals.
  • "Categories". I'm still torn about this one! I started by listing physical prints, and set categories based on their theme (geographic, fruit & vegetable, floral & botanical). When I went to add digital prints, I realized Etsy limits each listing to only one category; so, I couldn't have a digital image of a head of lettuce, for instance, in both a "digital" category and a "fruit & vegetable" category. I wish I had thought that out a little more, ahead of time!
 
On the left, you can see the categories listed. All of the main images for each listing have the same visual look, using the same or similar mock-ups.

On the left, you can see the categories listed. All of the main images for each listing have the same visual look, using the same or similar mock-ups.

 
  • Determining pricing. Ugh - this is a tough one. On the one hand, there are sellers on Etsy listing almost anything for dirt-cheap. On the other hand, you want your work to be valued and to be compensated appropriately for your time and skill. I wish I had an easy answer to this one; balancing the value of your work with competitive pricing is daunting. My personal opinion is that there are many buyers out there who understand value, and that listing your work at a reasonable price will indicate to them that it is of good quality.
  • Having various price points. One of the main reasons I felt compelled to list both digital and physical prints is to be able to offer a variety of price points to a variety of shoppers. A digital print can be sold for only a few dollars, and a physical print can reach a much higher price point depending on size. Since I'm just starting out, I want to see what works best for buyers and adjust over time.
  • Whether to use an online print service, and choosing paper and sizes. After some research, I realized I don't have the budget for a good enough home printer to produce the quality of prints I want to sell, not to mention the archival ink and 100% cotton paper! While printing at home would give me the advantage of quickly producing prints "made to order", using an online printing service means they do the work and have the fancy equipment so I don't have to. So far, I have used FinerWorks and had a good experience. I did invest $25 in a sample pack of their papers, but it came with a giftcard that reimbursed me for that money on my first order. While the process of having prints made online has gone smoothly, choosing papers is just plain hard! My first order turned out lovely, but I plan to try out some different fine art papers next time.
 
Comparing paper samples from FinerWorks

Comparing paper samples from FinerWorks

 
  • The amount of competition and feeling overwhelmed. Isn't this true for every artist or crafts-person, no matter how you share your work? The struggle of being your own unique, authentic self or catering to what appears to sell. Personally, I believe both are achievable with a little compromise. I've just opened my shop this summer, and as I was warned would be the case, sells are very slow. I am not feeling bad about it, though! If you're feeling down about your success, the best advice I can give you is what I'm giving myself: Just keep doing the work. The rest will come.

A few sources of inspiration

If you’ve also been trying to launch a new endeavor for what seems like forever, I hear you and I’m sending you all the hard-working-go-get-‘em vibes! What decisions are you making right now?

- Dani