In my opinion, after 20 years in business, the shout-from-the-rooftops-answer to 'should artists watermark their work for online use' is: YES! YES! YES!
Most artists want to protect the integrity of their art pieces and image files online. Adding a watermark is one way to do that. Using low-resolution (screen-resolution) files is another way. Keep in mind though, that neither of these methods will 100% adequately ensure that your artwork won’t be stolen or used. Such is the world today, unfortunately.
A custom family painting
Keep in mind, also, that an actual art print that is purchased by a client and shipped to them for framing and enjoyment should NEVER have a watermark! The art print should contain your signature that was painted on the painting, and perhaps a small pencil-signed signature at the bottom right or left (if you offer your art prints signed, like I do), but NEVER a watermark written across the image.
There was a time when I would plunk images of my work online on my blog or in my Etsy shop, large-sized and without a watermark. Trusting, ignorant, and unsure of how everything worked.
Early on, Etsy even required 1000 pixel-width in sizing for the images. They now ask for 1500-2000 pixel width. I followed along early on, and now regret it. Large files of my paintings are floating around the internet.
Currently, I upload images to etsy that are 500-700 pixels across. Etsy also doesn’t prefer watermarks, but I watermark all of my images. Placing large non-watermarked images in an online marketplace, in my opinion, is asking for your artwork to be downloaded and used for a variety of purposes (small prints, jewelry, tracing, t-shirts, etc). It is illegal and completely not okay, but I still think it will happen.
Now and for the last 10 years or more, I always add a watermark to my images before posting them online or sending them via email to clients. My watermark is simply my web address (www.KmBerggren.com) so that if someone sees my image online, they know just where to go to learn more about the painting or see more like it! I trust that they will google KmBerggren.
I use photoshop and create a text layer. Move or tilt the text layer to put the text line in a not obnoxious spot across my painting. I, personally, DO cover part of the image.
Many artists prefer their watermark to be their name and often a date and sometimes the copyright symbol © (alt+0169 on your keyboard). Or even their instagram handle. SOME way for viewers to find the creator.
The low-resolution image with the watermark is used for sharing on social media and on websites. I choose a 72 DPI for on-screen usage and 300-600 DPI for print purposes.
The high-resolution image, straight from the camera, gets saved for creating prints and products.
Etsy and other online markets will ask for an image with a width of 1500-2000 pixels, but I always choose 500-700 pixels in width. Larger images allow the downloading and printing of images from the screen, and I want to prevent that.
Do you need a watermark for art images you place on Facebook or Instagram? Yes, absolutely. The same rules apply.
I have seen my actual art images printed and sold on cups, soaps, candles, iphone cases, journals and cloth face masks. This happens when someone takes the image from the internet and prints it small on an item, cropping off my watermark.
For a creator, this is infuriating to say the least. But as an idea-maker who has spent nearly half of my life building and strengthening a brand, I will fight for it.