You’ve done it! You’ve created the most amazing digital artwork ever! Or perhaps it’s actually a bit lame. Either way, you’re determined to release it to the world! But wait a second, should you sign it or not?! I thought about how this compares to non-digital artwork and discovered that it’s more about gaining exposure than protecting your artwork.
It is a good idea to sign digital artwork but it should be done in a way that does not distract from the art itself. Whilst it will do little to prevent a serious art thief, it will help deter a casual one. More importantly, if the artwork is shared online, then having a signature in it helps gain the artist exposure.
If you find this post interesting then check out my article 35+ Ways To Make Money as A Digital Creative which will run through a number of other ways to use your creative skills as a side-hustle.
Signing digital art is not necessarily the same as signing physical art but it does share some similarities.
The primary benefit comes from the likelihood of the artwork being shared online in forums, etc. If this is your intention then it is a good idea to sign your digital art. Art can easily be reposted and lose the link to the original account so if the artwork does happen to go viral and you have a legible signature or some kind of identification on it then you can reap the benefits of the increased publicity.
The secondary benefit is to deter art thieves. The reason that this is not the primary benefit is that a signature can be removed in image editing software by a determined thief. The same goes for a watermark. For a casual thief, a signature may still be a deterrent.
Signing digital artwork is also an alternative to watermarking. Whereas the point of a watermark is to obscure the image to make it much more difficult to steal, a watermark is typically large and distracting but can still be removed – a couple of big negatives.
Keep in mind that it may not always be appropriate to sign artwork. If it is for a corporate commission for example, the artwork is about the customer’s requirements and not about gaining exposure for the artist and so a signature should be omitted in this scenario.
Reasons for signing digital artwork:
As a summary, the main advantages of signing a digital art piece are:
- Gain exposure when your artwork is shared or printed
- Help people find you if artwork gets shared without a source reference or is printed
- More attractive to share than watermarked image which can be distracting
- Sign if you are proud of it and you think it will be shared
- Small amount of theft protection – a signature is reasonably easy to remove but it will put off the casual thief
Advantages over a watermark:
There are a couple of reasons to use a signature rather than a watermark:
- Signing is less distracting than watermarks, even though watermarks are harder to remove due to the fact that they usually cover more of the area of the image. This is also the reason why they are so intrusive on the viewing experience.
- Watermarks won’t get shared on Pintrest since they are so obvious and it is harder to see the actual image behind it.
If your reason for signing your artwork is to prevent art theft then there are some other steps you can take as well. Firstly, post at the lowest resolution possible on forums so that the image can still be viewed as intended but will not be suitable to be printed or used on merch. Secondly, files can be locked from editing however they could still be screen-shotted, albeit at a lower resolution than may be ideal. You can also proactively search for art thieves by doing a reverse image search and then send a take down notice to any results you find. Of course if this progresses to legal action then you will need to prove the artwork is yours.
How To Sign Digital Art
The most popular method of signing artwork is by applying a visual element on another layer of the piece. This can then be designed to be as obvious or unobtrusive as you like and located as such.
Additional elements can also be included such as logos or URLs to enhance your exposure in the event that the piece is shared online. The downside of this however is that it can be removed by anyone with half decent image editing skills. It’s more to discourage than prevent theft.
When I think of digital signatures I usually think of signing documents with an electronically verifiable tag but this only works if the consumer of the artwork actually knows who you are and has authenticated your signature. This might be the case if you’re taking legal action however where you can authenticate the signature on the file to a court. However, this doesn’t really work for shareable artwork where the artist and consumer most likely never interact. It’s also not possible to embed this into a JPEG or BMP for example that is posted on a forum.
Something I also considered was whether a signature is necessary if the artist always posts from their own profile in a forum so that it is always linked. However, since artwork will likely be reposted by others and then also on different forums, this link will be broken. Therefore a visual element is still required if your motivation is to get the recognition for the piece and enhance your exposure.
What Should A Digital Art Signature Look Like?
Now that you have decided a signature is right for your digital artwork, the question is what should it look like? Important things to consider or including are:
- Hand-drawn signature. If you don’t intend to add any other elements below, then it is important that the signature is easy to read, even though it might be tempting to heavily stylize it.
- Name or username. As mentioned above if you haven’t made your signature legible, or you don’t want to include one, then a name or username will be needed to allow people to trace the art back to you.
- URL to your website or portfolio. This can also be a very good idea if you have an online presence in the form of a portfolio, website or online store. You may feel that including a URL feels a bit corporate and it’s not for everyone, but the benefits are potentially significant.
- Copyright symbol and date. Whilst work is now automatically copyright protected, including this symbol can still act as a deterrent. Check out the video below for some more information about the topic and how to enforce it.
- Incorporate it into the image. To ensure it does not distract from the piece, shaping your signature and coloring it sensitively is a good idea and also makes it look like you know what you’re doing. It does mean adjusting it for each artwork but it’s worth the time spent.
- Lower opacity of the signature layer. Another adjustment that can be made to make the signature less obtrusive is to lower the opacity of the layer it is on. This can be an alternative to incorporating it into the image and can be a lot quicker but can appear less professional and lazy if all the info is just typed.
- Logo signature. A popular option is to design a logo for your brand which, can make it instantly recognizable. Combining this with an opacity adjustment also makes sense.
- Size of signature. Perhaps a more obvious consideration is not to make your signature too large so that it obscures much of the piece or draws too much attention to it.
Where To Sign Digital Art
The primary reason to use a signature over a watermark is that it is less distracting from the artwork itself. This is not only satisfied by the visual characteristics of the signature but also the location in which it is placed.
A subtle signature can be ruined by simply placing it in a thoughtless position on the piece that stands out too much. The eye will be constantly drawn to the signature and it can really detract from the art.
Choosing a location of the signature should be considered carefully with the best approach being to incorporate it into the piece itself. For example, along the branch of a tree. This method is no different to what artists have been doing for hundreds of years on traditional paintings.
Something to consider that traditional artists did not have to, is the ability for the signature to be cropped out, either intentionally or accidentally. A thief will quite happily crop out your signature or even a reposter on a forum, if they think it looks unsightly.
I would have automatically considered a good location for a signature to be in the bottom corner but after having researched the topic I now realize that this is actually very easy to crop out. It is therefore better to include the signature in an element that is away from the edges and closer to a key element of the piece. Still, keep in mind that this can be conflicting with what I stated before about making it not distract from the art. A careful balance must be struck, potentially with the shape of the signature, color or opacity.
Another added benefit is that if somebody does try to steal your artwork and pass it off as their own, it is quite possible that they may miss a subtle signature which you can quite happily point out when challenging their usage of it.
Whether or not you wish to include a signature on your digital artwork is a personal preference but there are undoubtedly benefits to gaining recognition when it is shared online. Hopefully this post has helped you understand the things you should think about when making this decision and designing your signature. Having a signature can also help deter art theft as well but you should take other measures to seriously tackle this since they can still be removed by image editing programs.
If you found this post interesting then check out my article 35+ Ways To Make Money as A Digital Creative which will run through a number of other ways to use your creative skills as a side-hustle.
Featured image: wavebreak3 / stock.adobe.com