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Prepping Web Images with iWatermark

Script Software's iWatermark is an application that adds a visible (as opposed to digital) watermark to images. While this task can be done in a traditional graphics application, iWatermark greatly speeds up the operation. The watermark design aspect is a breeze, and the interface is drag-and-drop aware, making it easy to work with entire batches of files.

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Raison d'etre -- A visible watermark is a clear statement that an image belongs to a person or organisation. As such, it is the first step in maintaining copyright. Of course, there is nothing to stop someone downloading an image and then editing out your watermark, and in itself that wouldn't be breaking any copyright laws.

But should they then go on to sell that photo or a work based on it without obtaining your permission, then they have infringed your copyright and you may have grounds for legal action. Provided your statement of copyright was plainly asserted, they can't claim they were unaware of it. (For more information, see the U.S. and UK copyright pages.)

This is where iWatermark comes in: it enables photographers and artists to add a textual or graphical watermark to an image quickly and easily, thus clearly asserting ownership of that image. But what makes iWatermark even more useful is that it also works well as a general purpose image prep tool that resizes, resamples, and reformats photos and artwork into versions better suited for use on Web pages.

Text-based Watermarks -- You build watermarks in a Watermark Editor window. iWatermark can add one or both of two types of watermark, strings of text or user-selected graphics. You may enter text directly or drag it in from other files, though if text is copied in from a file with text formatting (like a word processor document) it retains its original formatting. This can be good or bad depending on the situation, but there's no question that iWatermark would benefit from a paste-without-formatting option. You can also add text via an Insert Special menu item, which lets you add data from the Address Book (like your name and email address) and EXIF and IPTC data from photos.

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Once you add the text, you can alter it in various ways, for example by moving it around the image, resizing it, or applying a graphical effect such as embossing.

One annoying problem is the confusing way iWatermark scales text without altering its font size. You can of course format text in various ways by setting the font, style, and size, all in the Text tab of the Watermark Editor. But the Scale tool on the General tab further resizes text so that it spans a certain percentage of the image. It does this without changing the point size used for the text, so you end up with big but blurry text. Getting the text looking right requires fiddling about between the controls in the General and Text tabs.

This is nonsense, and iWatermark should really scale the text up or down seamlessly, changing the point size as required to keep the watermark crisp and clear. In fact, a bit of playing about shows that the easiest thing is to set the type to the largest point size (288 points) and leave any resizing of the text watermark to the Scale tool.

Graphical Watermarks -- If you have a company logo or some other graphical device you want to use instead of a text caption, iWatermark can work with that, too. Drag the graphic you want to use as a logo to the Image panel to see the preview. You can then use the Scale tool to resize the graphic, and there's also a neat option to turn any white in the image transparent (useful for getting rid of backgrounds).

You can combine graphical and textual watermarks on the same photo, but iWatermark locks them together to form one watermark rather than leaving them as two independent items. In other words, the location, scale, and other settings on the General tab apply to them as a group.

Input Filtering -- Although you can open a single file in iWatermark, the point of the program is to enable you to process a group of files quickly and automatically. For example, you can configure iWatermark to process only files of a certain format within a folder, or files that contain a certain string of characters in their names. This makes it easy to apply one sort of watermark to, say, GIF line art, and a different sort of watermark to JPEG photos. Or, by applying watermarks only to files above a certain size, you could watermark full-size photos while leaving scaled-down thumbnails untouched.

Metadata searching is available too, though it sometimes seems to work inconsistently. For example, you can supposedly set iWatermark to process only files containing certain Spotlight comments, but in my testing iWatermark seemed to ignore this setting and processed all the files in the folder, not just those containing the relevant Spotlight comment.

Output Options -- An unexpected bonus to using iWatermark is that it goes well beyond adding watermarks; it also resizes and reformats images. For example, you can configure iWatermark to resize a batch of images to 640 by 480 pixels and then save them as JPEG files at 80 percent quality. It can also change the file name, for example by adding a suffix such as "wtmk" that helps distinguish the watermarked graphic from the original.

Note that iWatermark cannot export GIF files; it accepts GIF files for processing, but you must output them into one of the file formats that iWatermark does support.

iWatermark can also produce thumbnails as separate files, a tremendously useful time saver for anyone who has to put together online galleries of images. Just as with the main batch of images produced, you can set the size of the thumbnails, the file names, and so on.

Happily, you don't have to have all these different output options running simultaneously; you can toggle watermarking, file resizing/conversion, and thumbnails on and off as required for any particular task.

Unfortunately, although you can configure as many watermarks as you want and apply them as required, iWatermark does not let you save complete workflows. So a Web designer working on different projects can easily apply different watermarks to different sets of images, but iWatermark's other functions must be set manually each time. I hope a future version will help users automate the entire image prepping process through saved workflows.

Interface and Performance -- The iWatermark interface is generally well-designed. For example, the File menu automatically links to your iPhoto albums, letting you work on them without having to open iPhoto itself. Your iPhoto albums appear as sub-menus, and by selecting them, all the photos in that album are added to the input pane of the interface window. Control-clicking the Input panel brings up a similar menu.

Another great aspect of the application is its automatic backup feature: if you instruct iWatermark to overwrite a file (as opposed to creating a modified copy) it automatically makes a copy of the original file that it keeps in a time- and date-stamped folder in your account's Library folder.

When it comes to processing files, iWatermark is sprightly and will doubtless prove to be a real time saver. For instance, I asked it to watermark, resize, and reformat to PNG an iPhoto album containing fifty JPEG photos, each about 600K in size. On my 1.83 GHz MacBook Pro, this took a mere 25 seconds.

Close -- Don't be too concerned about my minor gripes above. For a measly twenty bucks iWatermark can't be faulted; it does everything an image prep program needs to do with minimal fuss. Simply as a resizing and reformatting tool it would earn its keep; that it adds watermarks as well is icing on an already tasty cake.

iWatermark 3.1.3 costs $20 and is an 8 MB download; a demo is available, as is a Windows version.


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