Adding Custom Watermarks To Your Photos With Adobe Photoshop CS5

by Alan Haynes / PhotoCitizen on October 6, 2010

Once you’ve created a watermark file, you’ll need to apply it to your images. For the finest level of control, hand-apply the watermark to each image individually. It’s a labor-intensive process, but you can’t beat the results.

Adobe Photoshop CS5 - hand applied watermark.

Image with a hand-applied watermark

For this tutorial, I’ll be using the latest version of Adobe Photoshop: Photoshop CS5. The process is similar in earlier versions of Photoshop, but if you’re still using a really old version it’s time to upgrade. You’re missing out on a lot of useful and time-saving features. Find out more on Adobe’s website or check prices at Adorama or

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Apply a Watermark to a Single Image by Hand

Sometimes, we need a few superb images for our website’s home page or for an important gallery. By applying watermarks to images one-by-one, we can tailor the placement and look of the watermark to fit the image and make it as unobtrusive as we like.

I’ll assume that you’ve already created your watermark file. If not, read my article, “Create Visible Watermarks in Photoshop CS5” to find out how to make one.

When creating a watermark file for hand application, make it larger than you think you’ll need and save it at 100% opacity. You will resize it and adjust its opacity as you apply it to your images. You can save it as a PSD or as a PNG file.

Here’s how to hand apply a watermark to an individual image:

Place the Watermark on the Image

Adobe Photoshop CS5 Watermarks - open the image and the watermark

Step 1

    1. Open both the image and the watermark file in Photoshop CS5. If you haven’t changed Photoshop’s default preferences, you’ll end up with two tabs across the top: one for the image and one for the watermark.
    2. We’ll need to combine the two separate images into one. One way to do this is to right-click on the watermark tab and choose “Move to New Window.” Now, instead of two tabs, you’ll have two windows: one showing the image and the other the watermark.
Adobe Photoshop CS5 Watermarks - drag the watermark onto the image

Step 3

    1. Drag the watermark onto the image. To do this, make sure the watermark window is active by clicking on it once. Now, in the layers palette, drag the layer (named “Layer 1” in my example) onto the image. Place it roughly where you want it, but don’t worry about getting it perfect at this point.
    2. Go back to the watermark window for a moment and either close it or minimize it to get it out of the way. We won’t need it again unless we mess something up and need to start over.

Resize the Watermark

Adobe Photoshop CS5 Watermarks - resize the watermark

Step 5

    1. Once placed, the watermark will appear on top of the image and it will be the active layer. The watermark will probably not be the right size for the image. Resize it by pressing CTRL+T on your keyboard to show a bounding box.
    2. Drag the corners of the bounding box to adjust the size. To preserve the watermark’s aspect ratio so it doesn’t end up looking squashed or stretched, hold down the Shift key while dragging.
    3. Once it’s the correct size, press the Enter key on your keyboard to accept the changes and hide the bounding box.
    4. Make sure the Move tool is active by pressing the “V” key on your keyboard. Click on your watermark and drag the it into position. I usually center mine across the bottom of the image.

Add a Drop Shadow

Adobe Photoshop CS5 - add a dropshadow

Step 9

    1. I suggest you add a drop shadow to your watermark to help it stand out no matter the color of the image it’s placed on. If you haven’t already applied a drop shadow to your saved watermark file, add one now. Click the “fx” button at the bottom of the layers palette and choose Drop Shadow from the fly-out menu.
    2. The Layer Style window will open. Make sure the Preview box has a checkmark so you can see what you’re doing. Adjust the drop shadow as you like. I usually leave everything at the default except the angle. That I change to something in the neighborhood of 130-degrees.
    3. While you’re in the Layer Style window, try some of the other effects such as Stroke or Bevel and Emboss. I find that a drop shadow is usually all I need.
    4. Click OK to apply the drop shadow.

Adjust the Opacity and Save the Image

Adobe Photoshop CS5 - adjust watermark opacity

Step 13

  1. With the watermark layer still active, adjust the Opacity slider to reduce the opacity. This lets more of the underlying image show through and makes the watermark less visible. I usually use a setting somewhere around 20-percent.
  2. Now, you can resize the image as necessary and save it as a JPEG or whatever other image format you require for your website.
  3. That’s it! We’re done.
  4. Repeat the above steps for each image.


Applying watermarks this way is much too labor-intensive for large quantities of images. We’ll need to automate the process somehow. In future articles, I’ll be explaining how you can quickly add watermarks to entire folders of photos with just a few clicks.

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1 Karen September 30, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Your article is absolutely amazing! It’s simple, well explained!

2 Leah October 20, 2011 at 8:12 am


I just want to say thank you!. The two articles u posted on watermarks really helped me a lot, so again Thank you. I wanted to ask u where the article is on uploading stamps to numerous pics @ once. Please let me know ASAP so I can get started! 🙂

3 Alan Haynes / PhotoCitizen October 20, 2011 at 10:01 am

Hi Leah and Karen,

Glad you found the article useful. Leah, I think you’re looking for one of these articles: Batch Watermarking in Photoshop Using Actions and the Image Processor or Easy Watermarks with Russel Brown’s Adobe Watermark Panel Plugin for Photoshop CS5.


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