Google algorithm erases watermarks from stock images

As designers, when mocking up concepts for our projects, we tend to use plenty of stock images. Instead of buying images the client might not like, we use watermarked images to try before we buy. However, showing watermarks on our concepts look ugly and we end up trying to remove them.

Manually removing visible watermarks is incredibly tedious; since they’re there to protect the copyrights of photographs available online. However, Google researchers have found a better way. They used a software algorithm to remove them automatically and perfectly. How? By pinpointing a blatant flaw in this system. Watermarks are added in the exact same way, which means it only take a single method to remove them altogether.

Google algorithm erases watermarks from stock images


A team led by research scientists Tali Dekel and Michael Rubinstein have developed an algorithm that automatically strips watermarks off stock images. While this might be good news for people looking to get free high-quality images; it’s not so great for photographers and image hosting companies though, who want to be compensated for their work. While Google’s method does require a large database of images to work, individual photographers who watermark their own images are probably fine.

Google algorithm erases watermarks from stock images

In the paper titled On the Effectiveness of Visible Watermarks, the researchers explain, “Visible watermarks should be designed to not only be robust against removal from a single image, but to be more resistant to mass-scale removal from image collections as well.” 

Thankfully, the Google has also recommended a solution to help protect your images from theft: adding minute inconsistencies to your watermarks’ designs. Even slight modifications like repositioning a watermark and changing its opacity can significantly deter your image theft. Many image hosting companies are already adapting to this potential exploit.

Google algorithm erases watermarks from stock images

“Our engineering team developed a watermark randomizer so that no two watermarks are the same,” says Shutterstock CTO Martin Brodbeck. “The shapes vary per image and include contributor names. By creating a completely different watermark for each image, it makes it hard to truly identify the shape.”

Watch the video below to learn more about the algorithm.

The effectiveness of visible watermarks

Are you protecting your creative work? Check out more from Google researchers with an AI that can edit photos like a pro.