pdf watermarking

PDF Watermark Security

Secure PDF Watermarking: Add permanent dynamic PDF watermarks

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  How to watermark a PDF file: Add secure & dynamic watermarks to confidential documents

How to add a watermark to a PDF file using Safeguard PDF Security software

Unlike Adobe PDF watermarks, which can be easily removed, Safeguard creates permanent dynamic watermarks that identify users and their devices.

Safeguard enables you to add a watermark to a PDF simply and securely.

  • Display user info & date/time dynamically
  • Use different PDF watermarks for views & prints
  • Distribute one PDF file for ALL users instead of multiple custom ones

To add a watermark to a PDF (non-removable and dynamic), right-click on the PDF file in Windows File Explorer and select the option ‘Make Secure PDF’.

lock pdf file

Adding a watermark to a PDF file

In Safeguard Secure PDF Writer, choose the watermarks you want to add:

  1. Go to the ‘View’ or ‘Print Watermarks’ Tab depending on whether you want to add a PDF watermark only when printing, viewing, or both.  You can select different watermarks for both viewed (View Watermarks) and printed (Print Watermarks) documents as you may want to apply different text/images to viewed and printed content.  You only need to add a print watermark if you allow printing.
  2. From the Text Watermark tab add the text watermark that you would like to be displayed.  To add dynamic variables press the  button and select the variables you want to add.  These variables will be replaced with actual data when the document is viewed/printed.
  3. You can change the font, opacity, where the watermark is placed, and whether to display it on top of or behind the content.  Displaying watermarks behind content is less obtrusive, yet still lets the document owner identify its origin if it is unlawfully distributed.
  4. If your document or ebook consists of a cover page, then you may want to check the ‘Don’t add watermark on first page’ checkbox so the visual effect is not spoiled by a watermark overlay.
  5. You can also add an image watermark to your documents. A company logo is one example.  However, this does not grant you the ability to identify a user if they unlawfully distribute it.

  Dynamic Watermarking: What is a dynamic watermark?

A dynamic watermark is a text watermark that uses variables or placeholders that are replaced by user and/or system data when a PDF is viewed and / or printed.

Inserting a dynamic watermark in Safeguard PDF Security

The publisher adds variables to the document, for example, “%UserName%”, and the software replaces the text with details of the end-user each time they open it.  In the above example, %Email%, would be replaced by their email address.

With dynamic watermarking you only ever have to protect the document once – the correct user details are always displayed because they are taken dynamically from the user’s license.  This is much faster than protecting a document for each user with fixed watermark data and can save potenetially thousands of hours.

Videos: Adding PDF Watermarks

How to add non-removable text watermarks, image watermarks, confidential watermarks, dynamic watermarks, and print only watermarks to PDFs.

Why use Safeguard PDF Security to Watermark PDF Files?

Dynamic

Inserted automatically at view/print time – identify the user and deter content redistribution

Non-removable

Cannot be removed by password recovery programs or PDF editors

Different print & view

Display different watermarks for viewed and printed content

Text & Image

Add both static & dynamic text and static image watermarks to content

Custom Positions

Display watermarks in any custom location or repeatedly on the page

Multiple fonts & colors

Choose multiple fonts & styles, opacity, unlimited font & background colours

  Create secure non-removable PDF watermarks

Create permanent watermarks with Safeguard PDF security software

If you want to watermark PDF documents securely so that the watermarks CANNOT be easily removed then use PDF document security software that uses digital rights management (DRM) controls to impose dynamic and static watermarks on your PDFs.

Safeguard PDF Security uses multiple methods to make watermarks permanent and prevent them from being easily removed:

  • protected PDFs cannot be opened in PDF editors so documents cannot be modified
  • protected PDFs cannot be converted to other file formats in order to remove watermarks
  • users are automatically prevented from taking screenshots to save PDF content as images
  • we don’t implement Adobe PDF permissions so are not exposed to weaknesses in third party systems or the Adobe Security Handler

PDF Watermark examples

Examples of secure non-removable watermarks created by Safeguard PDF Security.

  Why Safeguard PDF Watermarks over Adobe PDF Watermarks?

You can add watermarks to PDF files without Adobe Acrobat.  Using Safeguard PDF security to add a PDF watermark has many advantages over Adobe Acrobat watermarks.

  • Safeguard PDF Watermarks are permanent

    Adobe watermarks can easily be removed using simple techniques – see removing PDF watermarks.

    Safeguard PDF watermarks are permanent (non-removable).  There is no option to save PDFs without watermarks when viewing Safeguard-protected PDF files, and third-party PDF editing tools cannot remove Safeguard watermarks.

  • Safeguard PDF Watermarks are dynamic

    With dynamic watermarks, user and system information is inserted at view and print time so that you only have to protect the PDF once for all users. The appropriate information (name, email, date, time, etc.) is displayed automatically.  If you allow printing, a PDF print watermark with user information is essential in identifying the source of a PDF that has been printed, photocopied, and then distributed without authorization.

    Adobe does not support dynamic watermarking.  If you use Adobe PDF watermarks you have to protect the same PDF file each time for each user with their information.  You might end up having to distribute thousands of the same PDF file in order to personalise it.  There is no option to apply system information or a date/time stamp.

  • You can choose when PDF watermarks are displayed

    PDF watermark only when printing, only when viewing, or both

    You can choose whether Safeguard displays documents when they are viewed, just when they’re printed, or both.  You can display a different watermark for each, as well as a different page position, colour, font, etc.  You can even choose to repeat the watermark several times across the page.

    With Adobe Acrobat, the watermark is inserted into the PDF and the same watermark is shown when the PDF is both viewed and printed – you cannot have different watermarks for viewed and printed pages.

  • Flexible & extensive pdf watermarking options

    Safeguard PDF security lets you add a watermark to a PDF without Adobe Acrobat or similar PDF editing tools and provides extensive functionality:

    • Add a transparent watermark by changing text opacity
    • Add watermarks to pictures only by selecting a custom position
    • Watermark all pages except for a book cover
    • Watermark a PDF with “copy” before printing
    • Put a permanent confidential watermark on a PDF
    • Watermark a PDF based on download or purchase
    • Add both image and text watermarks
    • Display different watermarks on print and view
    • Add a print only watermark – watermark PDF only when printed
    • Add a view only watermark – watermark PDF only when viewed
    • Add a watermark on top of PDF content or behind it
    • Display watermarks across the page
    • Add a background watermark that is continuously repeated
    • Apply watermarks to all pages or don’t include the cover page
    • Choose from 14 different watermark positions or create your own custom ones
  • Add watermarks to multiple PDF files

    You can add watermarks to multiple PDF files in one go.

    Just select the PDFs you want to protect, add a watermark, and press the ‘Publish All’ button.

  Adding PDF watermarks for document security

  What is a watermarked PDF?

A watermarked PDF is a PDF that has a text and/or image watermark added to it which is displayed when the document is viewed and/or printed.

Text watermarks may be static (“This document is the property of ABC Corp.”), or dynamic (“This document was viewed by Joe Bloggs joebloggs@acme.com on 04/08/2021”).  In dynamic watermarks, the text is automatically updated with the system/user information at the time of opening or printing.

Watermarks are added as a layer to the PDF (which is why they are easy to add) and can be made to appear on top of or behind existing document content.

PDF watermarking is able to emulate many of the subtleties of the physical world.  If you think of a banknote, some watermarks seem inside the paper whilst others are on top.  You can get a similar effect with PDF watermarks.

Think of the information being printed as if it were in layers, rather like a sandwich.  The content sits in the middle, and the PDF watermarking can be over content, or under content, or both.  Also, the PDF watermark can be set to be lighter or darker than the content.  This lets the watermark ‘blend’ with the content so that it has a more seamless presentation and is less distracting, if that’s what you desire.

Applying PDF watermarking takes a certain amount of discipline and artistic judgement, then. It is not necessarily a mechanical process of having a ‘bog standard’ graphic and/or text and applying it to every document that goes out.

  What is the point of watermarked PDF files – why add watermarks to a PDF?

One way to improve the security of your PDF documents is to add a watermark to them – see also Using Document Watermarks as a copying deterrent.

Watermarks can be used in several ways:

  1. to resist falsification
  2. as a copying deterrent
  3. to display classification
  4. to specify the document is not an original
  5. to link the document with a specific authorised user
  6. to establish who the owner is
Using watermarks to resist falsification

When using watermarks to resist falsification, PDF watermarking is used in exactly the same way as watermarks on banknotes or cheques.  If you try to make a fake it can be made very difficult to exactly copy the PDF watermark, so anyone seeing the document will also see that it is a fake.  This use of PDF watermarking can be very important where official documents have to be printed/printable and must be demonstrated to be authentic.  (This is how you know a 20-dollar bill or a ten-pound note is genuine.  It doesn’t mean documents can’t be faked.  There are still fake banknotes doing the rounds and one pound coin in 36 is a fake.  But PDF watermarking is significantly better than doing nothing.)

Using watermarks as a copying deterrent

This might include text such as ‘It is illegal to copy content from this document’, and/or by using dynamic watermarking to display user information so that users are discouraged from giving copies to others.

Using watermarks to display classification

This is the method of classifying documents by adding a watermark to them that displays how the document should be treated.  For example, adding a confidential watermark or a ‘top secret’ watermark as a stamp or text.

Using watermarks to identify the document as an original or copy

This is achieved by adding a stamp or text to a PDF document to mark it appropriately.  For example you might watermark a PDF with “copy” before printing and/or when it is viewed.

Using watermarks to link a user to a document

PDF watermarking is a useful way to link an identity to a document.  The PDF watermark may be something as simple as a unique number that is associated with the authorized user of a document, or it may be their name, email address, company name and so on.  The point of this PDF watermark is to make it clear who the source of the document is if it is not intended to be copied and passed around.  This technique has been in use for a long time to identify the source of documents ‘leaked’ to the press or who it was obtained from by IPR pirates.  The PDF watermark works because the source of the information (whether a leaked or pirated document) usually does not want to be linked to it.  This does mean that when using PDF watermarking in this way you need to have a clear link between the identity on the document and the identity of the entity that it was authorized to.

Using watermarks to establish ownership

The owner of the document may be different to the document Publisher.  If for example a reseller has been given permission to sell a book, report, etc. then they might want to add a PDF watermark that establishes them as the authorized reseller.

  PDF print watermarks – add print only watermark to PDF files

The most common reason why people want to add watermarks only when the PDF file is printed (i.e. no watermark is displayed when the document is viewed) is to prevent printed copies from being easily re-distributed.

The best way to discourage this is for the watermark to display user identifiable information (such as the user’s name, email, etc.).  This can easily be achieved by using dynamic watermarks where user information is automatically inserted when the PDF document is printed.

Locklizard supports dynamic watermarks and enables you to apply a PDF watermark only when printed, only when viewed, or both.

  Watermarks for confidential documents: why add a confidential watermark to a PDF?

Many companies need to distribute confidential PDF documents to selected users or third parties but do not wish them to be distributed any further.  As a security measure (and sometimes for classification) they add a confidential watermark to PDF documents (the same as a confidential watermark stamp on paper documents) on the basis that they will be honored.

However, in reality adding a confidential watermark to a PDF document provides zero protection since it is meaningless.  It does not stop PDFs from being shared with others.  The confidential watermark can also be easily removed in any PDF editor.

If you want PDFs to remain confidential then adding a confidential watermark will have no benefit unless you have other PDF security measures in place to make the watermark protected in the PDF and prevent document sharing.

Confidential image watermarks

Locklizard provide our Publisher customers with a range of confidential image watermarks which they can use to add a confidential watermark to PDFs.  Confidential image watermark examples are below:
confidential watermarks

  Does adding a watermark to a PDF make it more secure?

No.  If you use Adobe Acrobat or a similar PDF editor to add a watermark to a PDF document then that does not make it any more secure.

The reason for this is because users can easily remove the watermark even if the file is password protected.  See Removing PDF watermarks.

This is true of all password protected PDFs that have a watermark applied to them and includes secure data room systems that enable users to download watermarked PDF files such as Digify and DocSend.

If you want to add a watermark that cannot be removed then you need to use PDF DRM software that adds watermarks to PDFs that cannot be removed using PDF editing software.

  Invisible watermarks & social DRM: Worth using?

In a bid to stop users from removing PDF watermarks, some DRM providers had a seemingly bright idea: what if, as well as displaying the watermark on the document, they hid them in the document’s code?  Unique identifiers would be applied to each document so that when they are published online the publishers can track down who shared them.

It’s not a terrible idea, but it’s not very effective at preventing document sharing in practice.  Watermarks are primarily used as a deterrent, and it’s hard to deter a user with a watermark they can’t see.  Sure, you can track them down afterward, but at that point, the damage is already done.

If the user does know about the hidden watermarks, they can simply remove them.  Most social DRM / hidden watermark solutions don’t use any encryption or DRM, so the code is visible and editable.  All the user has to do is find the “invisible” watermarks and delete them.  Granted, this is more time-consuming than removing Adobe protection, but it’s still not going to stop a determined party from leaking your document.

  8 Top Watermarking Tips


Here are some things to bear in mind when using PDF watermark software and adding watermarks to PDF files:

  1. A standard PDF watermark may work very well when text documents are being sent, since their appearance is constant, but not so well if there are graphics or high-resolution pictures as well.
  2. Another thing to keep in mind is the length of the document being protected.  It is impossible to prevent someone from using a graphics or picture editor from editing out the PDF watermark if they can take a screenshot of the document.  However, the longer the document, the harder the task becomes.  See removing PDF watermarks.
  3. Watermarks that are too intrusive are rarely a good idea:  all you end up doing is giving the user another reason to want to remove them.  You can clearly assert your expectations without ruining the reading experience.
  4. When you add a watermark, consider using text watermarks that have a large font size, but are very ‘thin’.  This means they do not upset the eye so much, but are much more difficult to remove without making the document difficult to read.  This is particularly so if they go over the top of graphics.
  5. Think about the position of the watermark. Avoid placing watermarks in blank space as it allows them to be easily cropped out or removed.  Short documents may need watermarks that are graphics in order to occupy much more of the picture space.  This makes it more difficult to remove the PDF watermark but can make the document more difficult to read.
  6. Do you need to identify who viewed and/or printed a PDF (and when) if unauthorized distribution has taken place?  If yes, you need to look for a PDF watermarking solution that uses dynamic watermarking – where user and system information is inserted at view/print time.  Manually creating a document with a different watermark for each user will be too time-consuming.
  7. Do you want to apply different watermarks depending on whether the user has viewed or has printed the document?  If you do, the application you use to add PDF watermarks needs to support this.
  8. Watermarks don’t work as a deterrent or identifier if the user knows they can be easily removed.  The viewer application has to prevent easy watermark removal methods for you to maintain meaningful protection.

So, if you want to add PDF watermarks to your documents then there are many things to consider including whether they are dynamic, if they are protected,  the position of the watermark, and how easily they can be removed.

If you want to add a PDF watermark that cannot be easily removed then you need to use PDF DRM software that enforces controls over the document (such as preventing editing, screen grabbing, printing to PDF or image printers, etc.).  Safeguard PDF Security and PDF Enterprise Security software ensure your watermarks are permanent and protected at all times.

There are many reasons why you would want to use standard Adobe watermarks in PDF documents (for PDF watermarking methods see document watermarking), but the problem is that Adobe PDF watermarks can be easily removed, even if the PDF file is password protected to prevent this.

Adobe PDF watermarks are easy to add to every page of a document in one go because they are applied as a layer on top of the original PDF content.  This makes them easy to remove in one go too by just removing that layer.

Many secure data room systems say they provide secure PDF watermarks or lock a watermark in PDF files, but if you let users download PDFs, then those watermarks can be easily removed using any of the methods below.

Remove watermarks option in Nitro Pro

  How to remove PDF watermarks from standard and protected PDF documents

Below are some of the many ways you can remove watermarks from Adobe PDF files.

  1. If the PDF files are NOT password protected, open the PDF document in Adobe Acrobat and press the edit button in the sidebar.  Then click “Watermark > Remove” in the toolbar and re-save the document.  This method removes all the watermarks that have been added to the PDF document.
  2. If the PDFs are password protected, then use a PDF password remover program such as A-PDF Restrictions Remover.  It costs $10 for the software, and once the PDF password is removed you can use the method above to remove the watermark.
  3. You can use a PDF to Word converter to convert the document to Word, manually remove the Watermark and then convert it back to PDF.
  4. Use Adobe Illustrator to open the PDF, select the watermark object, delete, resave as PDF.
  5. Use a third party PDF editor like Foxit PDF Editor or Nitro Pro to remove the watermark.
  6. Use a screen capture application to capture a copy of the PDF and then use a paint editing program to remove the watermark.  This option is the most time-consuming and not really worth doing since there are easier methods of removing the document watermark as described above.

  FAQs

How do I tell if a PDF is watermarked?

Usually, a PDF watermark will be quite clearly displayed on your document or print preview.  Some solutions, however, apply hidden watermarks that are only discovered by searching the document’s code.

How do I watermark a PDF with someone’s email?

You can use a tool like Adobe Acrobat to add email watermarks, but you’ll have to do it for each person manually and they’ll just be able to remove it anyway.

A better way is to use a DRM tool like Safeguard PDF security to add dynamic watermarks, which will automatically populate with the user’s email, name, etc. when they open the PDF and cannot be removed.

How do I print a PDF without a watermark?

If your PDF was watermarked with Adobe, you can just upload to one of the many free online tools used to strip Adobe permissions.  For PDFs protected with Locklizard Safeguard, the only route is to ask the publisher or IT admin to disable watermarks on the document.

How can I make my watermarks permanent?

First of all, don’t use Adobe Acrobat.  To make your watermarks permanent you’ll need to use a solution that utilizes a combination of encryption, DRM controls, and secure licensing to stop the document from being opened and edited by unauthorized users.

How do I watermark a PDF for free?

There are numerous online and offline tools that will let you add a watermark to your document for free. Before you use them, however, you should consider whether they meet your requirements, as they are easily removed.  When it comes to PDF watermarking, you usually get what you pay for.

Are watermarks secure?

It depends on the software you use to apply them. If you use Adobe Acrobat or a similar software (Microsoft Word, etc.) they can be easily removed.  Safeguard PDF is far more secure, with users’ only option to take a picture of their screen and painstakingly remove the watermark in photo editing software.

Is watermarking effective?

Watermarks can be very effective at deterring unauthorized document sharing, tracking down the source of a leaked document, asserting copyright, and reminding users of their obligations.  However, most of these only hold true if users cannot easily remove the watermark.

  Download PDF Watermark Software: Add PDF watermarks for document security

Secure PDF Watermarking: Dynamic watermarking & non-removable watermarks for PDF files

Download PDF watermark creator software that protects PDF files with DRM controls and enables you to add watermarks to PDF documents that are dynamic and permanent.

You can dynamically insert usernames, email addresses, and date and time information into your PDF watermarks, yet you only ever have to protect the PDF once for all users.  You can add print-only watermarks, view only watermarks, or both.

Safeguard PDF security does not rely on passwords for security – it uses public key technology (transparent to the user) so there are no passwords that can be easily broken or passed on to other users.

Safeguard secure PDF Viewers protect watermarks from being removed, ensuring that they are always enforced.

See our customer testimonials or read our case studies to see why thousands of organizations use Locklizard PDF security to add and protect PDF watermarks.

Customer Testimonials