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by evan-pak

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I have an opportunity to show some of my work in a small local coffee shop. Are there any guidelines/practices to signing, labeling or watermarking a photo which is to be on display? Or should a photo be signed, labelled or marked at all? Is signing the back of the photo and showing my name on a separate card below the frame itself the "better" way to do this?

I noticed many people on the web put a very noticeable watermark with their logo, copyright and name right on the photo. Personally, I find this distracting as it often ruins the photograph itself often turning what could be art to kitsch. Painters most often sign the painting itself but this to me is not distracting because it is done with the painter's own hand and it often "works" with the painting.

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I can't speak to the rest of the question, but there's no point to watermarking a print. Watermarking is to prevent unauthorized digital re-use. I suppose if you're worried about a picture being taken of your picture or something.... – rfusca Feb 10 '12 at 15:44
rfusca is right, watermarking is not signing. – Danny T. Feb 10 '12 at 15:52
Thanks, I included "watermarking" in the question and by that I mean a digital signiture with or without a graphic that is merged into the photo. Some of these often resemble a signature. I understand that the original purpose of "watermarking" was to prevent unauthorized digital re-use but I see it embedded into prints more often then not lately; wedding and studio photography being a prime example but i have also seen nature and landscape prints with embedded graphics "watermarks". – Jakub Feb 10 '12 at 16:00
Not an answer, but I understand that Ansel Adams signed the margin of the print (the white border outside the image on the print, which is hidden by the mat). – David Rouse Feb 10 '12 at 20:34
up vote 7 down vote accepted

I would have thought that having a business card or similar discretely displayed below the print is a classy way to go about it.

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Thanks. Kind of leaning that way too. – Jakub Feb 10 '12 at 16:49
That is how it is done at my local coffee shop. – Ian Lelsie Feb 10 '12 at 18:58

It all depends on the display, but typically in coffee shops or any displays outside of true galleries - you see a small card next to the artwork that is very minimal in design that states the work's title and the artist. If you would like to include a price, or contact information you could also do that here as well but I would keep it minimal.

For canvas prints, framed images, or similar I always attach (usually with a staple) my business card to the back of the artwork. This way if someone picks up the artwork to purchase or even steal it, they will know where it came from.

Signing photographs is a bit different then how you will display it. I sign my mats if it is a matted image, otherwise I do not sign. You can also add an edition or print number if you want the print to be limited or at least appear limited to buyers. Adding the year is nice, but it can date the image and not always in a good way if you don't sell the print within that year.

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You leave your business card for when they steal it? That way they know where to come steal all the equipment too? ;) – rfusca Feb 10 '12 at 18:00
You are correct, I do :) My business card doesn't have any street address though, just contact info. – dpollitt Feb 10 '12 at 18:03
thanks @dpollitt. Good info. – Jakub Feb 11 '12 at 0:44
I sign any work that is going to be hung in any form of gallery, how often do you see a painting without a signature .. we all paint with light! But as dpollit does, I sign on the matt, not the photographic print itself. – Barry Semple Feb 11 '12 at 2:21

The linked article is by a very well-known Russian designer. (I'm in no way affiliated) There are photograph examples in the article that you may find useful.

In short - do not have a signature that is too large (unless it is a "hot news" kind of photo that you don't want people to reuse and are selling within a few hours).

Do not add a frame and a fancy-font bright visible signature - the main part is the picture, not the font.

Do not sign horizontally - your mind will pick out horizontally-written words instantly, taking attention away from the picture.

The ideal kind of signature is the one that you need to look for, but that's not TOO hidden.

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The linked to article is talking about water making for the web. He is asking for how to display framed prints in real life. – Ian Lelsie Feb 10 '12 at 19:01
I think the article can also be applied to the prints. Mainly, do not sign horizontally as your brain will pick that up instead of the picture.. etc etc. – Shantali Feb 13 '12 at 17:57

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