What It Is & How It Works


Picture this: your team is working on a project together. You need to find an image in your database to support a new campaign.

You then spend an hour searching or, worse yet, come up empty handed and frustrated. Either way, it’s often a wasteful exercise that’s all too familiar to many.

Enter Image tagging.

Image tagging not only helps you find files easier, but it also allows you to find the images quickly and—with the right software—can even automate the tagging process itself. How? Glad you asked.

In this guide, we’re going to break down:

What is image tagging?
The difference between image tagging and metadata
Image tagging examples
3 benefits of image tagging software
How to improve your image tagging today

Let’s get tagging.

First, let’s cover the basics. Image tagging is the process of labeling images with keywords to make them more searchable. While tagging can be done manually, image tagging software automates the entire tagging process across image libraries of any size.

Once assets are imported, image tagging software will automatically add tags based on what’s in the image, which allows for intuitive search and discovery. Users can then edit those tags to control which categories images populate when searched.

Image tagging ensures that companies can search and find images quickly and easily across image repositories of any size. This is a huge time saver, especially for enterprises and agencies that are working with a very large number of images across different projects and departments.

Brandfolder image tagging UI

Seen here is an example of image tagging in action. Imagine you had a folder that contained logos and important product images. Those images are bulk uploaded to your website. As each image is uploaded, a program fills in metadata and adds tags based on the objects in the image. If a picture has an image of a Ferrari in it, keywords (like “car” for instance) are tagged and can be used later for quick search and filtering.

Before we go any further, it’s important to recognize the distinctions between image tagging and metadata.

The key is in the name. While keywords are used to describe what’s in an image, metadata relies on just that—data, to fully relay it’s contents. Metadata is the data embedded in an image which stores information like pixels, height, and width. Keywords describe exactly what’s seen in an image, so it’s easier to find for use.

There’s also a big difference between how each process occurs. Metadata is instantly embedded inside every image you create without you having to do anything.

Image tagging? Not so much.

Depending on what software you use, image tagging is a process that can be done manually or automatically. If you choose the manual route, you’ll have to go through each image and tag what you see. Certain software such as Brandfolder can automate the process using artificial intelligence, so your images are tagged quickly and accurately, accounting for the terms those looking for it will search.

Depending on the image tagging software you use, the process can involve sweeping tags (like “logo”) or also hierarchical tags like objects and emotions.

Here’s a basic example of what we mean:

Image tagging explainer graphic

What do you notice?

The objects in the image are tagged (man, dog, shoes), but the image’s emotion (happy) and colors (red) are also tagged. This is helpful for a couple of reasons.

First, this expanded tagging means the tags on the image are more descriptive and gives you (or a search engine) a better chance of finding exactly what you’re looking for by attaching relevant context. But tagging images with sweeping primary tags like “sky” means you can also use image tagging to conduct broad searches within your image database.

Here’s what a broad search looks like using Brandfolder:

Brandfolder asset search function

As multiple images have been tagged with “palm”, you’ll now have lots of options to choose from.

DAM platforms like Brandfolder also use AI auto-tagging, so the software tags the images for you. Not only does this cut out the manual work of tagging images individually, but it also ensures that, over time, the software learns about how accurate it’s tagging work is. That’s the beauty of AI—the software trains itself and increasingly cuts out manual work automatically.

Think of it as an intern that improves its performance every day without you having to lift a finger!

Utilizing image tagging software has several benefits.

Not only does it make it easier for people to find images quickly based on search terms, but it also keeps image folders and libraries readily accessible. If a customer searches your website or a team member is looking for an image in your database, image tagging makes the process a quick and easy brand experience.

Here are three features that help make that happen.

1. Auto-Tagging Auto-tagging is where images are tagged automatically based on the objects in the image.

It works by using AI-powered technology that searches and adds tags to each and every image you import into a content library or website. This has two primary benefits: images are tagged more accurately and it also means a team member doesn’t have to spend hours doing it manually.

Once the auto-tagging process is complete, you’ll then be able to search, edit, and update the tags yourself if you wish.

2. AI Image Recognition Using the same auto tagging technology, image tagging software can also tag assets immediately on import, using artificial intelligence.

What this does is make it easier to consistently categorize and search for images using specific criteria. Here’s an example of Brandfolder’s AI image recognition tool:

Brandfolder AI image recognition tool

3. Accurate search and asset recommendations Searching and finding assets can chew up hours of your team’s time.

Image tagging software can make finding an asset more simple than searching an image on Google. Because image tagging software is powered by natural language processing (NLP) technology, it can accurately understand the real intent of your image search and suggest relevant content accordingly. This brings every option (whether it was the original asset you had in mind or not) to the table for you to choose which is best suited.

Unlike other methods of image library organization, tagging doesn’t rely on taxonomy or glossary creation, which makes it less complicated to implement and use.

By now, we’ve run through a bunch of the benefits that come with image tagging software for your business.

It not only makes images easy to search (by both humans and search engines), but images can also be tagged more accurately and automatically. Utilizing a digital asset management software like Brandfolder makes it easy for enterprise companies to upload and auto-tag entire image libraries, no matter their size.

From auto-tagging to AI-image recognition, let’s take a deeper look at how the right software helps streamline the image tagging process.

1. Import assets Companies could have hundreds, thousands or even millions of images to store and organize.

Image management software allows you to add and manage assets easily with features like bulk, and drag and drop, uploads. If you need to upload hundreds of image files at once, all you need to do is drag the entire folder into your software’s dashboard—and you’re done.

Here’s how the process looks using Brandfolder. All you have to do is access the software’s dashboard and click the upload box:

Brandfolder image upload function

You then have the option of dragging and dropping individual assets, or bulk uploading entire folders of assets. You can upload images from several sources including Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, Link, Flickr, or an FTP.

Brandfolder asset drag and drop function Pro-tip: If you use Chrome to bulk upload images, Brandfolder will pull in the folder names automatically as tags!

2. Bulk edit image tags AI auto-tagging is super helpful for cutting the manual work involved in image tagging—but what if you want to change the tags given to images?

With image tagging software, you can edit tags in bulk after you upload them to make sure the auto-tagging process is to your exact preferences. Not only that, but you can also resize images and change file formats in bulk, so every image uploaded into your library is ready to use.

Here’s how it works using Brandfolder.

The bulk management feature allows you to change and manage tags in bulk as well as add labels and links—all in the same dashboard. The tag management dashboard looks like this:

Brandfolder asset bulk management

It’s here where you can bulk update the names of tags, see what assets they are associated with—or delete a tag altogether.

3. Set routing rules One of the smartest parts of image tagging software is that it follows the rules—as set by you.

If you want an image to be added to a specific image folder according to certain tags or labels, you can create a rule, so it’s done automatically, cutting out even more manual work.

Using Brandfolder’s Smart Rules Engine, you can create rules that will automatically trigger actions to take place once the parameters are met. Once again, this all happens inside the tool’s image management dashboard:

Brandfolder asset search smart rules function

It’s here that you can create rules based on certain criteria, tags, and assets. If you want every image using your logo to be added to a folder with brand identity assets, just add a rule, like this one:

Brandfolder smart rules search logic settings

4. Extract and convert metadata Metadata lives inside every image and text can be extracted as soon as you upload images into an asset management platform.

Not only does metadata make it easier for you to search and find assets based on data, the software can also use rules to convert embedded metadata into tags or custom fields automatically.

Using Brandfolder, you can set uploads to extract specific EXIF metadata fields embedded into a file and convert them into a tag or custom field automatically.

Brandfolder metadata conversion to image tags

Extracting metadata increases the chances these images will show up in searches and also makes tagging more accurate and consistent as they’ll be based on data embedded in each image.

5. Easily find images The best part about image tagging is the searchability functions it offers.

Once images are tagged, you can use them, as well as custom fields and metadata, to quickly discover assets and save your team time. Using Brandfolder, you can easily find images by narrowing keyword searches to logic that follows:

  • Any of these terms
  • All of these terms
  • Contains this phrase
  • Exactly this phrase

For example, if you want to find images of “cliff divers” in your library, you can narrow the search using any of the four options to make sure the results that are shown match your search intent:

Brandfolder category search intent functionality

Ready. Set. Tag.

Ultimately, image tagging software can change the way you store, organize and search across your assets.

Not only can the right software keep asset libraries of any size organized and easy to filter, but it frees up your teams to work on other tasks. Instead of spending hours manually tagging images, artificial intelligence can automatically tag them, saving your team hours of time—and lots of frustration.

Add in the benefits of metadata extraction and bulk image uploads, and it’s easy to see how investing in image tagging software can save you not just time—but also across your bottom line.