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Is This Image AI Generated? 6 Ways to Tell if an Image was Made by a Person or AI

As AI technologies get better, it's becoming more difficult to distinguish AI from man-made art. How do you tell the difference? In this article, I describe six methods for identifying AI art, including common visual deformities, reverse image search, and how to inspect the content credentials.
Is This Image AI Generated? 6 Ways to Tell if an Image was Made by a Person or AI
Image by Invocation on Tess

As a fun quiz for the reader, I’ve included a set of images below. Some of them are real originals, and some are generated through an AI model. Can you tell the difference between them?

Answer key

AI

Artist

Artist

AI

AI

Artist

How did that go? AI image generation technology gets better and better everyday. With the introduction of Stable Diffusion 3 and other improvements from Google, OpenAI, and other AI companies, it will get more difficult to distinguish between AI generated drawings and human-produced drawings.

This article will give you some tips for investigating if an image was created by an AI image generator. It can help consumers who want to see an image on Reddit or a pic sent over WhatsApp was made by an artist or an AI. It can also provide guidance for editors and art directors distinguishing "man-made" materials for their publication. Here are six ways to tell if an image was generated by AI:

  1. Look for common AI distortions
  2. Reverse image search
  3. Use an AI image detector
  4. Check the image's hashtags
  5. Ask the creator
  6. Look for embedded AI generated watermarks

Strategy 1: Look for common distortions

As consumers know, AI models still often get things wrong. When you zoom in on an image, you may find irregularities that hint at AI generation.

Look out for common logical and anatomical absurdities in AI generations. Zoom in on the image and inspect the eyes, hands, and outlines to find unnatural features. Extra legs, shadows in the wrong direction, and limbs bending in odd angles are also giveaway clues. It’s possible that an artist intentionally included strange abnormalities, so be careful of condemning an image without confirmation of its origins. 

Image by Reflections on Tess

The handling of colors can also give signal as to if it was hand-drawn, created with AI-assisted software, or generated by an AI model. When humans drawn, hues tend to have more lines or separation that comes from manual blending. However, software and AI generators are able to blend smoothly into one another, creating gradient effects and soft transitions between colors. These may help you distinguish hand-drawn works from digitally altered or generated works.

Searching the internet for an illustration can often reveal more information about its origins. On a phone or computer, go to Google.com and click the colorful camera icon to search with Google Lens. On an iPhone, you'll need to use the Chrome app or the Google app to do the reverse image search. Upload the image that you’re curious about.

Example Reverse image search with no matching results

Google will search the internet for similar images and may guide you to the website where the image comes from or more information about the source. For example, you may find that the work is on an artist's website, a news article with attribution, or in a blog post about AI generated art. If there are no matching sources, it may be AI generated. 

Example Reverse image search which lead to proper attribution (Aaron Fernandez)

Strategy 3: Use an AI image detector

Aiornot.com is one of several free AI detection websites. This website is new and under development, but it worked well for me, correctly identifying two AI-generated images. It's free to use, although you must sign in.

In contrast, this open-source detector from Hugging Face failed to detect all three of my AI generated images, even though one of them has a clear deformity. 

ChatGPT can also judge if art is AI generated or not. Upload the image and ask something like "Is this image generated by AI or by a human artist?"

ChatGPT analyzes if something is AI or not

For me, it responded with helpful remarks, pointing to certain characteristics of the image that I didn’t notice with the naked eye. However, it was also wrong; it suggested that this polar bear image was hand drawn. Also, you'll need a paid OpenAI subscription to upload files to ChatGPT.

Sometimes, if artists post an AI-generated piece on social media on the internet, they will tag it with related hashtags. Some AI creators will use the hashtag #aiart, #aiart, #createdwithai, or #generatedart in the captions or description, like this pic of a bedroom in the mountains. 

Strategy 5: Ask the Creator

If you’re still unsure about the creation process, ask the creator by email or DM. For a particular image, connecting with the owner or creator is the most direct way to learn more. Avoid making accusations until you’ve shared your concerns with the creator. 

Strategy 6: Inspect the metadata for the AI generated watermark.

The C2PA is an open technical standard for watermarking AI generated work. AI companies can embed information into image metadata which enables publishers to verify its source. In February 2023, OpenAI announced that watermarks had been added to images generated by DALLE3. Adobe Firefly also applies a Content Credential. The watermarks are invisible and embedded in the photo’s metadata.

To check if your image has embedded metadata, use an associated site like Content Credentials Verify to inspect the image. Although most images do not have embedded metadata, OpenAI-generated images have a credential, date, and note that ChatGPT was used in the creation process.

Many AI generators do not add Content Credentials. For example, images generated by Google's Gemini do not contain Content Credentials. Also, metadata may get lost when people screenshot or manipulate the metadata. This method is not a definitive way to learn more about the origins of an image.

Conclusion

These above methods provide clues, not definitive answers. AI technology is constantly evolving, and creators are becoming increasingly skilled at making AI-generated images appear more natural. 

In addition, AI is built into more and more software tools used by artists. Adobe Photoshop launched generative fill, a way to generate new elements of an image. Kapwing, an online image editor, supports “magic fill,” or extending an image. Artists might use ChatGPT or Gemini to come up with ideas for a concept that inspires a new work. The lines between human and AI become blurrier when artists use AI as a collaborator and assistant bringing them closer to the final work rather than merely as a generator for the final output. 

Some artists and media outlets want to avoid all use of generative AI, so we hope that this article has helped you discover if your images are generated by AI or hand drawn. 

If you’re a publisher concerned about AI generated art in your organization, consider an enterprise subscription to Tess, an image generator with properly licensed art, to ensure that artists get paid when their artwork is used. You can choose from models created with the artist's permission or set up new models based on your own private data. Contact us for more info.