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Protecting an image with the use of Flash

It's been a while since I wrote my last Flash / Actionscript tutorial. But lately, I got several requests on different Flash tutorials so I decided to start up the program once again.

Many websites don't want their images to be copied. You can add a (hidden) watermark, slamming your logo several times on the image or let it carry a secret file, but I wanted a totally different approach. I wanted to protect my images using Flash and more important: It should be done dynamically.

Image protection using Flash

Before I'm going to start with this tutorial, I recommend you to check out my demo on what we'll be creating. I'm telling you: Those images are loaded dynamically using external JPG files. Can you find the real images?

You can download the source and demo code if you don't feel like following this tutorial. You'll only need to change the XML file and you're done.

The setup

For this tutorial, you'll need at least the following:

  1. Flash CS3 & very basic Flash knowledge.
  2. Images you want to protect (I'll be using images from
  3. XML knowledge comes in handy, but is well explained in this tutorial.
  4. A brain that can keep up with this kind of tutorials.

A (web)server supporting PHP for the last step isn't a must. Everything checked? Start up Flash CS3 and go on to the next step.

Flash CS3

Create a new Flash FLA file, using Actionscript 2.0. Change the properties of your document. The dimensions need to be the same size as your JPG file so that's up to you. I recommend a higher frame to make it prettier for the eyes: A framerate of 24 will be enough.

Image protection using Flash 01

Draw a rectangle using the Rectangle tool having the same size as your background. Position it at X = 0 and Y = 0 by changing the properties. Now Right click on the rectangle and click Convert to Symbol.. A pop-up will appear. Make sure you have set the radio box to Movie Clip and give it a name like imgholder. It should now show up in the library.

Image protection using Flash 02

Now change the properties of your newly created movieclip that will be containing our image. Give it a name that we'll be using later for ActionScripting. I called it mc_imgholder.

Image protection using Flash 03

Repeat the previous steps (Create a rectangle on a new layer, converting it to a movieclip named blurryholder with the ActionScript name mc_blurryholder). When you converted it to a movieclip another tab called Filters was added. Add a Blur filter to the movieclip with a X-blur of 20 and an Y-blur of 20. This is the layer that will contain our blurry image.

Image protection using Flash 04

Make sure you place the "blurryholder" behind the "imageholder" for the next step.

Image protection using Flash 05

Now let's create the lens that will clear the blur. Draw a circle by selecting the Oval tool, then Shift+Drag to create a perfect circle. Convert it to a Movie Clip with the name lens with the ActionScript name mc_lens. Make sure you place it in a layer above the "imageholder".

Image protection using Flash 06

Right-click on the Lens-layer and select Mask. A mask is now created. Everything where the lens is placed, the image is visible. If not, the blurry image will be shown.

Image protection using Flash 07

I created a big error box called mc_errorbox that can contain dynamic text. Because, once compiled, the SWF can't print error messages on the screen, I created this custom error box. I also added a lens-border on a new layer, called mc_lens_border.

Image protection using Flash 08

For our final step, I added a "hidebox", to slowly show the image to the user. This was just because if the image is directly loaded, the user would see the original background colors (image not yet loaded). So the hidebox is placed just under the error code (otherwise you wouldn't see it) and above the rest.

Image protection using Flash 09

Save your file and press Ctrl+Enter to test your movie. Nothing should happen at this point. In the same directory as your FLA file is saved, a SWF file is created. In this same folder, add your image(s) you want to protect. I'll be using a photo of a leopard that I got from stock.xchng and called it leopard.jpg.

Image protection using Flash 10

So, you're all ready with the Flash elements? You should have the following movieclips in your library:

  • blurryholder
  • hidebox
  • imgholder
  • lens
  • lensborder (optional)

Correct? Let's go on to the next step.


The XML file is they key to our success. This is the file where a secrect request code is converted to the real image.

Start up Notepad, by going in Windows to Start > Run, enter "notepad" and press "OK". Write the following lines in Notepad:

<img req="87fe3409" img="leopard.jpg"/>
<img req="0987fds3" img="polarbear.jpg"/>
<img req="98q3Few6" img="gorilla.jpg"/>
<img req="7869fd3X" img="wolf.jpg"/>

Now, when requestcode 87fe3409 comes in the Flash file, the image leopard.jpg should show. When requestcode 0987fds3 is used, the image polarbear.jpg should show etc. You better choose other filenames, since "gorilla.jpg" for an image of a gorilla is pretty easy to guess.

Save your file as an XML file by going to File > Save as. Change the type and give it a .XML extension. The name of the file should not easily be guessed, so don't name it "protected_images.xml" or something like that. Remember, this is the key to our success; if the XML is leaked out, all effort will be done for nothing. I called my file "kjhsdfakljfpoewaufxz.xml"; That's something nobody will guess.


Time for some action! Go back to Flash CS3 and create a new layer on top above all other layers. Press F9 to bring up the ActionScript panel. Enter the following code (Comments are added to explain what it does).

// Hide the error box, otherwise user would see a flashy error
mc_errorbox._visible = false;
// The requestcode that is used from the XML file
var requestCode = "87fe3409";
// Load the XML file
var xmlData = new XML();
xmlData.ignoreWhite = true;
xmlData.onLoad = processXMLData;
// Hide the mouse for users
// When XML data is loaded, execute this function
function processXMLData(success)
  if (success)
    // Variable to check if the image is loaded
    var imgFound = false;
    for (i = 0; i < this.childNodes.length; i++)
      if (requestCode == this.childNodes[i].attributes.req)
      // When requestcode from FlashVars is the same as the
      // requestcode from the XML file, the image is found.
      // Load the images in the movieclips
      imgFound = true;
      loadMovie(this.childNodes[i].attributes.img, mc_imgholder); 
    if (imgFound == false)
      mc_errorbox._visible = true;
      mc_errorbox.text = "Image could not be found.";
    mc_errorbox._visible = true;
    mc_errorbox.text = "XML file could not be loaded.";
var showingHidebox = 100;
_root.onEnterFrame = function()
  // Slowly show the image
  hidebox._alpha = showingHidebox;
  if (showingHidebox != 0)
  // Let the mc_lens slowly follow the mousemovement
  with (mc_lens)
    _x += (_root._xmouse-_x)*.1;
    _y += (_root._ymouse-_y)*.1;
  // Let the mc_lens_border slowly follow the mousemovement
  with (mc_lens_border)
    _x += (_root._xmouse-_x)*.1;
    _y += (_root._ymouse-_y)*.1;

Now press Ctrl+Enter to test your movie. You should now see the protected image with a mouse-follower that was requested by the 87fe3409 requestcode found in the XML file. If you made it so far, congratulations, you're just one (small) step away for success.


The page gives a request code to the Flash file. The Flash file checks the XML file to locate the image and displays it. Sounds easy, doesn't it? But how does the page tell the Flash file which request code to insert? This can be done using FlashVars.

I don't like the EMBED code created while exporting the Flash file. It's not W3C valid, nor is adding FlashVars easy. That's why I'll be going to use SWFObject for this project. Put the following line inside the HEAD section of your page, loading the JavaScript:

<script type="text/javascript" src="swfobject.js"></script>

Now add the following code inside your BODY section.

<div id="flashcontent">
  <strong>You need to upgrade your Flash Player</strong>
<script type="text/javascript">
// <![CDATA[
  var so = new SWFObject("imageprotector.swf",
    "Image Protector", "600", "450", "6", "#FFFFFF");
  so.addVariable("flashVarCode", "87fe3409");
// ]]>

Now, the first DIV called flashcontent will be replaced with the Imageprotector. Read the documentation of SWFObject to check what all the other variables are.

The key to this is the so.addVariable. I'm giving the Flash file a variable called flashVarCode with a value of 87fe3409. Of course this value can be changed to another request code from your XML file.

Now the last step is telling the Flash file that it received a variable through FlashVars. Just change the code that you hardcoded in your Flash file before to the name of the variable.

This is what it was:

var requestCode = "87fe3409";
This is what it should be:
// Read the requestcode passed through FlashVar
var requestCode = flashVarCode;

There you have it! Now you should be able to dynamically protect your images using Flash and a secret code.


If you don't want to follow this tutorial step by step, you can download my source code and demo pages. The demo pages include a static HTML page, a dynamic PHP page and a page displaying multiple images with image protector.


I know this technique isn't water-proof, since people can decompile the Flash source and locate the XML file. Another option is that you print screen every piece of the image that is not-blurred. But still, that's a lot of effort most people would not take.

Anyway, for the future you could think about adding more FlashVars, for example changing the color or size of the lens. What about an option to automatically resize the image to fit the Flash file (or otherwise: auto-resize the Flash file to fit the JPG file). For now, this is a pretty fun way to protect your images using Flash.

Tags:  flash actionscript jpg xml tutorial

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