What is a Negative Prompt? Explain It Like I’m Five

by Chris Von Wilpert, BBusMan • Last updated February 12, 2024

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What is a negative prompt?

A negative prompt is an instruction for an AI art tool to exclude elements from generated content. That could be people, objects, visual styles, colors, effects, and so on. Negative prompting gives AI artists more control over the result, but it can also kill the creativity of the AI model.

Negative prompt fast facts

  • Negative prompts work best when they are run one by one.

  • Not all AI tools allow users to enter negative prompts.

  • Too much negative prompting can result in too abstract images.

  • Negative prompt weights help the AI model understand how important it is not to depict an element.

  • Consistent negative prompts can save AI artists a lot of time.

Some AI art generators allow users to enter negative prompts to get more control over the result. Photograph: Fotor

What is an example of a negative prompt?

Not all AI image generators use negative prompts or the same ones, but here are some examples:

  • “No people, no buildings, no roads”. This is an example of a negative prompt to remove specific elements from a picture.
  • “No blurriness, no pixelation”. Negative prompts like this can make the AI-generated image look more sharp and realistic.
  • “No watermark, no logo”. This kind of negative prompt may not work in free trial accounts of AI image apps.
  • “No strange angles, no weird perspectives”. This example of a negative prompt can prevent that AI gets way too creative with POVs.
  • “No flashy colors, no big light contrast”. With a negative prompt like this, an AI image can look more natural.
  • “No Picasso style, no impressionism”. This kind of negative prompt prevents AI artworks from mimicking artistic styles.

What is a negative prompt weight?

A negative prompt weight is a number that prioritizes negative prompts. The higher the number, the more important it is to leave out the element of the prompt.

If an AI artist uses, for example, “no people”, “no glossy effects”, “no flowers”, and “no realistic style”, the negative prompt weight can let the AI tool know on which of these elements it must focus most.

Negative prompt weights give AI artists more control over the generated artwork. However, this is an advanced technique that requires a good understanding of AI image generation.

What are negative words in AI?

Negative words in AI are instructions or keywords that let the AI model know what it should exclude from its output. They can be used for images, videos, texts or code. In their most simple form, they are a “no”, followed by a keyword.

In AI image generators, for example, negative words are used to remove objects or people from a picture. They are also handy to fine-tune the style, mood, color, and quality of an AI-generated image. 

In AI writing tools, negative words are useful to generate a text that contains, for example, “no complex words”, “no long sentences”, “no sensational language”, “no passive voice”.

Can you have too many negative prompts?

Yes, you can have too many negative prompts. They can make it harder for the AI model to understand what it is supposed to generate. It is like telling someone who wants to lose weight everything they cannot eat or do. 

Too many negative prompts can kill the creativity of AI. Instead of focusing on what it must generate, it will do its best to avoid unwanted elements. That can lead to abstract and surreal images. 

Therefore, it is better to not use too many negative prompts simultaneously. A better approach is to give it more details on what you do want. Then, you can still use negative prompts to fine-tune the results, adding one negative prompt at a time.

AI image apps generate the most creative artwork when no negative prompts are used. Photograph: NightCafe

What are some best practices for negative prompts?

Negative prompts work differently in each AI model and tool, but here are some general tips:

  • Do not overuse negative prompts. They are meant to guide the AI, not limit its creative input. 
  • Use negative prompts to eliminate only elements that shouldn’t be there.
  • Focus first on the most important negative prompts. That will prevent the AI from getting “confused”.
  • Use negative prompt weights to prioritize what must be excluded. If the result is still disappointing, try different weights to see what works best.
  • Be specific, but keep the negative prompt short. Using long negative prompts could lead to misinterpretations by the AI model.
  • Practice and be patient. It can take some time to master the art of negative prompting, but it is worth it in the long run.

What is the most intrusive prompting?

Giving a highly specific instruction is the most intrusive prompting. The AI model may better understand what it needs to generate, and too many details may limit its creativity.

For example, a prompt that describes objects, colors, composition, lights, POV, artistic style, background elements and so on is intrusive. It can confuse the AI and force it to generate an image that looks unnatural or unoriginal. 

It is better to use short prompts and then refine the generated images with negative prompts. This gives the AI model a chance to get creative, and the artist can still fully personalize the result.

A highly detailed prompt can generate an image that looks like unoriginal stock photography. Photograph: Jasper

Are negative prompts the same in all AI art generators?

No, negative prompts depend on the AI model that is used in the AI art generator. Some models understand what they must exclude better than others. 

For AI artists, it is important to know if and how negative prompting works in the AI app they use. Documentation, tutorials and experiments are the best way to find that out.

Also note that the input quality can affect the results. If, for example, a low-quality image is uploaded to an AI tool, it may be hard to identify the elements that have to be excluded.

What are some use cases of negative prompts?

The following use cases illustrate how AI artists can use from negative prompting:

  • Product images tend to be more appealing without a background. Negative prompts are a quick way to remove all distracting elements.
  • Negative prompts allow AI artists to finetune an image until it depicts what they had in mind.
  • Graphs and charts can contain distracting elements. Negative prompts can remove them and help highlight the parts that matter most. 
  • Negative prompts can help web designers remove distracting design elements.
  • Individuals can use negative prompts to enhance personal images or to create funny effects.
  • In marketing, negative prompting allows graphic designers to create an image that fits with a brand.

In some AI art tools, users can click a button to apply popular negative prompts, like removing backgrounds. Photograph: DeepSwap

Can too much prompting lead to prompt dependency?

Yes, too much prompting can make the AI model dependent on specific prompts. This can limit its creativity, because AI models are designed to learn patterns. 

It would be like teaching someone to draw by giving way too many instructions. The person would keep applying the rules and find it hard to be creative.

One way to prevent this in AI art tools is to keep prompts short and give the AI a chance to be creative. Anything that doesn’t fit in the image can be easily removed with negative prompts.

Why is using prompts consistently so important?

There are several reasons that using the same prompts to generate AI images can be important:

  • It gives the AI artists a chance to compare results and see which prompts generate the best images. 
  • By using the same prompts, an AI artist can better predict what the AI will generate. 
  • Staying consistent with one’s prompts allows AI artists to create similar pieces of work. That can, for example, be useful when generating images for a brand.
  • By being consistent with negative prompting, an AI artist can generate desired results much faster.

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