Add a background image to a page in Word

Add a background image to any page in a Word document instead of a solid color or pattern. Using a picture as the background for Word page isn’t as straight forward because the official or approved method doesn’t work very well. We’ll show you other Word features that work better (or at all).

Most of the time a page background image is distracting to the main document text or you can use the Watermark feature. But there are times in more creative work where you want the page fully or partly backgrounded.

The advantage of a background image in a Word document is that, once setup and locked ‘behind text’, the image won’t conflict with any text, shape or images you put in the document.

Firstly we’ll show you the Microsoft approved method for putting an image in the page background and why it’s not very useful.

Then we’ll show you the way that actually works 😊

The Approved Method

For a long time, Microsoft Word has the ability to put in a picture as the background to a page. It’s mostly used for a small repeating pattern image like this:

To make a page background over an entire page like this:

As we’ll see, this method is quite limited and there’s better, more flexible ways to insert a page background.

In Word 2013 and later to Word 365 go to the Design tab. In Word 2010 and Word 2007 to Page Layout tab.

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Then Page Color | Fill Effects | Picture, select an image and click OK.

We’ll use an example image that, as well as being a shameless plug, shows an image plus text. This better shows the proportions and problems in setting a background image. Of course, in a real world use you’d probably want a faded, less obtrusive background image than the one we’ve used here.

The problem with this method is apparent when you see the image on the page – using one page view:

The image isn’t resized at all. What you see on the Word page is the top left corner of the image. If the image is too small for the page, the image is repeated. There’s no provision to resize or reposition the page background image within Word. Unless the picture is exactly the same size as the page, it’ll probably look wrong.

Note that the ‘sample’ in the Insert Picture dialog above bears no relation to what happens in the document,

The solution is to forget about Word’s Page Background feature and use another method that gives you more control.

What Works – Insert Picture … to Back

In short: Insert a picture into a Word document and send it to the back of the document layers.

Layers in Word documents

Yes, Word documents have layers. They aren’t as complex or powerful as layers in image programs like Photoshop but Word has layers all the same.

Think of layers as like a series of clear plastic sheets on top of each other. Each sheet contains images or text that you can adjust without changing things on other sheets. When the sheets are put on top of each other you see the finished document.

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With an image on the ‘back’ sheet and text on another sheet combined you get a document with an image plus text overlaid.

Layers don’t feature a lot in Word. There’s a page background layer. Images and shapes can be layered so one image overlays another.

Flexible Page Background

To make a flexible Word page background, insert an image into a document then ‘Send to Back’ so it’s a back layer for text and other document content to show in front.

Insert | Picture and select the image you want to use. You can do this at any time while making the document but, at first, it’s easier to set the image background before anything else.

The image is inserted into the document as usual.

Above you can see the image formatting fly out for Word 365, 2021 back to Word 2013 with ‘Behind Text’ selected. In Word 2010 and Word 2007 go to the Picture tab or choose ‘Size and Positioning’ from the right-click menu – then the Text Wrapping tab.

The options on the above dialog haven’t changed much for many versions of Word.

Text Wrapping | Behind Text

Now position the image on the page. Usually you’ll want to put it top left to start, but the image and your needs might change that.

Change the Horizontal position to Left relative to Page and Vertical positions Top relative to the page. You may want to make the positions relative to margin instead.

Uncheck the ‘Move document with text’ option to stop Word trying to ‘help’ you.

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Check the ‘Lock Anchor’ box.

Resize image to fit page

The image should now look like this, tucked up into the document corner.

Drag the bottom right image size handle down and right until the image covers the entire page.

Now the image fills the page with the resizing handles around the edge. The image might jump around a bit but you should be able to move it to cover the page.

Then just start typing! Because the image is set to ‘Behind Text’ anything else you do is placed ‘above’ it in Word simple layer stack.

In fact the term ‘Behind Text’ isn’t completely correct because you can put anything on top of the background image. That includes another image or shape as in this extreme example.

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