Create watermarks and backgrounds easily with the Microsoft Office 2003 Editions

Community contributor By Stephanie Krieger, document production expert

Applies to:
Microsoft Office System 2003 Editions

You might be familiar with the terms “watermark” and “background,” but not really know the difference between the two. It used to be clear-cut — watermarks were for printed documents and backgrounds for electronic documents. However, because more documents are shared electronically today than in print, watermarks and backgrounds in some Office programs are interchangeable.

Fortunately, you can easily create a watermark or a background in almost every Microsoft Office program, and this article provides useful tips to help simplify and clarify the process.

On this page:

Use PowerPoint to create pictures for use in other programs

Word, PowerPoint, Visio, and Publisher provide the tools to create and format your watermark text or images directly in each program. However, for the other Office programs, the easiest way to add a watermark is to insert a picture that is formatted as transparent.

When working in one of these other programs, use PowerPoint to easily get the image you need. PowerPoint offers a terrific timesaving feature called Save as Picture that enables you to quickly save graphics as pictures for use in PowerPoint and other programs.

To create a watermark image in PowerPoint for use in other programs, start with any picture, drawing, or WordArt object that you like, then:

  1. Make the image transparent so that it will work well as a watermark behind text.
    • To do this for pictures, apply the Washout option from the Color drop-down list on the Picture toolbar, as shown here:

Figure 1: Word

  • For WordArt and drawings, use the Transparency setting in the Format WordArt or Format AutoShape dialog box, as shown here:

Figure 2: PowerPoint

  1. Adjust the graphic to the size you want it to be as a watermark. Then, right-click on the graphic and select Save as Picture from the shortcut menu.
  2. In the Save as Picture dialog box, select a location for your new picture file, name your picture, and then click Save. Notice that you can change the setting in the Save as type list, but this feature usually selects the best picture format for your particular graphic automatically.

Use this feature to create your watermark image wherever inserting pictures to create watermarks or backgrounds is recommended in the tips that follow.

Note    Though the Save as Picture feature is available only in PowerPoint, step one above (for setting graphics to transparent) is the same for Word and Publisher.


Word provides both Background and Printed Watermark features. Though backgrounds are intended for Web pages and watermarks are for printed documents, these features have much in common. The primary difference is that backgrounds always cover the full page area and always apply to your entire document. Watermarks can be sized based upon your desired graphic and can be applied by document section. And, while watermarks are not visible on Web pages, backgrounds as well as watermarks are visible in Print Layout view and will print with your document.

To add a background or a watermark to your entire Word document, on the Format menu click Background and then select one of the options shown here.

Figure 3: Word

Or, to apply a unique watermark for one or more sections of the document, edit the header and footer directly.

A watermark is applied to your document by inserting a picture or object in the header and footer area, between the space allotted to the header and footer. Because the watermark is part of the header and footer area, you can change it from one section to the next as needed.

To remove a watermark from one section of the document (or to add a unique watermark for just one section), turn off Link to Previous on the Header and Footer toolbar, as shown here, and then delete or change the watermark.

Figure 4: Word

  1. To manually add a watermark to the header and footer area, insert or create your preferred graphic directly in the header and footer area and then format it to be transparent.
  2. Next, with the image selected, on the Format menu click Format Picture (or Format WordArt, etc., depending upon the type of graphic selected) and then click Layout. Select the Behind text wrapping style, as shown here, and then click OK.

Figure 5: Word

You can then click and drag the image to position it, if needed.

Note    For easy-to-manage graphics in Word, use the In Line with Text wrapping style whenever possible. That layout option enables you to position graphics as easily as you do text. However, watermarks are an exception. Images must be formatted using the Behind Text layout in order to appear as a watermark.

When you close the header and footer area, you will see your new watermark behind the document text in Print Layout view or Print Preview.


The sheet background feature in Excel enables you to place a background image that covers the entire worksheet, but does not print. Depending upon the image size and type, the background graphic may either be stretched across your worksheet or tiled.

Note that sheet backgrounds can tremendously increase the file size of workbooks. Depending upon the picture file type you use, the file size may be increased by anywhere from several hundred kilobytes to several megabytes. EMF (Enhanced Metafile) picture types usually provide the best resolution for the smallest file size for graphics in Office programs. However, metafile pictures used as backgrounds in Excel will increase the workbook size more than larger picture types. For best results with sheet backgrounds, use Web-compatible file types such as GIF, TIF, PNG, or JPG. If you use the PowerPoint Save as Picture feature, you can save images as any of these picture file types.

Though Excel does not offer a watermark feature, a transparent image placed in the header or footer can approximate a watermark. If the image exceeds the height of the header or footer area in which it is placed, it will fall behind the text of your worksheet. However, while watermarks created in this way do print, they only appear on screen in Print Preview.


Create slide backgrounds in PowerPoint to use the entire slide area, or watermarks sized as you prefer. Both options can reside beside your slide content and appear on just some or all slides. Additionally, both options will appear on your slides on screen as well as in print.

To add a watermark image or a background to all slides at once, use the slide master. By default, the slide master controls the layout and background graphics for all slides in your presentation. You can also use multiple masters in a presentation and apply them to only the slides you choose. To access the slide master, on the View menu click Master and then click Slide Master. (You can also add a watermark or apply a background to an individual slide, which then overrides the slide master.)


Backgrounds and watermarks in OneNote are one and the same.

  1. To create a watermark, start by inserting a picture already formatted to be transparent and size it to cover as much of your notebook page as you prefer.
  2. Next, just right-click on the picture and select Set Picture as Background from the bottom of the shortcut menu, as shown here:

Figure 6: OneNote

Pictures formatted in this way will appear behind your page content both onscreen and in print. Once you have set your picture as a background, you can save the current page as stationery in order to easily apply the same page layout, including the watermark, to additional pages.

Tip    To resize a picture in OneNote, drag the handles that appear at its corners when the picture is selected. If you are unable to resize the picture, you may have inserted the picture into a writing guide. Click and drag the picture onto the main page and try resizing again.


To create the appearance of a watermark on Visio pages, add a transparent image to a Background Page and apply that background to desired pages in your Visio file. Background pages in Visio are similar to masters in PowerPoint, in that all content on a background appears on screen and in print, by default, on any pages to which that background is applied.

Note    Similar to Word, PowerPoint, and Publisher, you can add transparency to graphics directly in Visio. For Visio drawing objects, set transparency in the Fill dialog box, available from the Format menu. For inserted pictures, select from the transparency drop-down list on the Picture toolbar.


When designing an InfoPath form, you can insert a background picture to act as a watermark. Note that backgrounds do not print by default, but form users can change this setting in the Options dialog box.


Similar to PowerPoint or Visio, Publisher has Master Pages to which you can add a background or insert a graphic and format it to be transparent, so that it can act as a watermark. Content on Master Pages will appear on pages to which the master is applied, and will appear by default both on screen and in print. You can create multiple masters within a single file and apply them to individual pages, as needed.


When you design a form or a report in Access, you can add a picture to appear as a background or watermark. For a watermark effect, start with a transparent image.

By default, images added to forms or reports will appear both on screen and in print. However, in Design view, when you right-click on an image and select Properties, you can change the Display when setting from Always to either Print only or Screen only.


You can add backgrounds to FrontPage documents, including images formatted as watermarks. However, because FrontPage is a Web design program, neither backgrounds nor watermarks will print. Similar to InfoPath, the program is designed to create elements primarily for on-screen viewing. Background images do not print in order to enable you to see document content more easily when printed.

Note    You can print the page with its background or watermark from Internet Explorer. To do this, on the Tools menu click Internet Options and then click Advanced. Check the option Print background colors and images, as you see here.

Figure 7: FrontPage

About the author

Stephanie Krieger is a document production expert who specializes in creating solutions with the Microsoft Office System and is the author of Microsoft Office Document Designer. Stephanie writes for several Microsoft Web sites, including Microsoft At Work and Office Online, and frequently delivers Office System webcasts. Visit her blog for more Office tips.