Watermarks in Word 2003

A watermark is any text or graphic that appears either on top of or behind existing document text when the document is printed.


By Michael Barden

A watermark is any text or graphic that appears either on top of or behind existing document text when the document is printed.

Common examples of watermarks include the “Confidential” text that appears diagonally in the background of some sensitive documents, a faded company logo to imply ownership or authorship of a particular document, or perhaps a photo from your latest holiday as the backdrop of a letter.


Adding a watermark to a printed document is done by navigating to “Format | Background | Printed Watermark” and calling up the “Printed Watermark” dialog box. This dialog provides you with 3 main radio button options: “No watermark”, “Picture watermark” or “Text watermark”. The “No watermark” option is selected by default.

To insert a picture as a watermark, start by selecting the “Picture Watermark” option, and then click “Select Picture”. Browse to the picture you want as your watermark in the “Insert Picture” dialog, and then click “Insert”. Choose any additional options and then click “Apply”.

Similarly, to insert some text as a watermark, start by selecting the “Text Watermark” option, and then select or enter the text that you want. Choose any additional options and then click “Apply”.

Watermarks are designed for printed documents, and so they aren’t made visible in normal, outline or web layout views. To view a watermark as it will appear on a printed page, make sure to use the print layout view (“View | Print Layout”) or the “Print Preview” function (“File | Print Preview”).

To remove an existing watermark, navigate back to the “Printed Watermark” dialog (“Format | Background | Printed Watermark”) and select the “No watermark” radio button.


Selecting the “Text watermark” radio button in the “Printed Watermark” dialog will activate a number of text watermark specific options. For starters the “Text” drop-down box provides a number of pre-defined text watermarks including:

  • ASAP
  • COPY

Don’t feel limited to these pre-defined options however, as you are also able to type in your own customized text watermark into this same box.

Next, adjust the “Font”, “Size” and “Color” drop-down options to your taste. Make sure to keep in mind that a text watermark is not meant to stand out from the actual contents of a document. Try to keep it simple, subtle and legible.

By default, a text watermark will be a light-gray color. In many cases this is the ideal color however it may not suit all purposes. For example, a “Top Secret” or “Urgent” watermark may be better suited to a light-red color, so as to sufficiently emphasize the document’s importance (assuming the document were to be printed in color).

If you want the watermark to appear faded into the background of the document and not overshadowing the main document text, ensure that the “Semitransparency” option is selected.

Finally, the “Layout” option allows you to decide whether the text watermark will appear “Diagonal” or “Horizontal”. In most cases, the default “Diagonal” selection is the most appropriate choice.


Selecting the “Picture watermark” option in the “Printed Watermark” dialog will activate a number of picture watermark specific options. To select a picture, click the “Select Picture” button and browse to the picture’s location before clicking “Insert”.

If you are currently in “Print Layout” view, press “Apply” to see if the picture watermark is appropriately scaled. If not, select an appropriate size from a list of pre-defined sizes in the “Scale” drop-down box. You can also type a custom size into the “Scale” box as a percentage of the original picture size.

By default, the “Washout” checkbox is selected. This means that Word applies a “washed out” or “dimmed” look to the picture so that it’s lighter than the text. If your picture contrasts well enough with the text, and you don’t want to wash it out, you don’t have to apply this setting.

Also, if the document contains a large amount of text, you’ll probably want to choose a picture without too many details, so the readers’ eyes aren’t distracted from the text.


According to the Word help file, watermarks won’t appear on every page if you change your header or footer for part of the document. For example, the first page may have a unique header or footer, or none at all. Similarly you can break your document up into two or more sections by using section breaks (“Insert | Break | Section breaks types”), and provide a separate header or footer for each section. These concepts were explained in the last section in the last issue of Office for Mere Mortals and in another follow-up article.

You can check whether your document contains sections by placing your cursor at the very end of the document and looking at the Word status bar (at the bottom of the Word window). Second from the left should be a variable called “Sec”. If the value of “Sec” is 1, then you do not have any sections defined. If the value of “Sec” is 2 or higher, then your document is broken up into that many sections.

While we were not able to recreate this problem, the documented solution is to simply reinsert the watermark and it should once again appear on every page of your document.


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