Software

10+ ways to avoid drawing layer headaches in Word

Word offers some decent drawing tools, but they don't always give you the results you expect. Susan Harkins unravels some of Word's drawing layer mysteries.

Word offers some decent drawing tools, but they don't always give you the results you expect. Susan Harkins unravels some of Word's drawing layer mysteries.


Adding pictures and objects to a Word document can enhance your message. For instance, what's a brochure or pamphlet without a few pictures? Word's drawing tools aren't as powerful as a desktop publishing package, but they're adequate for many tasks. However, the drawing tools aren't second nature to most users. Learning a few easy tricks will help you work more efficiently with Word's drawing features.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Rethink the drawing layer

You must adjust the way you think about the drawing layer: The document and drawing layers are two separate layers.

Most documents are two-dimensional, like a flat sheet of paper -- we call that the document layer. That's fine as long as you're just dealing with text. The drawing layer is an additional layer that floats above or below the document layer. Objects in the drawing layer don't interact with the contents in the document layer because you can't actually draw inside the document layer.

Imagine trying to insert a starburst to emphasize the high price of an early PC, as shown in Figure A. Unfortunately, you can't do it. Word adds the starburst to the drawing layer, which floats on top of the document layer by default. To make matters worse, the picture can even disappear. Choose Normal from the View menu, and you can't even see the starburst. Word's drawing layer isn't visible in Normal view, so you might forget it's even there.

Figure A

The drawing layer floats above or below the document layer.

2: Pictures aren't always equal

You can't draw in the document layer. However, you can insert a picture into the document layer using the Insert menu. When you do, Word treats the picture like another big text character. In other words, the picture is in-line with the text and other content. That means that Word will push the picture around as if it were text. If you select a line or paragraph that contains a picture, you also select the picture. While this can be convenient, it's also limiting. For instance, you can't drag the picture to a new position or change its orientation.

Inside the drawing layer, however, Word treats a picture like any other object in the drawing layer. That means you can do more with the picture, such as changing its orientation and dragging to a new location.

More often than not, you'll want pictures in the drawing layer. Getting a picture into the drawing layer takes a little work. First, you insert the picture as you normally would:

  1. Position the cursor approximately where you want the picture to be. (You can easily move pictures in the drawing layer, so don't obsess over placement.)
  2. Choose Picture from the Insert menu and the choose From File (or Clip Art).
  3. Locate the picture (or clip art) and click Insert.

At this point, the picture (this is actually a piece of clip art) is in-line, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

By default, pictures start out in the document layer.

To move a picture from the document layer to the drawing layer, do the following:

  1. Right-click the picture.
  2. Choose Format Picture.
  3. Click Layout.
  4. Choose a wrapping style.
  5. Click OK.

As you can see in Figure C, the drawing layer is a more flexible environment for pictures and clip art. A short tug at the picture's rotation handle (the small green dot above the picture) adds a bit of playfulness to the picture. You can't do this with an in-line picture.

Figure C

Move pictures to the drawing layer.

3: Change the layer default

By default, Word inserts all pictures in-line with text. If you want all of your pictures in the drawing layer, change Word's default insertion method, as follows:

  1. From the Tools menu, choose Options.
  2. Click the Edit tab.
  3. Choose one of the many options from the Insert/Paste Pictures As control, as shown in Figure D. Select the wrapping style you'll use most often.
  4. Click OK.

Figure D

Choosing a wrapping style from these options will force new pictures into the drawing layer.

After changing this setting, Word will insert all pictures into the drawing layer instead of in-line with text.

4: Display anchors

The drawing layer anchors a picture to a paragraph. That way, the picture moves with its corresponding text. Now, that might work great, but it can also be a real nuisance. Knowing a picture is anchored to a paragraph before you move the paragraph can prevent a lot of confusion. Although it seems odd, Word doesn't display anchors by default, so change that setting if you plan to work with pictures. To see anchors while you work, do the following:

  1. Choose Options from the Tools menu.
  2. Click the View menu.
  3. Check the Object Anchors option in the Print And Web Layout Options section.

Figure E shows a small anchor in the left margin of the first paragraph. That anchor is the visual clue you need to determine that the picture in that paragraph is also anchored to that paragraph.

Figure E

Display anchors to avoid annoying mistakes when moving text that contains pictures.

5: Control anchors

When you add a picture to the drawing layer, Word anchors the picture to the text nearest the picture -- you can't really control Word's initial choice. However, you can change the anchor. Simply drag the anchor to another paragraph.

Once you have the anchor where you want it, it's a good idea to lock it in place as follows:

  1. Right-click the picture.
  2. Choose Format Picture.
  3. Click the Layout tab.
  4. Click the Advanced button.
  5. Select the Lock Anchor option in the Options section.
  6. Click OK.

If you want the picture locked to a position on the page, rather than anchored to text, do the following:

  1. Right-click the picture.
  2. Choose Format Picture.
  3. Click the Layout tab.
  4. Click the Advanced button.
  5. Select the Picture Position tab.
  6. Select Absolute Position in the Horizontal section and choose Page from the To The Right Of control.
  7. Select Absolute Position in the Vertical section and choose Page from the Below control.
  8. Click OK twice.

This basically defines an offset for the picture from the right and top edges of the page.

There may be times when you don't want a picture to be anchored. In that case, do the following:

  1. Right-click the picture.
  2. Choose Format Picture.
  3. Click the Layout tab.
  4. Click the Advanced button (bottom right).
  5. Click the Picture Position tab.
  6. Deselect the Move Object With Text check box in the Options section.
  7. Click OK twice.

6: Revert to in-line with text

Sometimes, in-line with text really is the best format for a picture. If the picture's in the drawing layer, you can quickly return it to in-line with text as follows:

  1. Right-click the picture.
  2. Choose Format Picture.
  3. Click the Layout tab.
  4. Select In Line With Text.
  5. Click OK.

7: Understand text wrapping styles

Once a picture is in the drawing layer, you have several options for determining how text in the document layer wraps around a picture. Explanations for those options follow:

  • In Line With Text: Word positions the picture in line with the text. The picture flows with the text; text doesn't wrap around the picture.
  • Square: Text wraps around the picture in a rectangle.
  • Tight: Word uses wrapping points to determine the amount of space between the text and the picture.
  • Behind Text: Word displays the picture behind the text; text doesn't wrap.
  • In Front Of Text: Word displays the picture in front of the text; text doesn't wrap.

(The Advanced settings also offer a Through option, but good luck getting it to work.)

8: Override the snap-to grid feature

When you move a picture in the drawing layer, Word micromanages things a bit. There's an invisible grid that Word uses to snap pictures into place. It's a way of lining things up, which you might not need or want. It can be frustrating if you want to move a picture just a tad one way or the other because the grid won't let you.

To override the snap-to grid feature, hold down the [Alt] key while you move the picture. This will allow you to move a picture just a hair, something the snap-to-grid feature won't let you do. Using just the keyboard, you can hold down the [Ctrl] key and press the arrow keys.

9: Text in the drawing layer isn't really text

It's okay to add text via a text box or some other drawing object. In fact, sometimes it's exactly the right technique for the job. However, keep in mind that Word doesn't treat text in the drawing layer the same way it treats text in the document layer. Specifically, Word won't consider text in the drawing layer when generating a table of contents, table of figures, or any other reference table. It simply isn't text to Word; text in the drawing layer is a drawing object.

10: Change AutoShape defaults

Word's Drawing toolbar offers a number of drawing objects, such as lines, arrows, rectangles, ovals, text boxes, and AutoShapes. All of these objects come with default attributes. Their initial size, color, and so on, are all determined by these defaults. Usually, you'll change one or more default attributes. Maybe you'll change an arrow's begin style or make the arrowhead larger. Perhaps you'll turn a solid line into a line of dashes. There are many possibilities.

The thing to remember is this: If most of your objects share the same attribute, you can change the object's defaults. That way, you won't have to change the attribute for each new object. Create the first object and when it's just the way you want it, change the object's defaults as follows:

  1. Right-click the object.
  2. Choose Set AutoShape Defaults.

That's all there is to it -- two clicks will save you a lot of formatting time. Bear in mind a couple of things here: First, your default settings will apply only to the current document. And second, setting defaults for one type of object - a text box, for example - will set the same defaults for all the other types of objects.

11: Turn off the drawing canvas

The drawing canvas escapes definition -- it's like a piece of drawing layer with attitude. It's difficult to work with, obscures the view of your document, and serves almost no purpose, perhaps other than to annoy you.

If you try to add drawing objects to a document and the drawing canvas pops up, as shown in Figure F, you can disable it. First, cancel what you're doing. Then, turn off the drawing canvas and try again. (By default, the canvas is turned off -- thank goodness -- but if it shows up, you'll know how to deal with it.

Figure F

Disable the drawing canvas.

To turn off the drawing canvas, do the following:

  1. From the Tools menu, choose Options.
  2. Click the General tab.
  3. Uncheck Automatically Create Drawing Canvas When Inserting AutoShapes in the General Options section.
  4. Click OK.

You can still use the drawing tools without the drawing canvas.


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About

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

16 comments
mattocs2000
mattocs2000

This is great! Thanks, but ONE MORE QUESTION: Why is it that if you Paste Special as a JPEG or other, you cannot right click and choose INSERT CAPTION, but if you INSERT PICTURE from the menu bar, you can? And How can I keep figures and captions together.

schladitz28
schladitz28

It would be very helpful if the article explained it is applicable to Word 2003...but not so much to Word 2007.

mw00110011
mw00110011

I'll be sharing this! One area I have trouble with is multiple images in a table cell along with text, and also grouping different types of images (say a clipart and an inserted jpg file). Once I set the table cell image to the bottom, I have a hard time reselecting it to do anything with it. Trying to Ctrl+multi-click layered images for grouping sometimes has a grayed-out group option. Using the various Option settings and techniques of this article may help solve those problems. Thanks

nlr
nlr

Wow! I thought I had been using drawing in text to a good degree of accuracy but still occassionally fight an elusive bit of formatting I can't control. I changed several things while reading this article. Thanks!!!

lockhaca
lockhaca

I insert clipart, objects and such al the time. Now I have Office 2007 and it's a little different.

JAKEONE
JAKEONE

Yes. I have experimented.

plandok
plandok

As MS Office no longer comes with a user manual and Help is chopped up into little bits which tell only what MS thinks I want, it is great to finally find something which I often use but had no idea how it worked. Yes, MS Word drawing tools are great. I've even used them in long documents. What I need now is a similar explanation about how to use raster/images as a "base" drawing and how to easily find the paragraph symbol it is attached to so I don't delete it. Is there more than one drawing layer? I also need info on easily using grouping(s). My problem is that none of these "items" is marked and the "order" things are grouped is not evident. This means lots of extra work to make changes. Thanks.

spendrift1
spendrift1

I agree that the article does not address this problem in Word 2007. I have been struggling with a particular file for some time trying to figure out how insert a picture without messing up my text. I could do it with 2003, but 2007 has me buffaloed!

ssharkins
ssharkins

That's a comletely different critter -- I'll see if I can recreate your problem and get back to you.

ssharkins
ssharkins

Thanks -- I'm glad you were able to apply some of the tips immediately!

RookieTech
RookieTech

get really pissed and throw your computer out the window of a 78 story building and then sit back down and say im sitting on top of the world Lol ;)

deskhero
deskhero

I gave up with using Word for manuals and technical docs some time ago because of frustration with graphics. I use open office writer these days , (saving as doc) Seems to do it much easier, and you can do drawings, add callouts to screenshots and visio style flow diagrams without leaving the writer package

shiny_topadm
shiny_topadm

I will admit to not being a PC software expert. I'm a network admin who coordinates support for the user community. I have been an 'Office' user for many, many years, and only found some of these 'features' when another user comes by and says, "my computer's doing something strange!". It should be no wonder that a majority of business users haven't "upgraded" to the newest version of Office; most users don't even know what features the existing product has, much less how to use them!! Thank you for an informative article.

ssharkins
ssharkins

1.) There's only one drawing layer. However, you can send objects to the front or back of the document layer. 2.) You can group and ungroup using the marquee -- have you tried that? Or, Ctrl+click lets you quickly create a group of shapes. To remove an individual shape from the group, select the group. Then, click the shape. At this point, you can work on just the clicked shape, without making changes to any of the other shapes in the group.

ssharkins
ssharkins

You're right -- what works well in 2003 doesn't work so great in 2007, which is significantly different. Sometimes, dealing with both versions in one article is easy, sometimes, it just doesn't work. I'll take a stab at 2007 over in the Office blog next month.

ssharkins
ssharkins

I'm glad you found the information useful.

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