How to add color or a picture to a Word document's background

There's nothing wrong with a white background, but Microsoft Word lets you change the color of a document's background. You can even use a picture, but don't get carried away.

Editor's note: In the video, Brandon Vigliarolo uses Microsoft Office 365 and walks through the steps of adding colors or images to the background of your Word documents. In the following tutorial, Susan Harkins explains the process when using Word 2010.

Most documents are rather boring, some black text on white paper. That's the way it should be though because most documents don't require special graphics and colors. However, when a document requires more than some black text on a white background, Word offers many visual possibilities. For instance, you might want to change the background's color or even use a picture as the document's background. Both are easy to accomplish, technically speaking.

Using Word 2010, you'll find these options on the Page Layout tab in the Page Background group. Specifically, the Page Color option lets you change the color of the background and add a picture. Although placing a picture option in the Page Color option is consistent with other objects, it isn't easy to find unless you just guess right.

Technically, adding a background color or picture to a document is much easier than designing a visually effective document. I'll share just the mechanical process.

SEE: Software usage policy (Tech Pro Research)

Add color

To add color to a document's background, you'll work from the Page Layout tab, as follows:

  1. Click Page Color in the Page Background group.
  2. Choose a color from the gallery (palette).

It doesn't get much easier than that. You can click More Colors to fine-tune a gallery color. Live Preview allows you to see a choice without actually committing to it. Just roll over the gallery colors until you find just the right one. Choose No Color to remove a colored background.

Although simple, you could create some ghastly documents. There's a lot to consider when introducing color into a document. Color-wise, there are several attributes, hue, chroma, and so on. Where documents are concerned, your main consideration should be legibility. In that regard, contrast is usually the most important factor: the higher the contrast, the more legible the text. It also adds to the layers of separation, as shown in the following illustration. The more contrast, the more depth, which improves readability. I'm not suggesting that you take a crayon-box attitude toward your documents though. This illustration is just that, an illustration-not a recommendation for these particular colors!

Limiting your choices will produce the best results. Limit your color palette to two or three colors. Use different shades (hue) and saturation (chroma) to add variation. And remember, even in digital form, there's nothing wrong with a white background.

Add a picture

The process for adding a picture to a document's background is similar to inserting a picture into an AutoShape - you use the Fill Effects option.

Note: This feature has the potential to produce ghastly results, so just because you can add a picture doesn't mean you should.

You'll use the same Page Color option on the Page Layout tab (in the Page Background group) to add a picture, as follows:

  1. Click the Page Color option and choose Fill Effects.
  2. Click the Picture tab.
  3. Click Select Picture.
  4. Locate the picture you want to insert and click Insert.
  5. Click OK.

Removing the picture isn't exactly intuitive: choose No Color from the Page Color dropdown. This particular picture would present quite a challenge. What color font would you use? How much text could you add? Balancing all the requirements takes skill, but most of us can learn those skills with the right training.

As I mentioned, mechanically, adding color or a picture to a document's background is easy. Producing a visually effective document takes specialized knowledge.

Also see

About Susan Harkins

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.

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