How to add watermark to an Excel sheet

How to add watermark to an Excel sheet

Adding a watermark to a Word document is an easy and common task, but did you know that you can add a watermark to an Excel sheet? You can do this and the rules for doing it in Word and Excel are similar. In this article, I’ll show you how to use a graphic file as a watermark in an Excel sheet and how to avoid some pitfalls along the way.

I’m using Microsoft 365 on a 64-bit Windows 10 system, but you can use older versions. This technique requires opening the sheet header, so it is not appropriate for Excel Online. You cannot work with headers and footers in the web version. For convenience, you can download the .xlsx and .xls demo files. Demo files are saved in Page Layout view; you cannot see the chart in Normal view.


Excel’s watermark feature is similar to Word’s, but it’s not that flexible, and it’s something I’ll talk about in this article. You need some data in an Excel sheet and an image file to insert as a watermark. Make sure your image has no copyright restrictions before use. Even then, remember that Creative Commons doesn’t mean completely free with no restrictions, although most of the time it does. Some artists require credits if you use (distribute) their work. If you are planning to distribute in the public domain, it is a good idea to check it out.

Checking the license can prove difficult, but there is usually a trail of crumbs to follow. In our case, we will use the Image option. To see how it works before downloading, click Picture on the Insert tab and then do the following:

  1. Before downloading the file, right-click in the Online Pictures dialog and choose Properties. Most likely, you will not find anything useful here, but sometimes you are lucky.
  2. If Properties doesn’t help, choose View Source ( Figure A ). This will (usually) open the information about the source of the file in Notepad.
  3. If nothing yells at you, look for “license”. If nothing is displayed, search for a source URL. The .jpg ornament I’m using has a .ccs stylesheet URL in the first few lines of code ( Figure B ). Copy it into your browser and see what it comes up with. In Figure C you can see my results: Right at the top you will find that copyright is licensed by MIT.

Use your favorite search engine to find MIT licensing information. You will find that this license is flexible. The only mention is the inclusion of the authorization statement in the software. You are free to distribute; you are not distributing software.

Figure A


Find the license in the source information.

Figure B


There may be a clue about the license in the source file.

Figure C


You may find licensing information in the graphics style sheet.

If this sounds confusing, don’t worry. There is no silver bullet and it may take some practice to get good at finding the right clues. This process is unique to the graphic file and uses the Image functionality. You could use a completely different path to find and insert a graphic file. If in doubt, find another graphic file. Regardless of the license and authorization statement, it is always acceptable to provide credit whenever possible. You can’t go wrong doing this.

Once you have a file that you can freely distribute, it’s time to add it to your Excel sheet.

How to add a graphic watermark in Excel

When you add a watermark to an Excel sheet, you will be working with the header section of the workbook. Since the pages of Excel sheet are passive to a certain extent, proper sizing and positioning of the watermark may require some tweaking.

Now let’s add that jpg ornament we reviewed earlier for its license to an Excel sheet:

  1. Click the Insert tab and then click the Header and Footer option in the Text group. This opens the header by default with the cursor in the middle section. You are in Page Layout view.
  2. Click Image in the Header & Footer Elements group on the Header & Footer contextual tab.
  3. In the resulting dialog, click on the online search (mine is Bing Image Search) and enter Christmas as a search term. This is where you will check the license if you haven’t already. Feel free to enter another term to match your secular or religious holiday; it’s entirely up to you and your organization.
  4. Find the .jpg ornament (or the file of your choice), select it and click Insert. Figure D show image link as &[Picture] in the header.

Figure D


Insert the graphic file.

At this point, you are still in the header but you can’t see anything. This is where things get a little unique for each situation. What happens next will depend on the size of the graphic file, the size of the sheet content, and so on. Click anywhere outside the header section. This should display the .jpg, as shown in Figure E .

Figure E


View the graphic file.

As it stands, the .jpg is too small. Since you haven’t changed the view, you can edit the .jpg in place, which greatly reduces the time and effort of retouching.

Using the ruler just above the header, decide how far you want it to be wide the graph. In this case, we will say 6.5 inches because it is the default paper size. Don’t worry about the height, but in some cases that will be the most important measurement and you will work from it instead of the width.

To access the .jpg file, do the following:

  1. Click in the header area to reopen the header. (Make sure the item &[Immagine] is selected.)
  2. Click the Header & Footer contextual tab, and then click Format Picture in the Header & Footer Elements group. By default, the Lock aspect ratio and Relative to original image size options are both selected. You shouldn’t need to deselect these two options; doing so can distort the graphics.
  3. Change the Width option to 6.5 ( Figure F ) and click OK.

Since the Lock aspect ratio option is selected, Excel updates the height accordingly for you. In this case, they are the same, but this will not always be the case. Figure G shows the resized chart and looks right.

Figure F


Change the width of the graphic.

Figure G


The graphic is now the right size to fill most of the default sheet.

Most watermarks are obscured so they don’t overload the content. We don’t have any content for the demonstration file, but we’re still obscuring the graphics:

  1. If necessary, click the header section and make sure the element &[Immagine] is selected.
  2. Click the Header & Footer contextual tab, and then click Format Picture.
  3. In the resulting dialog box, click the Image tab.
  4. In the Image Control section, click the Color drop-down menu and choose Fade ( Figure H ).
  5. Click OK. As you can see in the Figure I. the red ornaments are much lighter after applying the Washout effect.

Figure H


Choose Washout to obscure the graphics.

Figure I.


The ornaments are much lighter now.

It was easy enough, but entering text is even easier. Many watermarks are text, such as Confidential, Draft, and so on. To insert text, open the header and simply enter the text. With the text selected, click the Home tab and use the Font options to format the text appropriately.

When you’re working in Normal view, you won’t see the watermark. To remove the watermark, open the header, select the image or text element and press Delete. Click any cell outside the header to complete the deletion.

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