How to Add a Watermark in Microsoft Excel

Confidential watermark in Excel

Whether you’re creating documents for your employer or your own business, you may want to add a watermark, such as a company logo or image with “Private” or “Confidential.” The dimmed but visible image stays in the background while the main content is focused and readable.

In applications like Microsoft Word, you can add a watermark using a built-in feature. Unfortunately, Microsoft Excel doesn’t offer this same ability. If you want to mark a spreadsheet containing financial, personal, or confidential reporting data, this tutorial demonstrates how to add and customize a watermark in Excel.

Insert a Watermark in Excel

Before you begin, make sure you have the watermark you want to use. This should be a picture in a common image format, like PNG or JPG. If you need to create a watermark image, take a look at these Mac photo-editing applications or online photo editors.

Open the Excel sheet where you want to place the watermark. It’s fine if your sheet already contains data or if you plan to add it later.

  1. Go to the “Insert” tab and select “Header & Footer” in the Text section of the ribbon. This simultaneously opens the “Header & Footer” tab.
Header and Footer on the Insert tab in Excel
  1. Alternatively, select the “View” tab, then “Page Layout” in the ribbon, click “Add header,” then open the “Header & Footer” tab.
Add Header in the Page Layout view in Excel
  1. Using either option, you can choose the center box in the header section to keep your image in the middle of the right and left margins. If you prefer the image to be on the right or left, choose that corresponding header box instead.
Center header box in Excel
  1. With your cursor in the box, select “Picture” in the “Header & Footer Elements” section of the ribbon.
Picture on the Header and Footer tab
  1. Choose the location for the image, select it, and click “Insert.”
Insert button for a header image in Excel
  1. You’ll see the &[Picture] control inside the header box.
Picture control in the header in Excel
  1. Click another location on the page outside of the header, and you’ll see the image appear.
Picture inserted in the header in Excel

Depending on the size and color of the image, you may want to adjust it. You can resize it and customize a few options to make your watermark look the way you want.

  1. If you like the way your watermark looks, you can return to the original view of your sheet. Go to the “View” tab and select “Normal.” You won’t see the watermark, but you can continue adding data to your sheet without a distracting image.
Normal View with no watermark visible in Excel

Note: you can password protect your Excel Workbook to prevent unsolicited access. Alternatively, lock individual cells in an Excel sheet.

Customize a Watermark in Excel

If you want to make adjustments to your watermark, such as dimming the appearance or resizing it, you have a few options.

  1. Return to the “Page Layout” view by selecting that option on the “View” tab.
  1. Go to the “Header & Footer” tab, select the header box containing the image, and choose “Format Picture” in the “Header & Footer Elements” group.
Format Picture on the Header and Footer tab
  1. When the “Format Picture” box appears, make your desired changes by following the instructions below.
Format Picture box in Excel

Resize the Watermark

  1. Go to the “Size” tab to resize the image to specific measurements, and use the “Height” and “Width” boxes at the top. You can enter the sizes or use the arrows to increase or decrease them in small increments.
Format Picture box Size a watermark
  1. To scale the image based on percentage, use the “Height” and “Width” boxes in the Scale section instead. You can check the boxes for “Lock aspect ratio” and “Relative to original picture size” to not distort the image and keep the percentages relative to the original measurements.
Format Picture box to scale a watermark

Crop or Color the Watermark

  1. Go to the “Picture” tab to crop the image or change its appearance. To crop, enter the measurements in the boxes at the top or use the arrows.
Format Picture box to crop a watermark
  1. To change the appearance of the image, use the options in the Image Control section. If you want to wash out (dim) the image, make it black and white, or apply a grayscale. You can also apply a color. Use the “Brightness” and “Contrast” sliders or boxes to adjust these attributes.
Format Picture box to color and adjust a watermark

Add Alt Text to the Image

  1. Go to the “Alt Text” tab If you’d like to add that to your image, then enter the text into the box.
Format Picture box to add alt text to a watermark
  1. When you finish making adjustments to your watermark, select “OK” in the “Format Picture” box to apply the changes.
Format Picture box OK button
  1. You’ll see your updated watermark image immediately.
Updated watermark in Excel

Align or Move the Watermark in Excel

Because the image you add is to the header section, it’s positioned at the top of the Excel sheet. You have a couple of ways to align the watermark based on the margins. Alternatively, move it further down the page.

Return to the “Page Layout” view, go to the “Header & Footer” tab, and select the header box containing the image.

Align the Watermark

To align the image, check the box for “Align with Page Margins” in the Options section of the ribbon. There are also options for “Different First Page” to only show the header on page one and “Different Odd & Even Pages” to only show it on odd or even pages.

Header and Footer tab alignment options

Note: if you plan to use the “Shrink to Fit” feature when printing, check the box for “Scale with Document.”

Move the Watermark

  1. To move the image, place your cursor in front of the &[Picture] control.
Cursor in front of the Picture control
  1. Press Enter or Return to move that tag downward inside the header box. You can insert several lines or just a few, depending on how far you would like to move the image.
Line breaks before the Picture control
  1. Click away from the header to see the new watermark position, then readjust as needed.
Watermark moved downward in Excel

Preview the Watermark in Excel

Whether you plan to print the Excel spreadsheet or simply want a full preview of the watermark, use the “Print” feature.

Go to the “File” tab and select “Print.” You’ll see a preview of your sheet with the watermark. If you see a blank sheet or receive an error, you’ll need to add a bit of data to the sheet first.

Print preview of a watermark in Excel

Remove a Watermark in Excel

If you want to remove a watermark from your Excel sheet, you can do so easily:

  1. Return to the “Page Layout” view, select the &[Picture] control text, and press Delete.
Select the Picture control to delete it
  1. When you click outside of the header box, your watermark will have vanished.
Deleted watermark in Excel

Tip: you can also add watermarks to your photos in Android.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I add a text watermark in Excel instead?

If you prefer to use text rather than an image, this is an option. Follow the instructions here to open the header area in the “Page Layout” view and type the text you want to use in the header box.

Select that text and use the options in the Font section of the ribbon on the “Home” tab to adjust the style, size, and color.

Can I still add other elements to the header in Excel?

If you want to add items such as page numbers, the current date, file path, or sheet name to the header, you can do so by inserting the item in one of the two empty header boxes without the watermark.

Place your cursor in the header box and choose from the items in the Header & Footer Elements section on the “Header & Footer” tab, or add any freeform text you would like.

The additional item(s) do not affect the image watermark.

How can I add an image to my Excel sheet?

You can easily add images in Excel from the “Insert” tab. Open the tab and select an option in the Illustrations section of the ribbon. Add a picture from your device, online, or a stock image, as well as shapes, icons, 3D models, and screenshots.

Once you insert the image, select it and go to the “Picture Format,” “Shape Format,” or “Graphics Format” tab to customize it.

All screenshots by Sandy Writtenhouse.

Sandy Writtenhouse
Sandy Writtenhouse

With her BS in Information Technology, Sandy worked for many years in the IT industry as a Project Manager, Department Manager, and PMO Lead. She wanted to help others learn how technology can enrich business and personal lives and has shared her suggestions and how-tos across thousands of articles.

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