While Word’s image placement might seem impenetrable and cryptic, there are in fact rules. But in order to use images in Word without pulling your hair out, you need to know how to use some advanced options that aren’t as obvious or easy to use as they should be.
Why Is Word So Bad with Images?
If you ask Microsoft, they’ll say it’s because people don’t understand how Word works with images. And that is the problem, but it’s Microsoft’s own fault. The tools for moving images are unintuitive and hard to find, so folks typically never get past their first disastrous fumblings. They write off Word as being “bad with pictures.” Word actually has excellent image management tools. Much like formatting properly in Word, if you learn the magic formulas, you can place images in Word with no frustration or angst. Sounds like a fantasy? Read on.
Before we start dropping images into Word, there are three crucial settings we must preconfigure.
1. We must make anchor points visible. They are crucial to position images properly but are often hidden by default. To reveal anchor icons, navigate to “Word Preferences -> View,” and in the top part of the window, check the box next to “Object anchors.” If it’s already checked, leave it that way.
2. Change the default text wrapping of images. By default, Word places images in line with text, meaning they are treated like an (enormous) single character. Sometimes, this is what you want, but it’s often to blame for the most vexing image placement conundrums. Navigate to “Word Preferences -> Edit,” and change the drop-down next to “Insert/paste pictures as” to “Square.”
The text will now flow around the image on all sides as you see in most magazines or textbooks. Since that’s typically the layout we’re shooting for, this change alone is a major improvement.
3. Turn on non-printing characters. Most importantly, you need to see the “backward P” paragraph symbol (¶). Like anchors, these symbols are hidden by default, but they’re essential when working with layouts in Word.
Here’s a tip: if the blue dots on spaces annoy you, they can be disabled in Word’s Preferences under “View.”
When placing your image, take note of the black cursor responding to your mouse: the image will appear as close to that cursor as your formatting options and document layout allows.
Once you drop the image into the document, you’ll see an anchor appear near it. Depending on exactly where you dragged your image in your document, the anchor location and image placement will be slightly different.
This anchor indicates the paragraph that the image is associated with. If the image is set to move with the text, it will move whenever its anchored paragraph is moved. Use this as a guide to help you understand how your formatting changes will affect your image placement.
Formatting Images Correctly
Most of the time, when we drop an image into a document, it doesn’t go where we hoped it would. That’s where the formatting pane comes into play.
1. Select the image in your document by single-clicking it. You’ll see a black border and resize handles appear around the image when it is selected.
2. Navigate to the Layout tab of the ribbon, and click on the “Position” drop-down.
3. Choose “More Layout Options …” at the bottom of the menu.
This will expose the Advanced Formatting window, which is the tool we will use for fixing image placement problems.
We can see here that the selected image is set to “Absolute position to the right of column.” This means that the top left corner of the image is placed the specified images’ width away from the column the image is anchored to. In this case, the column is the same as the margin, representing the edge of the text. Even in a document without multiple columns, this setting works: technically, typical Word documents are “one column” layouts.
By adjusting these measurements, we can control the image’s placement. In this case, I want to align a renegade image with the body of my text, as the arrow indicates.
When I open the Advanced Layout pane, I see a negative horizontal measurement.
Change that to a 0, and the image will snap into place, exactly on the edge of the column of text.
There are also additional options at the bottom of the Advanced Formatting pane.
If you’re having trouble with images overlapping each other and blocking things, untick “Allow overlap.” Be warned, though, this may cause a massive reshuffle of your document as Word clears any overlaps already in the document. When placing multiple images near each other, it’s best to turn this setting off preemptively. For isolated images, it doesn’t do any harm.
“Move object with text” allows the anchor to move with the paragraph it’s attached to. This setting depends on your needs: if you want the image to stay stuck to the text, leave it checked. But if you want the image to stay where it is even if you do some editing, uncheck the box.
You’ll often want to use the “Lock anchor” option in conjunction with the above setting. Lock Anchor holds the anchor point in its current position. This prevents the image from moving with text or, indeed, at all. The anchor is placed relative to the page it’s on, rather than the text, and stays there until moved.
The text wrapping tab deals with the interaction between the text and the image rather than the image’s positioning. If you want to see what those options do, it’s best to experiment in a Word document.
The best set of options depends on your use case. For most images, the best settings are square text wrapping and move with text. This way the picture “sticks” to the relevant text and looks good in the layout. Absolute positioning is also an option for things like cover images, which should always stay exactly where you want them to be.