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How to put a header anywhere on a page

As described in “Using Headers and Footers,” you use the header or footer of a Word document whenever you want to insert text or graphics that will repeat on every page. But you don’t have to be limited by the dotted line that indicates the area reserved for the header or the footer. You can put repeating content anywhere on the page!

So what do you need to do to make a header outside the header area? You need to understand three simple fundamental ideas. Since my fellow Word MVP Bill Coan has already used the term “Big Idea,” I’ll call these “Major Concepts”:

Major Concept #1

There are basically two ways for text and graphics to behave.

By default, text in Word behaves one way and graphics another way, but you can make text behave like a graphic and vice versa.

“Text” behavior

When you start typing in a document, Word treats everything you enter as text; it can’t go outside the margins. If you insert or paste a picture (in recent versions of Word), it also behaves like text. You can drag it, but only within the text area (and only where there is already text), and dragging it doesn’t change its essential “text” behavior.

“Graphics” behavior

If you insert a text box or AutoShape from the Drawing toolbar, however, you can drag it anywhere on the page, even outside the margins.


The reason for the difference in behavior is that the text is in the “text layer” of the document, and the text box or AutoShape is in the “drawing layer.”

Note: For further discussion of the drawing layer, see “The draw layer: a metaphysical space (and how to bring it back down to earth).”

When an object is in the drawing layer, it can relate to text in a variety of ways. These ways are referred to as “wrapping styles.” In recent versions of Word, when you insert or paste a graphic into a document, its wrapping style is “In Line With Text,” which means that it behaves like text—basically like a big font character. If you want it to behave like a graphic, you have to change the wrapping to some other style. Figure 1 shows the choices available.

Figure 1. The Picture toolbar showing the Text Wrapping menu
(in recent versions of Word, this menu is found on the contextual Picture Tools | Format or Picture Format tab of the Ribbon)

If you want text to behave like a graphic, you must put it in a text box, a frame, or a wrapped table. Then you can put it anywhere on the page and make text wrap around it or (sometimes) in front of it.

Major Concept #2

“Floating” objects must be anchored to text.

Whenever you change the wrapping style of an object to something other In Line With Text, it is referred to as “wrapped” or (in earlier versions of Word) “floating.” Any “wrapped” or “floating” object must be anchored to a text paragraph. The graphic will always appear on the same page as the paragraph it is anchored to. If you have enabled the display of object anchors, then whenever you click on a wrapped/floating object, you will see the anchor symbol next to the paragraph it’s anchored to.

Figure 2. Header showing the anchor of the selected “Board of Directors” frame

To display object anchors:

  • Word 2003 and earlier: On the View tab of Tools | Options, check the box for “Object anchors.”

  • Word 2007: On the Display tab of Office Button | Word Options, check the box for “Object anchors.”

  • Word 2010 and above: On the Display tab of File | Options, check the box for “Object anchors.”

In order to repeat on every page, a graphic must be anchored to the header (or footer) paragraph.

Major Concept #3

A Word document is a multi-story building.

A Word document has not only “layers” but also “stories.” Text in the main document body is in a different “story” from the header and footer, footnotes and endnotes, comments, and text in text boxes. Word stores all this text separately.

If you are viewing your document in Print Layout view, you will notice that, when you are working in the body of your document, the header and footer are dimmed. That is Word’s way of showing that the header/footer “story” is not active.

This means that when you are working in the document body, you cannot anchor an object to the header; even if you drag a graphic to the header area (top of the page), it will still be anchored to a paragraph in the document body; it will not become part of the header and will not repeat on every page.

In order to anchor a graphic to the header paragraph, you must be in the header.

Step by Step: Anchoring an object to the header

Note: In the steps that follow, I will refer only to the header, but note that wrapped objects will also repeat on every page if they are anchored to the footer.

  1. In order to anchor an object to the header, you must open the header pane. In Word 2007 and above, you can do this by double-clicking in the header area in Print Layout view. In Word 2003 and earlier, if there is already text in the header, you can double-click on the text to open the header. If the header is still empty, open the header pane with View | Header and Footer.

Important Caveat: Make sure you’re in the right header: As explained in “Using Headers and Footers,” you can have up to three different headers in any section: First Page, Even Page, and Odd Page. Also, if your document contains more than one section, the header in one section can be unlinked from the header in the previous and following sections.

  1. Insert your object and set the appropriate wrapping.

  •  If your object is a “picture” (clip art, a photo, or, in some Word versions, a WordArt object) it will be "In Line With Text," and you will need to change the wrapping style. Clicking on the object will display the Picture toolbar (Word 2003 and earlier) or the contextual Picture Tools | Format or Picture Format tab (Word 2007 and above). Click on the Text Wrapping or Wrap Text button to display the menu . If the object is to be a “watermark,” you will probably want to choose “Behind Text” as the wrapping style (as shown in Figure 1). If the object needs to push text aside to create an artificial margin (as in Figure 2), you will probably choose “Square.”

  •  If your object is a text box or other drawing object (such as an AutoShape), it will probably already be in the drawing layer, but you may need to change the wrapping style. Choose “Behind Text” or “Square” as appropriate.

  •  You can insert a table in the header and (in Word 2000 and above) set its wrapping to “Around,” or you can insert a table in a text box or frame with appropriate wrapping. Like tables, frames have only two wrapping options, “Around” and “None,” so they can’t be placed behind text.

Important Caveat: Although setting the wrapping of a table to Around will allow it to be moved out of the header, Word doesn’t seem to offer much flexibility in placement: in order to move the top of the table away from the header area, its position must be set Relative to Page (the default is 0" Relative to Paragraph), which can be done only through the Table Properties | Table | Positioning... dialog; and the bottom of the table can’t extend beyond the vertical center of the page. For this reason, if you need to anchor a table to the header, you will be best advised to put it in a text box or frame. My experiments suggest that a frame is more satisfactory, provided the table doesn’t have to be Behind Text.

Now that your object is no longer inline, you will see an anchor symbol beside the paragraph to which your object is anchored (see Figure 2). Even if there is no text in the header, there will be an empty paragraph, and your object will be anchored to that.

  1. You can now use your mouse to drag your object to the desired position on the page. To fine-tune its position, you can use the appropriate Format dialog (Format Text Box, Format Picture, Format AutoShape, etc.): on the Layout tab, click Advanced… and experiment with the settings to get the desired effect. Note that the Advanced Layout dialog has two tabs: Text Wrapping and Picture Position. The Text Wrapping tab adds only a few more settings to those on the Layout tab, but the Picture Position tab has a multitude of settings for you to experiment with.

You can get a quick look at how this works by examining a watermark inserted by Word. To insert a watermark:

  • Word 2002 or 2003: On the Format menu, click Background, then Printed Watermark.

  • Word 2007 and 2010: On the Page Layout tab, in the Page Background group, click Watermark.

  • Word 2013 and above: On the Design tab, in the Page Background group, click Watermark.

Insert a text watermark in an empty document and close the dialog. Then open the header pane. When you click on the watermark you just inserted, you’ll see the anchor in the header pane. The WordArt toolbar or WordArt Tools | Format tab will appear, and you can click on the Text Wrapping or Wrap Text button to see that the object is formatted as “Behind Text.” If you click on Position | More Layout Options..., you’ll be able to look at the Layout | Position dialog and see how Word has set the position of the object (In Word 2003 and earlier, click the Format WordArt button on the WordArt toolbar, then select the Position tab and click Advanced... to get the Layout dialog.)

That’s all there is to it! You can do pretty much anything you want with a header if you just remember that anything outside the header area must be “wrapped” (not In Line With Text) and must be anchored to the header paragraph, which means that you must be in the header pane when you insert it.

Note for users of Word 2007 and above: None of the Major Concepts outlined above has changed in Ribbon versions of Word. The way you deal with headers and footers has changed dramatically, however (see Using Headers and Footers), and the behavior of graphic objects has become so complex and mysterious (to me, at least) that it is outside the scope of this article. Note, however, that Word 2007 and above do not offer a "Washout" selection for coloring a watermark picture inserted manually; my research has determined that the settings that replicate this are 85% Brightness and 15% Contrast.

This article copyright © 2006, 2008, 2014, 2018, 2023 by Suzanne S. Barnhill.