Fighting images in Microsoft Word

By September 3, 2018 Tech Tip
A floating image between two paragraphs that is anchored to a blank paragraph

Remember this? You’re working on a Word document – maybe it’s a report for your sales meeting, a set of instructions for a client, or a promotional flyer – and you are trying to place an image. You bump it down a few keystrokes at a time to situate it perfectly at the bottom of the page… when suddenly it goes flying off, jumping to the top of the page or disappearing completely!

What happened?!

Anchored Images in Microsoft Word

Images in Microsoft Word are finicky. They are always placed in relation to a paragraph or an “anchoring object”. The anchoring object is also usually a paragraph. In other programs, such as Adobe InDesign or even Microsoft Publisher, images are not anchored to surrounding text. Microsoft Word is the odd duck when it comes to placing and anchoring images.

By default, images in Microsoft Word are inline objects: they follow the flow of the rest of the document’s content. There is no way to keep an inline image in a single place – the image will move with the rest of the content.

An example of an inline image in Word.

Figure 1. An example of an inline image in Word.

In order to more exactly position an image in Word, you must convert it to a floating image. You do this by using Word’s Picture Tools options on the Ribbon to wrap text around the image or align it.

Working with floating images

Most images you work with in Word will probably be floating images. So, let’s concentrate on those. Floating images have “object anchors”. If an image’s object anchor is removed or hidden, the image will also be removed or hidden. Most anchors are in paragraphs.

In later versions of Microsoft Word, if you convert an inline image to a floating image by wrapping text around it, the anchor symbol will automatically appear when you click on the image to select it (see Figure 2).

An example of a floating image in Word with the anchor icon showing

Figure 2. An example of a floating image, with square text wrapping and right alignment. Though the image is on the right side, you can see the anchor icon is on the left where the image was originally inserted.

Not seeing image anchor icons? You can display object anchors to get a better idea of where a straying image is “attached” to your content. To display object anchors, go to File > Options. In the Options window, select Display on the left. On the right side, under Always show these formatting marks on the screen, select Object anchors.

How to show object anchor formatting marks in Microsoft Word

Figure 3. How to show object anchor formatting marks in Microsoft Word

A floating image between two paragraphs that is anchored to a blank paragraph

Figure 4. This floating image, centered in the middle of the page, appears to be “between” two paragraphs. However, it is still anchored to an object in a “blank” paragraph.

So why do images move around? Because they are anchored to paragraphs. If text or additional pictures are inserted into your document above or before a paragraph with another image, that entire paragraph will move…and the image along with it.

What can you do?

Sometimes it feels like you really are fighting images in Word. Here are three tips for a better experience:

Insert all your pictures last and in the order they appear in the document. By starting from top to bottom, changes farther up in the document will be less likely to affect your images.

Try to keep an image and its object anchor as close as possible to each other. If you insert an image and move it far away from its original anchor (where it was first inserted), you will encounter more problems. Don’t insert an image at the very top of a page, and then try to push it to the bottom of the page. Instead, select an image, cut it (using Ctrl + C on your keyboard), and then paste it back into the document (Ctrl + V) closer to where you want it to be.

Play with the Picture Tools options. Word provides some powerful built-in positioning and wrapping options that can make your life easier. And in a pinch, knowing how to right click on a picture and use the Size and Position manual options can help you make precise placements.

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