Give your Spreadsheets the Festive Makeover with a custom Background in Excel

Festive Excel SpreadsheetsHave you ever been secretly bored with the standard Excel grid? With its hundreds and thousands of empty cells staring right back at you? Did you know there is a way to change your Excel background and brighten up your day! I’ll show you two ways that you can use right now to change the background in Excel to any image of your choice. And since I’m writing this article one week before Christmas, I’m going to share a festive-looking spreadsheet that you can download. In this post I’ll also give you some extra tips on formatting images in Excel including a well-hidden treasure that most Excel users never learn about. Read on to find out what this hidden feature is and how you can benefit from it.

How to add a custom Background Image in Excel

I’m going to explain two ways to change your background in Excel. These two ways give two different outcomes, so you should read about both and decide which one you need.

Method 1 – Add a sheet background image

Page Layout > Background

How to add a sheet background image in Excel 2010 ... Page Layout > Background

You can use a picture as a sheet background that shows up on the screen but does not print out. Depending on the image size and type, the background picture is either stretched across your sheet or tiled.

Instructions – Excel 2003

  1. Click the sheet that you want to display with a background. Make sure you only select one worksheet.
  2. Find the Format menu, point to Sheet, and then click Background.
  3. Browse through your pictures and select the one you want to add, and then click Insert.
  4. The selected picture is repeated to fill the sheet.

Instructions – Excel 2007 / Excel 2010

  1. Click the sheet that you want to display with a background. Make sure you only select one worksheet.
  2. On the Page Layout tab, find the Page Setup group, click Background.
  3. Browse through your pictures and select the one you want to add, and then click Insert.
  4. The selected picture is repeated to fill the sheet.
How to add & remove background

How to add and remove a Sheet Background Image in Excel 2010

Remove Sheet Background

Follow the same instructions but at step 2 you select “Delete Background”.

Delete Background

Page Layout > Delete Background

Extra Tips – Adding a Sheet Background Image

  • Improve readability by choosing your picture carefully – It’s a good idea to use an image that provides a lot of contrast with your main content to make it easy to read. If your font color is black and you are using a lot of dark colors on your sheets, it makes sense to choose a very light colored background image or make it semi-transparent with an image editor. If your foreground is mostly white or bright colors then you can use a dark image.
  • Improve readability by formatting – Another way to improve readability is to hide cell gridlines and apply solid color shading to cells that contain data.
  • Watch out for large file sizes – Whenever you add images to Excel you must remember that these can really increase the file size of your workbook if you choose a large image.
  • Recommended file types – I’ve read that Enhanced Metafile pictures usually provide the best resolution for the smallest file size for graphics in Office programs, but if metafile pictures are used as backgrounds in Excel they will increase the workbook size more than larger picture types. It’s been recommended that for best results you should use Web-compatible image types like GIF, TIF, PNG, or JPG.
  • Background image does not print out – As noted earlier, method 1 of adding a custom background image does not give you a printable background. If you want to see your background when you print out your page, use method 2.

Method 2 – Insert a background image

Insert Picture

How to Insert a Picture in Excel 2010... Insert > Picture

You can insert a background image and then add another image on top. Both images will show up on screen and should also print out, unlike with method 1 where the background image does not print out.

Instructions – Excel 2007 / Excel 2010

  1. Click the sheet that you want to display with a background. Make sure you only select one worksheet.
  2. On the Insert tab, find the Illustrations group, click Picture.
  3. Browse through your pictures and select the one you want to add, and then click Insert.
  4. The selected picture is inserted once on your sheet at the selected cell.
  5. Resize the picture and reposition it as you like.

Extra Tips

  • Find images online – There is a nice free online source of stock photos at Stock.Xchng where I regularly find photos or illustrations for use on the Launch Excel website. If you plan to distribute your designs please check the license terms as some photos can only be used free after seeking permission from their creator.
  • Change cell background color – You can also color the background of cells by selecting them, going to the Home tab, finding the Font group, clicking on the cell fill color.
Change Cell Fill Color

How to change Cell Fill Color in Excel 2010

Quick demo – An Easy way to create Christmas Cards in Excel

In my downloadable spreadsheet I used method 2 to create two simple Christmas cards in Excel. Essentially what I did was overlay two images. The background images were picked from Stock.Xchng and the foreground images were created in Excel as text. I used the well-hidden Excel camera tool to capture an image of the text as you can see in the animated GIF below.

Making Xmas Card in Excel

How to create a Christmas card using Excel's camera tool

Instead of plain text you could use the Excel camera tool to capture any part of your worksheet, such as a graph or table. This is a cool technique that you can use to create combination images, for example having a background for your charts. It offers a nice way to create dashboards in Excel.

Hidden Treasure: How to access the camera tool in Excel 2010

The camera tool is a little known tool that is not well documented by Microsoft, but can be useful as you can see from the Christmas card demo above. Here’s a quick summary of what it does from The SpreadSheetPage:


Excel Camera Tool

Camera: Takes a linked picture of the current selection and pastes it in a new location. The picture is linked by a formula that refers to the copied cells, so it is updated when the copied cells change. click the camera button to take the picture, and then click where you want to paste the upper-left corner of the selection.
Bob Umlas

One way to make the camera tool accessible is by adding its icon to your quick access toolbar (this applies to Excel 2007 & 2010).

  1. Go to the Quick Access Toolbar
  2. Click on the drop down arrow
  3. Click on More Commands…
  4. In the selection box Choose commands from: select Commands Not in the Ribbon
  5. Find Camera and add it to the right hand side
  6. You can reposition it up and down by clicking on the up / down arrows

This animated GIF will make it clearer how to add the camera tool to your quick access toolbar in Excel 2010.

Add Camera to QAT

How to add the Camera Tool to your Quick Access Toolbar

Download the sample workbook (Excel 2007 & 2010)

My sample workbook has 4 sheets in it, and these show how to use background images in Excel 2007 & 2010 (there are no macros):

  • Background sheet – light blue winter image tiled in background
  • Nativity sheet – nativity scene with two bible verses about the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas, 2000 years ago
  • Decorative sheet – festive decorations and Christmas greeting
  • Words sheet – sheet with words used in “Nativity” and “Decorative” sheets, I took snapshots of these words with Camera Tool so I could reposition and resize the text freely

Share this with your friends/colleagues. Modify it to make it your own. Have fun with this!

Image Credits:
Christmas Landscape Background courtesy of “Silvershoe“.
Nativity Scene, Mary & Joseph courtesy of Susan H. (mommyof9).
Stock camera courtesy of ilker

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Victor Chan
Hi I'm Victor. I started Launch Excel to help you use Excel and VBA faster. Thousands of people have learned new skills and increased their effectiveness at work with our help. You can do it too! Also I've personally used Excel lots since 2002. I use it mainly in accounting and finance but I also have a Masters degree in Engineering from Cambridge University. I hope you enjoy the site and tutorials!
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