Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Excel in Microsoft 365, and 2021. If you are using an earlier version (Excel 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Excel, click here: Inserting a Watermark Behind Merged Cells.

Inserting a Watermark Behind Merged Cells

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated February 18, 2023)
This tip applies to Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Excel in Microsoft 365, and 2021


Tony asked if it was possible to insert a "watermark" type of permanent comment into a group of merged cells. The idea is for the comment to stay behind any entered text.

The short answer is that there is no way of doing this. Excel allows you to use a graphic as a background, but only for the worksheet as a whole, not for a range of cells. Even then, the background won't print—which is why Excel calls it a "background" and not a "watermark." (True watermarks are on physical paper, not on-screen.)

One possible solution—if you want your "comment" to be text instead of a graphic—is to use a text box. Create a text box that is the same size as your merged cells, and position it over those cells. Then, add your comment to the text box, as desired. Format the text box so the font is a light gray, the text box has no border, and the background is transparent.

The background being transparent is important, since you cannot position the text box "behind" the worksheet. The text box is on the drawing layer, which is always over the worksheet. You can arrange objects on the drawing layer, but you cannot move the drawing layer itself.

Now, if people use the TAB key to move into the merged cells, they can type things and it will appear in the cells. You may have to play with colors and appearance, because the gray text in the text box doesn't go away when you enter text in the underlying cells.

You should know that if someone uses the mouse to click on the merged cells, they will, instead, select the text box. You can get around this by selecting the merged cells, making sure they aren't protected, and then protecting the worksheet as a whole. By default, text boxes are protected, so they can't be selected in a protected worksheet. Now, when someone clicks on the merged cell, it is the cell that is selected, not the text box—it cannot be selected in a protected worksheet.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (11986) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Excel in Microsoft 365, and 2021. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Excel here: Inserting a Watermark Behind Merged Cells.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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