Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016. 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

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated March 19, 2016)


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, and 2016. 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. ...


Exporting Black and White Charts

Excel's charts are normally created in color, but you can print them in black and white. You may be looking for a way to ...

Discover More

Identifying Merged Cells

Merging cells is a common task when creating worksheets. Merged cells can play havoc with the normal functioning of some ...

Discover More

Combining First and Second Numbered Levels on One Paragraph

Want to customize your paragraph numbering in Word? There are a few tricks that can be used to automatically display the ...

Discover More

Solve Real Business Problems Master business modeling and analysis techniques with Excel and transform data into bottom-line results. This hands-on, scenario-focused guide shows you how to use the latest Excel tools to integrate data from multiple tables. Check out Microsoft Excel 2013 Data Analysis and Business Modeling today!

More ExcelTips (ribbon)

Editing Graphic Objects

Want to change the way that a graphics object appears in your worksheet? You need to edit it, then, using the techniques ...

Discover More

Changing How Arrows Look

If you use Excel's graphic capabilities to insert a line or an arrow into a worksheet, you can change how that arrow ...

Discover More

Creating an Organization Chart

Graphics are often added to worksheets to make it easier to understand the data contained in the worksheet. Sometimes, ...

Discover More

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

View most recent newsletter.


If you would like to add an image to your comment (not an avatar, but an image to help in making the point of your comment), include the characters [{fig}] in your comment text. You’ll be prompted to upload your image when you submit the comment. Maximum image size is 6Mpixels. Images larger than 600px wide or 1000px tall will be reduced. Up to three images may be included in a comment. All images are subject to review. Commenting privileges may be curtailed if inappropriate images are posted.

What is 1 + 5?

2016-03-21 11:00:40


Why not simply use a data validation input message (with any value)?

This Site

Got a version of Excel that uses the ribbon interface (Excel 2007 or later)? This site is for you! If you use an earlier version of Excel, visit our ExcelTips site focusing on the menu interface.

Newest Tips

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

(Your e-mail address is not shared with anyone, ever.)

View the most recent newsletter.