Google Docs is the cloud-based word processing system offered by Google. Despite its many virtues, Docs does have a downside: it has a relatively limited feature set. Unlike Microsoft Word, which has a behemoth feature list, Google Docs focuses on doing a few basic things and doing them well. For 99% of users 99% of the time, this is more than sufficient. However, sometimes there are features that you just need Docs to have, and in those moments, Google Docs can let you down.
One feature many users wish Docs would provide is the ability to add background images to your documents; unfortunately, Docs does not support this feature directly. However, there are a few workarounds that will let you add a background image to your Docs document, and in this article, I will show you how it’s done.
Workarounds for Adding an Image
There are at least two ways of adding a background image to your Google Docs file; I’m going to show you the best three ways that I know of. If you have other suggestions or approaches, then by all means, share them with us in the comments section at the end of this article!
The first method involves using Microsoft Word to add the background image, then adjusting the image transparency when you import the file into Docs. The second method bypasses Docs entirely and uses Google Slides to add the image. It’s a simpler approach and is well-suited for things like personalized wedding invitations or greeting cards, where you only need a limited amount of text. The third way uses nothing but Google Docs; it has limited power, but for a simple text-over-image display, it’s fine.
The Word method requires that you have a copy of Microsoft Word or a subscription to Office Online. It won’t work without access to one or the other of those software packages, sorry.
The first step is to create your Google Docs document with the text (but without the background images) and other elements that you want for your final document.
Here’s our extremely exciting sample document:
The next step is to create a new Word document using either Office Online or your local copy of Word. Then, copy the contents of your Docs document into the Word document.
Alternatively, you can just save your Docs document as a .docx file if you wish; this might be simpler if the Docs document contains complex multimedia, formatting, or graphics. Saving a document as a .docx is easy; in Google Docs, just select File -> Download as -> Microsoft Word (.docx).
Now open the .docx file in Word and select Insert -> Picture from the main ribbon.
Choose your picture from the file dialog and select Insert. Your picture will now appear in the Word document.
Right-click on the picture and select Wrap Text -> In Front of Text. We choose this option because we are going to re-import this file into Google Docs, and Docs doesn’t support the “Behind Text” option. Save the Word file and close Word.
Now go back into Google Docs, and select File -> Open. Select the Upload option and choose the Word file that you just saved.
Right-click on the image and select Image Options. The Image Options pane will open, and you can use the Transparency slider to make your image more or less transparent, revealing the text beneath. Adjust the transparency to suit your needs, and save your document. Voila! You now (sort of) have a background image in your Docs document.
Another option for creating a simple document with a background image using just Google tools is to use Google Slides. This option works well in situations where you don’t need a lot of text. Create a new blank presentation in Google Slides.
From your blank slide document, click on File and then select Page Setup. Then click on Custom. Set the height to 11” and the width to 8.5”. This sets your presentation to look like a page in a Google Docs document.
Click on the Slide tab and choose the Change Background option.
The Background dialog box will appear. From there, you should click on the Choose Image button. Browse your computer for the image you want to add and click on Open. Once the image is uploaded, click on Done.
If you need more images, repeat the previous steps. (Note that if you want the same background on multiple slides, you will have to upload it to each of them.)
After adding your image(s), you can add text boxes and edit the text as you want to create the content of your “document”.
Once you’re done editing text, you can download your newly created presentation as a PDF and use it with PowerPoint.
Just Do It In Docs!
Many thanks to TechJunkie reader Morgan, who gave us the initial idea for getting this done. It’s quite simple.
All you need to do in your Docs file is select Insert -> Drawing -> +New.
From there, click the Add Image button and select the image file you want to use as a background.
Then, select the Add Text Box button and place the text box where you want your foreground text to appear. Then type in the foreground text, setting its font, color, and size as you prefer. Presto, instant background image!
You may need to fiddle with this a bit to get the text to look like the rest of the text in your document. This technique is better for very simple text overlays rather than a transparent background image on a normal text document, but it does work.