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Pictures Move on their Own

Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Word 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Word, click here: Pictures Move on their Own.

Have you ever placed pictures in your document, expecting them to stay in a set location, and then you find that they moved around? This is not uncommon in Word, and typically can be traced to a misunderstanding about how Word handles pictures.

When you place a picture in a Word document, you can place it either inline or floating. The default placement method depends on the version of Word you are using. Inline pictures are great, and will stay exactly where you put them, because they are treated like any other character in a paragraph.

Inline pictures are wonderful for some purposes, particularly for larger pictures. Inline pictures, since they are treated just like text, follow the alignment of the paragraph in which they are placed. Thus, if you center the paragraph and the picture is the only thing in the paragraph, then the picture is centered. Likewise, you can left- or right-align the picture by simply using the paragraph alignment tools on the Formatting toolbar. The drawback to inline pictures, of course, is that text doesn't wrap around them, and therefore you may not get the exact layout you want.

Floating pictures are a different story. Floating pictures can do just that—float. Also, the picture can be formatted so that text floats around the picture. To control the floating behavior of the pictures, Word provides an anchor that indicates a point in the document with which the picture is associated. You can see these anchors by choosing Tools | Options | View and making sure the Object Anchors check box is selected. When you subsequently click on a floating picture, you will see an actual anchor character at the point in your document where the selected picture is anchored.

To modify how the picture's anchor behaves, you simply need to right-click on the picture and choose Format Picture from the Context menu. Word displays the Format Picture dialog box. Click the Advanced button on the Layout tab. (See Figure 1.) The resulting dialog box has a tab labeled Picture Position where you can specify the placement of the floating picture. (In other words, you can specify how the anchor should behave.)

Figure 1. The Picture Position tab of the Advanced Layout dialog box.

There are two important check boxes on the Picture Position tab; both are at the bottom of the dialog box. The Move Object with Text check box controls whether the object moves as the text to which it is anchored moves. Thus, if a picture is anchored to a paragraph and you insert text before the paragraph, the picture is moved down as the paragraph—and its associated anchor—moves down the page. If the check box is cleared, then the anchor moves, but the picture stays put where you placed it. This check box is selected, by default, so pictures normally move with their underlying text. If you don't want them to move, clear this check box.

The other important check box is Lock Anchor. This check box controls whether the anchor can move or not. Normally, if you click on a picture and drag it to a new location, the anchor for that picture is changed to the paragraph nearest the new location for the picture. If you lock the anchor, the anchor stays put, even though you moved the picture.

Many picture positioning problems can be solved by understanding the controls on the Picture Position tab. You should play with them to find out which combination of settings is best for your use of pictures.

That being said, some people find that they can get better control of where pictures are placed simply by placing the pictures inside other objects. For instance, you may want to create a single-celled table and place your picture in the table cell. Likewise, you may want to create a text box and place the picture in the text box. Either approach is appropriate if you are more comfortable working with tables and text boxes than you are in working directly with pictures. In addition, using pictures in this way gives you other options that you would normally have. For instance, you can apply borders to the table cell or to the text box, thereby creating a border around your picture.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1743) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Word (Word 2007 and later) here: Pictures Move on their Own.

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Comments for this tip:

Susan    19 Dec 2016, 00:10
I am using Word 2010 and am trying to keep my background photo from moving. I tried to follow your instructions but when I right click the photo and select Format Picture, I do not see an Advanced Button.
Jon    04 Dec 2016, 15:01
How do I doing on my iPad

Dave    25 Jul 2014, 00:37
Lotus WordPro was an excellent example of a wordprocessor that could allow the user to almost effortlessly position and maintain the location of figures on a page. It is good that Open Office has some of this capability. Despite over a decade of numerous complaints from users, I am surprised that MS has not been able to (or reluctant to) incorporate this functionality into Word. Although MS Word 2013 has improved functionality in this regard, a lot of improvements still remain to be made.
Joe    18 Jun 2014, 16:21
The solution given on the website as per Ana's comment is not correct. I have 3 images in line, all anchored to "page", and all on absolute position. No other options selected than "lock anchor". I want the middle image to be "centered". As soon as I change that in "format picture" it goes to the center of the page, but jumps down, while the "absolute" position remains exactly the same. This is a serious glitch in Word 2010. If it jumps OK, but then the absolute position should change.
Andrew Spencer    08 Jan 2014, 11:39
I suspect that all solutions to this problem will be less than fully adequate. This is because the positioning of floating figures/tables has to be done by a proper typesetting engine (such as TeX) and Word is still just a word processor. It therefore simply doesn't have the computing power to make the necessary adjustments, nor does it have proper typesetting conventions written into its code.

I advise my students using Word to position figures by hand using whatever workarounds are relatively robust, but bearing in mind problems such as those identified by Chris a year ago. Incidentally, you will sometimes find that the LaTeX typesetting engine gives lots of extra unwanted white space with floating figures, so this may just be a consequence of the way the relevant calculations are made. But in LaTeX it's relatively easy to correct this by removing the extra space manually in the final draft (all typesetting needs final tweaking by hand anyway).
Ana    07 Jan 2014, 07:32
This doesn't work. I found the correct instructions here:
John Doe    22 Sep 2013, 22:45
Best recommendation it seems is to not use Word if you have to lay out pictures. Open Office does this better.
sam112mughal    12 Jul 2013, 10:35
Great Guide!! was looking for hours for this.
thanks man!!
Julie    02 May 2013, 23:37
I seem to need to go into each newly inserted image, and recheck the position boxes via format picture - advanced - lock anchor - so the image stays where I put it, otherwise it will default to the former horrible floating situation! - I can't find how to make my checked boxes the new default for the whole document so I don't have to go in and change it for each newply inserted image.Help!
Steve C    17 Feb 2013, 11:31
Thanks for the tips Allen. Perhaps you can help with this problem: I insert images into a document. I use a floating image and for our standard all must be aligned with the right margin. That's easy - note the image width and subtract that from the page width and set the horizontal alignment to that amount to the right of margin. Great. Move object with text is ticked as we want the image to move up and down the page if content is changed before/after. However, for some reason, Word changes the alignment by a tiny amount - always to the right, so then I have to go back through and re-align everything. Any idea how to prevent this?
Chris    06 Jan 2013, 10:09
Positioning a figure in Word 2007 is kind of a pain. Professional layout standards recommend having figures placed at the buttom or top of a page with the text floating around it. As a rule of thumb, a picture should move only if the reference to it moves to another page. As long as this does not happen the figure should be fixed to its position.
There are many advices around on how to get this. But, unfortunately, just forget it. There is always something that does NOT WORK properly. If the figure is fixed - how you can do this - be prepared to see your text floating in an unexpcted way. All of a sudden the text on the previous page breaks after half of the page and there is no way to get it right. Work-arounds like placing a figure in a text box result in problems with the numbering or the figure list. It is what I say: A pain in the ... You wonder how Microsoft could get through with such an awkward implementation. Shame on them.
Jerry    30 Oct 2012, 16:12
Thanks very much for the lucid explanation, especially about positioning, especially about the checkbox options.

Nonetheless, I still couldn't position text boxes where I wanted them, and found Open Office's text box formatting controls to be MUCH more effective and intuitive. ;-)
Ms word     27 Oct 2012, 02:42
I'm still fustraited I do like this web site but it takes to long ahhhhhhh
charle     27 Oct 2012, 02:39
How wonder full is this it is brillant nobody will ever leave this web site
MS Word    15 Oct 2012, 01:46
I'm so frustrated... I thought it would take a few minutes just to resize and then place it back, but no, everything is all over the place. I am currently using one of the most recent versions (which i thought that Microsoft could have fixed this problem by now).
Rosine Santos    03 Oct 2012, 03:51
Good Day, im using microsoft office 2007, Is there any way to lock images on MS word so that it don't move when you hit return?I want to lock a picture so that it will not move with text or by even clicking on it. I want to be able to type around it as need be, but not take a chance on changing the pic.
Jan    25 Sep 2012, 16:00
I inserted a screenshot into a document as a picture, I think it was set to square, but when I click on the screen shot and change it to in-line, it moves up the page so that it's half off the page and except for a small portion of a continue button that was on the screen shot, the rest of the shot is now just a white box. I find this to be the most frustraing part of word - pictures moving around and disappearing for no apparant reason.
Al    23 Jan 2012, 10:59
This drives me mad, so thanks for trying to explain. However what brought me here was trying to put a picture in a table (my technique for years & years) which the current document _would_not_ let me do. Changing the layout to 'Inline' enabled that, so frustration over!
Cheers, al.
Allan Jones    28 Dec 2011, 04:37
The second paragraph says that inline pictures 'will stay exactly where you put them'.

That seems to me ambiguous. In somerespects they do, and in other respectsthey don't. I think the important point is that they behave in most ways like a paragraph of text and retain their position in the sequenceof paragraphs if the text is repaginated (for example as a result of changing the font size, line spacing or other spacing attributes). As a result they are liable to move relative too thepage during repagination, but remain fixed relative to the surrounding text.

In my experience, the businessof floating figures causes no end of frustration and confusion with non-advanced Word users, and part of the issue is confusion over what is meant by saying a picture is fixed or not.

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