Workarounds to Get Pretty, Functional Letterhead Using Word


When helping out a client this week create lovely documents using letterhead for her class, as I’ve experienced before, Word is incredibly clunky when trying to use it for anything close to real layout or design. But also as understood, there are times when people really want to.


Why? Because while InDesign, which I normally use, is a thousand times better for layout, non-designers need to create and send documents regularly, which is part of why Word even exists. I don’t expect clients to learn InDesign. Also, the only thing I actually like about Word is that it has super powerful tools for editing long documents that layout programs do not. Ideally, you use Word to write and edit and layout software like InDesign to produce the final layout. But in real life situations, there simply is not always time or budget to do this. Hence, workarounds.

There is no perfect way to get Word to create nice layouts. That’s the bottom line, which is why ultimately, it works better to print “real” letterhead and then print onto that paper.

Word does not save .pdfs properly, meaning it simply doesn’t display what you’ve created in the .pdf. I’m guessing this is lovely Microsoft not wanting to play nice with Adobe.

However, here are the options, the problems and the best workaround based on experience.

1. BACKGROUND — You can use a “background” full page image to show your letterhead design. It displays fine within Word but doesn’t save when you make it a .pdf. It’s literally blank. So you really can’t use this effectively to print (you could on your own laser printer) or send to people, only within Word itself.

2. WATERMARK — You can use a “watermark.” Same issue — it doesn’t save properly as a .pdf. Looked these all up online and tested a lot.

3. INSERT IMAGE — You can create a full size image and insert it as a picture and then “send to back,” and it DOES show up properly when you save a .pdf. Disadvantages: you have to do this on every page of a document and you have to adjust several settings such as alignment and make sure you’re not bumping the image out of alignment as you work because there’s no way I can find to permanently “lock” it so you can just type away.

4. HEADER / FOOTER — You can create two separate images and insert them as a “header” and “footer.” This requires more work adjusting the sizing and you still have the margin issues mentioned below.


Unlike design software, Word sticks margins into your layout that you can’t work around and that keep you from working with a background image that goes past the text area’s margins. This is a basic, fundamental problem with using Word to do anything except type text. Word behaves inconsistenly too and no matter how precisely you insert the image with all the same settings page to page, it does not align it exactly the same way on each page; it’s just not layout software.


You also cannot print “bleeds” in Word, which is where artwork goes past the page. It’s related to margin issues.


The best workaround to get a nice .pdf is #3 — it works; you just have to copy the image to every page and bummer, you have to re-format it for every page — a drag and not realistic for a very long document.


I’ve gone through this before when creating letterhead for clients who want to use Word regularly. Word simply is not a layout program. But at least you can get what you need eventually. In the long run, it will save time and money to print letterhead. You’ll see as you need to create longer documents. For single pages and quickie needs, though, this works.

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