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By default, when you print an Excel spreadsheet, it only includes cells that contain data. Extra content is typically excluded, but it is possible to add a background to your Excel printouts—here’s how to do it.

While you can use the “background” option (Page Layout > Background) to add a background image to your spreadsheet, Excel won’t allow you to print backgrounds that are applied this way. You have to use shapes, images, or cell colors as a work-around to achieve the same effect.

These instructions apply to recent versions of Excel, including 2016, 2019, and Microsoft 365.

Insert a Shape

The easiest way to add a quick, printable background to a worksheet in Excel is to insert an object, like a shape, to cover your data or fill the entire page.

You can then alter the transparency of the object so you can see any data beneath it. You can also use the “Picture Fill” formatting option to fill the shape with an image.

RELATED: How to Insert a Picture or Other Object in Microsoft Office

To get started, open your Excel spreadsheet and click the “Insert” tab in the ribbon. From there, you can click “Pictures” or “Shapes” in the “Illustrations” section.

When you click “Shapes,” a drop-down menu with various options appears. Select the shape you want, like a rectangle or square.

Use your mouse to drag and drop and create a shape that fills the page or your data. After you create it, you can hold and drag the circular buttons around the shape to resize it.

After you have it sized and positioned the way you want, right-click, and then select “Format Shape” from the pop-up menu.

In the menu that appears, click the arrow next to “Fill” to open the submenu.

You can select a color from the “Color” drop-down menu, and then use the slider to set the transparency to the appropriate level (like 75 percent).

Select a color, and then use the slider to set the transparency.

Your changes are applied automatically. When you’re done, you can close the “Format Shape” menu.

Add an Image

Thanks to the “Pattern Fill” option, you can also fill your shape with an image instead of a color. This means you can add an image background to your Excel worksheet.

Add your shape first (Insert > Shapes) and use your mouse to draw it, as we covered above. Make sure it fills enough of your worksheet to cover a suitable printout area. Right-click your shape, and then click “Format Shape.”

Click the arrow next to “Fill” to open the options, and then select the “Picture or Texture Fill” radio button. To add your image, click “Insert.”

To use an image from your computer, click “From a File” in the “Insert Pictures” pop-up menu.

Click “Online Pictures” if you want to search for an image on Bing or click “From Icons” to use one of Excel’s preset images.

After you insert it, the image fills the shape. Use the “Transparency” slider to set a percentage that allows you to see the data underneath the image-filled shape.

Use the "Transparency" slider to set the appropriate percentage.

Add a Background with the Fill Color Tool

To add a color to all the cells on your Excel worksheet simultaneously, press Ctrl+A or click the vertical arrow in the top-left corner under the cell selection menu.

Click the “Home” tab, and then click the Fill Color icon. Select the color you want the background of your spreadsheet to be—keep in mind it needs to be light enough that the data on your worksheet can be seen when you print it.

Change the Print Area

By default, Excel won’t include empty cells in the print area (the area that appears on a printout). However, you can alter the print area to include the entire page (or multiple pages), regardless of whether the cells are empty.

To change the print area to include empty cells, make sure you’re in the “Page Layout” view. Click the Page Layout icon in the bottom-right corner of Excel. This allows you to see the rows and columns that will fill a single, printed page.

Click the “Page Layout” tab on the ribbon, and then click the Page Setup icon (the diagonal arrow at the bottom-right of the “Page Setup” category).

Click the “Sheet” tab, and then click the up-arrow next to “Print Area.” Use your mouse to select a cell range that fills the area you want to print, including any empty cells.

To make sure the right cells were selected, click File > Print to see a print preview.

A "Print" preview window in Excel.

If the cell range you chose doesn’t fill the page, repeat the steps above to alter it, so it includes more cells.

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Ben Stockton is a freelance tech writer from the United Kingdom. In a past life, he was a UK college lecturer, training teens and adults. Since leaving the classroom, he's been a tech writer, writing how-to articles and tutorials for MakeUseOf, MakeTechEasier, and He has a degree in History and a postgraduate qualification in Computing.
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