Work around a Word 2008 image placement issue

After adding an image to a Word document, chances are very good that you’ll then have to do some positioning on the image—assuming, that is, that you’re using one of the free-floating wrapping types (square, tight, etc.), so that your text flows around the image. You can position the image using the mouse, of course, but that doesn’t give you precise control. For that, you’ll want to use the arrow keys.

Word (both 2004 and 2008 variations) uses an invisible grid to help in positioning objects. When you select an image and then move it using the arrow keys, it will snap to the nearest (invisible) grid line. If you want more control over the positioning of the object, Word’s help file offers this useful advice:

To move an object up, down, or sideways in small increments, click the object, hold down OPTION, and then press an arrow key.

Sure enough, if you’re using Word 2004, you can indeed move an image one row or column of pixels at a time by holding down the Option key and then pressing one of the arrow keys. This overrides the default grid, allowing you to precisely position the dragged image.

If you try this in Word 2008, though, you’ll find that this trick doesn’t work—or maybe it does. If you’re confused, don’t worry; so was I when I was trying to figure this out. Depending on which document I was editing, sometimes I was able to use the Option-arrow key trick, but with other documents, I couldn’t. After much digging, I figured out that this trick only works in Word 2008 if you’re editing a document that’s been saved in Word 2004’s .doc format. If you’re working with Word 2008’s default .docx file format, though, you can’t use the Option-arrow key trick. (The reason for this is that Word 2008 uses a new graphics engine, and it seems that there’s a bug in the new engine with the grid override feature. When you edit a .doc document, however, Word 2008 switches back to using the Word 2004 graphics engine, which has no problem with the grid override feature.)

So what can you do in Word 2008 if you want pixel-level control over image placement? While you could save the file in the older .doc format, that may not be a viable option if you need to share the file with others, or if you use features only available in Word 2008. A simpler solution is to just disable the grid. In Word 2008, select View -> Toolbars -> Drawing, and then click on the second icon (the one that looks like a grid!) in the Drawing toolbar.

This will open the Grid Options dialog; remove the checkmark next to “To grid in Print Layout view,” then click OK. With the grid off, using the arrow keys will move the selected object one row of pixels at a time. (To move an object by a large amount, you’ll probably want to grab the mouse, as it can get tedious moving one row or column of pixels at a time.) If you’re placing multiple images and need them aligned, you’ll also need to use the Align tool in the Size, Rotation and Ordering section of the Formatting Palette to make sure they’re properly lined up.

Hopefully a future Office 2008 patch will restore the Option-arrow key grid override feature. Until such a fix is released, though, disabling the grid is the simplest workaround.

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