The draw layer: a metaphysical space (and how to bring it back down to earth)

Article contributed by Dave Rado and Bill Coan

Word's draw layer is a metaphysical space where floating objects reside. It really isn't a layer, since floating objects can be sent behind the text layer or brought out in front of it. Either way, they continue to reside in the draw layer.

The relationship between the draw layer and the text layer is a bit unusual, to say the least. As noted, the draw layer is both behind and in front of the text layer. Any floating object can be right-clicked to bring up a menu that includes an Order command that lets you send the object behind or bring it out in front of the surrounding text (as well as behind or in front of any other floating objects).

Any objects which you can insert using the Drawing toolbar – for instance, Text Boxes – reside in the Drawing layer.

Some things to watch out for with objects in the drawing layer

1.   Any text residing in the Drawing layer is immune to many of Word's standard features such as Caption numbering, auto generated tables of contents, tables of figures etc.

If the above features are critical to your document, it is therefore usually better to use Frames rather than Text Boxes.  Frames float, like Text Boxes, yet reside in the text layer, so are accessible to the above features.

This is particularly an issue when you add a caption to a floating graphic.  By default Word puts the caption in a textbox, which means it won't update and won't appear in the Table of Figures.  To get round this you need to:


Convert the floating graphic to an inline graphic.  Select Format + Picture, and if using Word 97, click the Position tab and uncheck Float Over Text; if using Word 2000~2003 click the Layout tab and select Inline with Text.


Delete the textbox, and reinsert the caption in the text layer.


If you really need the graphic to float, you can then select both the inline graphic and the caption simultaneously and put them into a frame.

To put them into a frame you need to use the Insert Frame command, which has been cunningly hidden on the Forms toolbar; you can get at it by right-clicking on any toolbar, selecting the Forms Toolbar, and clicking the Insert Frames button:

You can make the button more easily accessible for when you next need it by selecting Tools + Customize, and holding the Ctrl key down while you drag the button from the Forms toolbar to the Insert menu, where it rightfully belongs. Or see: How can I add the Insert Frame command to the Insert menu?.

2.   Floating objects (even frames) can be a maintenance nightmare in any document that will ever need to be amended or  pasted from.  They should certainly be avoided in long documents, unless there is no alternative but to use them.  Strange things tend to happen when you add text which precedes a floating object – such as part of it suddenly appearing in the footer of one page and the rest appearing in the header of the following page!

You can generally simulate text-wrapping quite convincingly by putting your (inline) graphic into one cell of a borderless, single-row, two-cell table; and putting your text in the other cell.

If you need to have call-outs pointing at various parts of a graphic, one way of getting around the problem is to do a screen capture of the complete drawing, paste it into a graphics package, crop it, then paste it back into Word as an inline graphic.  Or another workaround is to create the drawing in another application such as PowerPoint, and paste it into Word inline.  There are others as well, but these two are probably the simplest.

3.   Floating objects use more memory. This can be an particular problem when printing. If your pages fail to print in full or print fuzzily, converting floating graphics to inline ones, and using tables rather than textboxes, generally fixes it.

Using tables rather than textboxes is usually to be preferred in any case – for some reason which I've never understood, inexperienced Word users tend to create their tables by putting several textboxes alongside each other! Please don't fall into this trap! Tables are far easier to create, maintain, and work far better as tables than textboxes do. Only use textboxes when tables really can't be used.

See also 
I inserted some graphics in a document, but now I can't see them; or there is just an empty box where one should be; or my graphics won't print

and the following Microsoft Knowledge Base articles:

WD97: General Information about Floating Objects
WD2000: General Information About Floating Objects