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HI Heather - although email programs don't always like backgrounds in tables you should be able to add a background image to a table by using the background="image url" in the table tag. ex. <table width="200" background="http://pages.company.com/imagecode.jpg" >
You can also use CSS styles to add a background image - same general idea <table width="200" style="background: url(http://pages.company.com/imagecode.jpg);" >
Heather as a best practice, you should utilize an image design application (photoshop) to add the text onto the image. Far less code to deal with.
As @Shannan notes you can think of the task as adding a background-image to text, not the other way 'round. And its use is not llimited to tables; for example, a simple A tag can have
style="background: transparent url(http://example.com/img/background.png) center center no-repeat;"
I strongly disagree with @Jim C that burning text onto images is a best practice. Creating manageable templates is key, and hard-coding text onto every image is hardly manageable -- and of course defeats any attempt at dynamic signatures.
Maybe I didn't understand the question on first pass. If you're trying to have a bg image on a dynamic signature string I would agree with the other suggestions. I would suggest testing several mail clients and various string lengths for the dynamic attributes. I typically prefer not having a by image, as it's so much easier to have an adjacent image next to a dynamic text string.
I also don't see a particular advantage to having a background image, but hey, it's an aesthetic decision.
@Heather P remember that text needs to be legible even if the bg doesn't load, since you cannot assume mail apps will load images. Meaning you want to set a fallback background-color (in my sample the bgcolor is transparent).