Create a custom Word table style for instant formatting

Word 2003 offers a gallery of Table AutoFormat styles -- but they may not always suit your needs. See how to build your own style to quickly make tables look exactly the way you want.

Word's Table AutoFormat feature offers an assortment of prefab styles you can use to jazz up your tables. But those styles may not necessarily match your document design or serve your table's purpose. Luckily, you can specify your own set of attributes and save them as a user-defined style. Then, you can just apply the style to a table whenever you want to use your custom formatting.

Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.

To demonstrate, let's say you generate a weekly dashboard report whose data is contained in a nice-looking, easily interpreted Word table... but manually formatting the table is getting a little old. Time to build a custom style:

  1. Choose Table AutoFormat from the Table menu (or click AutoFormat on the Tables And Borders toolbar).
  2. In the Table AutoFormat dialog box, click New (Figure A).

Figure A

table autoformat

  1. Enter a name for the style (e.g., Dashboard) and choose the style you want to base your new style on (Figure B). We're going to base our sample style on the basic Table Grid style, but you can start off with something fancier if you prefer. Or choose Table Normal, which is unformatted, if you want to start with a blank slate.

Figure B

new style

  1. Now you can use the various tools in the New Style dialog box to specify the desired formatting. Just choose the table component you want to format from the Apply To drop-down list (Figure C) and make your selections. For this example, we specified 11-point Arial for the entire table, 14-point bold formatting and a light yellow fill for the heading row, a 1.5-point blue outside border, a 1-point yellow inside border, light blue fill for odd rows and light yellow fill for even rows (Figure D). (You'll notice that some of the formatting -- such as the font -- doesn't display in the preview.)

Figure C

style formatting

Figure D


  1. Click the Format button to access additional options governing the appearance of table elements and table text (Figure E). In this case, we selected Paragraph and specified 6 points of space above and below each paragraph. Not all options are available to include in your table style. For instance, you can't set Preferred Width or Text Wrapping in the Table Properties dialog.

Figure E

additional formats

  1. If you want the style to be available to other documents based on the current template, click Add To Template. Otherwise, the style will belong to the current document only. Click OK to return to the Table AutoFormat dialog box.
  2. If you'd like this table style to be the default for all new tables you create, click Default in the Table AutoFormat dialog box. Word will let you choose between setting the default for the current document or for all documents that use the current template (Figure F). Make your selection and click OK. If you don't want to set a default, skip this step and simply close out of the Table AutoFormat dialog box.

Figure F

template selection

The payoff

To apply the style, click in a table and open the Table AutoFormat dialog box. Choose User-Defined Table Styles from the Category drop-down list box to display your custom style(s) (Figure G). Now, just select the style and click Apply.

Figure G

applying table style


Jody Gilbert has been writing and editing technical articles for the past 25 years. She was part of the team that launched TechRepublic and is now senior editor for Tech Pro Research.


I thought this would solve my problem of always deselecting "automatically resize to fit contents" in table properties, table options. Removing this setting is not an option, even when creating a custom table style.


The information about making your own style for a word table and then using it whenever you want to apply the style is handy. But I think creating a formatted table using AutoText in Word 2003 or Quick Parts in Word 2007 is faster. 1. Create the table and format it the way you want. The table I created included row numbering in the first column - select the row or cells and click the number button. You will have to change the indentations and tab spaces for the numbers so they line up on the left side of the cell. 2. Select the table and create the AutoText/Quick Part. 3. Whenever you want the table, type the abbreviation for the AutoText, leaving the cursor flashing next to the end of the abbreviation and then press enter. In Word 2007, type the abbreviation and press F3.


Yeah, Word is weirdly selective about which table properties it supports in custom styles (another point in favor of the AutoText technique). I tried to figure out a way to incorporate that setting in the process, but all I can come up with is a little macro -- you could create a button to run it and at least you could save the time of going into the Table Properties dialog every time: Sub tableFix() With Selection.Tables(1) .AllowAutoFit = False End With End Sub I just don't think there's a global way to disable the option. j


Thanks for the AutoText instructions -- that's definitely a good option, and for some reason, a lot of users don't realize they can save stuff like tables and graphics as AutoText. I guess maybe the advantage of using a custom style comes in when you need to format preexisting tables (something a co-worker sends you, for instance, or something you've pulled in from some spreadsheet data, etc.) All depends on the tasks you typically face, I guess! j

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