Shading a table’s rows or columns is a good way to improve readability. Fortunately, using Word’s AutoFormats, you can quickly add shading, called bands (stripes in Word 2003). There are a number of AutoFormats and fortunately, they’re not garish, so you’re sure to find a reasonable look. Interestingly, all of the AutoFormats have one-row or one-column bands (there are a few in Word 2003). You can create a band that’s larger than one row by creating a custom table style.

Today, I’ll show you how easy it is to apply an AutoFormat to a table. Then, I’ll show you how to create a custom table style that has two or three rows of columns in each band. (We’ll work with rows, but everything applies to columns, as well.)

AutoFormat – the quick way

Applying an AutoFormat is just a quick click. In fact, you’ll have more trouble choosing the format than applying it.

First, you select the table to display the contextual Design tab. Then, click the Design tab and choose a banded style from the Table Styles group. Or, click the dropdown to see the entire gallery. As you mouse over the different options, you can watch the table update, accordingly. I used Light Shading – Accent 1 to format the table below with just a few clicks. It’s a smart format too; it will automatically update as you add or delete rows.

In Word 2003, choose Table AutoFormat from the Table menu. Then, choose an option from the Tables Styles list and click Apply.

Creating a custom table style

There won’t always be an existing AutoFormat to meet your needs. For example, if you want a band to have more than one row, you can create a custom table style. Word anticipates this need and so the process is simple, but it isn’t a well-known option. First, you select the table and to continue, do the following:

  1. Click the contextual Design tab.
  2. Then, click the Table Styles dropdown and choose New Table Style (the last option). In Word 2003, choose Table AutoFormat from the Table menu.
  3. Provide a meaningful name for the new style.
  4. From the Style Based On dropdown, choose Light Shading – Accent 1. (You can use any style you like.) In Word 2003, choose a style from the Tables Styles list and click Modify.
  5. Click the Format dropdown.
  6. From the resulting options, select Banding. In Word 2003, choose Stripes.
  7. In the resulting dialog, choose 3 from the Number Of Rows In A Row Band dropdown.
  8. Click OK twice. (In Word 2003, click OK and then Apply.)

The table style is also smart. Below, you can see the three-row bands. When shading columns, you can use this same process to increase the number of columns in a band. In addition, you can create more complex table styles by choosing other Format options.