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Easier Table Fill and Stroke Formatting

A lot of new InDesign users (or experienced InDesign users new to working with tables) think that the only way to customize table fills and strokes is via those monstrous Table Options and Cell Options dialog boxes that you access via the Table menu or the Table palette menu.

After all, they have entire panels dedicated to Fill and Strokes of table elements. But unless you need a table-centric sort of feature (like Alternating Fill Color), you can just use the palettes you’re familiar with, like Swatches, Stroke and the Control palette.

To apply a fill color to a table element, select what you want (cell, row, column or the whole table), make sure the Fill icon is “in front” of the Stroke icon in the Tools or Swatches palette, and click on a Swatch name. The selection fills with the color you clicked on. You can adjust the color’s tint from the Tint slider in the palette, too.

To apply a stroke color, use the Swatches palette again, this time making sure the Stroke icon is front of the Fill icon before you click on a color swatch. As long as that Stroke icon is in front, you can change a selection’s stroke weight and style via the Control palette or the Stroke palette.

In fact, when you’ve made a selection in a table, both the Control and the Stroke palette show you a little display of the strokes that your selection will be applied to, just like in the Cell Options dialog box.

Stroke palette with column selected

As in that dialog box, they’re all active (colored blue) by default. Click on the ones you don’t want your formatting to affect (they turn grey) before you make your formatting changes.

Anne-Marie Concepcion

Anne-Marie Concepcion

Anne-Marie “Her Geekness” Concepción is the co-founder (with David Blatner) and CEO of Creative Publishing Network, which produces InDesignSecrets, InDesign Magazine, and other resources for creative professionals. Through her cross-media design studio, Seneca Design & Training, Anne-Marie develops ebooks and trains and consults with companies who want to master the tools and workflows of digital publishing. She has authored over 20 courses on on these topics and others. Keep up with Anne-Marie by subscribing to her ezine, HerGeekness Gazette, and contact her by email at or on Twitter @amarie
Anne-Marie Concepcion

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35 Comments on “Easier Table Fill and Stroke Formatting

  1. My favorite trick when setting which strokes to affect is: Triple-click on one of them in the little cell proxy area to turn them all on or off. For example, if you just want to affect the bottom stroke, triple-click to deselect all of them, then click once on the bottom stroke to turn that one on.

  2. Yup. Also, you can double-click any outside lines to select just those — the inside lines get deselected. The reverse also works — double-click inside lines to deselect the outside lines.

    Dang, we should’ve saved this topic for a podcast!

    • Not sure if this tip has been mentioned somewhere, but you can also right-click (control-click) on the proxy area. Depending on its status, you can get several options to select border, inner, all, or clear. I happened across this today and for me it’s very useful.

      • Oh my god. Thank you thank you thank you. I was almost literally going crazy trying to click and double click on all those little lines. You saved my sanity!

  3. But wait…there’s more!
    You can select or deselect different combinations of proxy strokes by Command-clicking the point where they meet. For instance…Command-click where the interior proxy strokes meet at the center and you simultaneously select (or deselect) both the horizontal and vertical inside strokes.
    Similarly, Command-clicking the point where the bottom and right exterior proxy strokes meet selects (or deselects) the bottom horizontal and right vertical proxy strokes at the same time.
    I won’t go through every combination, but it also works where, for example, the interior horizontal meets the exterior vertical, and so on… Basically, any combination you can think of where two points on the proxy meet.
    I”m not a PC guy, so I can only assume that this works using Control-click in Windows.

  4. Thanks, Michael, but I think it’s even easier than that: You don’t need to hold down the Command/Ctrl modifier. Just click at the intersection to turn both segments on/off. Great point, though.

  5. Annoyed with difficulty of placing text into pre-formatted tables. Seem to need to place table, then format, manually. So much for pre-formatting. Found WoodWing SmartStyles to be very helpful in formatting tables (does text too). Free 30 day trial.

  6. I cannot get my strokes to look like I want! Is there some other place formatting is set apart from Cell options? It looks almost like styles with hidden formatting causing the plus sign. Only I can’t clear it.

  7. Wynand, I’m not sure what you mean by “[it looks like ] hidden formatting causing the plus sign” in regards to your strokes. I’m guessing that you’re trying to make a stroke look a certain way and it’s ignoring you?

    Try using the method I described in the post: Use the Stroke palette and the Swatches palette instead of Cell Options. For example, select the entire table and set the Stroke weight to 0; that’ll clear out *all* strokes and let you start fresh.

    Also, there are some formatting commands that just can’t be applied to tables at all. You can’t “add space” in between cells, for example, as you can with an HTML table.

    If you’re still having trouble, feel free to take a screen shot and describe what you’re trying to do in an email to me and David (at

  8. I want the top row of cells in a table to have a line above and below it and the last row of cells to have one below only. After reading your advice yesterday I did switch to the Strokes and Swatches palettes. It works much better! Thanks.

    One problem I have now is that cell borders appear in the fill colour and some in black. No doubt I have finger trouble, but I learn fast, thanks to your excellent help and your book is always within reach! I’ll try your suggestion tonight.

  9. Hi Anne-Marie, I got it to format properly by clearing all srokes on the tool palette. I then selected the cells and added strokes with the the strokes palette. I got what I wanted in the end. Thanks for the help.

  10. I’m a beginner trying to learn table formatting. My problem: the table rows are inflexibly widely spaced apart because of the default slug setting. When the type is 7-pt., e.g., I want a baseline-to-baseline measure of 9 pts, not 13, which is as close as I can get it! Any way to close up those rows? Thank you.

  11. I retract the above question, with apologies. I posed it in the wrong forum. Besides, I now have the solution: select the table, click on Table – Cell Options – Text, and change the top and bottom cell insets.

  12. I’m having difficulty turning off cell strokes. When I display the table object, the boxes don’t have a stroke (which is correct), but when I use the object out of the library and it’s filled with data, there is a stroke on the cell. I’m also having the reverse problem – I put a stroke around several cells in my table object and it looks fine, until I use the object, when only half of the strokes are appearing. What’s happening? I’ve used the above advice to clear out (or apply) the strokes, but it’s not working. Thanks.

  13. Can I just say THANK YOU for solving this table stroke dilemma for me….I was about to rip my hair out. I also was trying to get lines only on the bottom. I knew I’d find the answers on this site :) Incidentally, I don’t find the table cells and table styles really work…it was easier to cut and paste my information into an existing table.

  14. How can I use tables with baseline grid? Every time I try cells comes in different mes width, some one can explain me how tu use it?

  15. @ian: I’m not sure what you mean. You should be able to select a row (for example) and apply a different set cell style or just local formatting. It’s like applying local text formatting over a paragraph style.

  16. I’m an experienced InDesign user but new to tables.

    Here’s what I need to do. I need three vertical columns on a page, into which I will flow three separate text files. These are catalog items, and each item has text that should align across the page. Some columns will have deeper information than others, but I still need the TOP line to be aligned across all three columns, no matter how deep any of the information goes in the different columns. And it’s not consistent: it could be the first, second or third column that has the longest text.

    Is there a way to flow text into a table like this, so that the cells self-adjust their height to the amount of text, while all the first lines remain aligned?

    Thanks and a big HUG AND KISS to anyone who can answer this for me!! (like it or not.)


  17. Are there any scripts that cover some of the issues table and cell styles won’t do? e.g. inside strokes diff from outside.

    i have a standard format for my tables – and use lots of tables. I want all of the outside strokes to be 1pt, and the inside strokes to be .5 EXCEPT my header which also has a 1pt stroke on the bottom horizontal stroke. AND the footer has a 1pt stroke above and 0 on the other 3 sides {it’s a caption} i have styles set up for the header, inside cells and footer. The footer is the only one that works perfectly because i merge the cells in that row so it’s easy. But i have to modify the inside strokes for header row and the outside strokes for the other cells. I don’t call the header and footer as such in the table setup because when it carries over to another page i like to put a note above the header {continued from previous page} and that messes things up. But i wish there were some cell styles that you could choose inside and outside strokes to be different or IS THERE A SCRIPT SOMEWHERE OUT THERE FOR THIS?

  18. Hi there,

    I am having trouble selecting the table strokes. All that shows up when trying to change the weight (via the strokes palette or strokes options in cell styles is the table border. I have tried everything! Not sure what I am doing wrong but would really love some help!


  19. May I ask a question to the ProS? Well im not a beginner neither.

    Suppose I have apple some stroke and fills to 1 cell of a table. Now if I wana just copy the same style on different cells.
    Isn’t there any ways doing that?

    Serious while typing I remember color picker :) It works… Cool

    U just have to select the box same lines exactly as from what you are copying the effects, or else it will apply odd stroke effects ;)

  20. @Nawaaz: It took me about an hour to figure it out, but it’s doable. Use your Cell Styles palette and create a New Cell Style. You can assign all your attributes, like which side is stroked, cell padding, cell fill colour, paragraph style, etc. Once you create the new style, select all of the cells, and click the correct cell style.

  21. I am trying to select multiple cells in a table in InDesign. The cells are not adjacent to each other. Once I have selected the multiple cells I would like to apply a swatch colour as fill and to bold the text. I need to do 130 tables with a multitude of different selections per table (no two tables are the same). The quickest way possible would be fantastic. I can’t find the answer anywhere. Any help would be fantastic.

  22. Hello. How can I deselect a table?
    When I’m working on it, if I press the ESC key, InDesign selects the cell. If I press the ESC key again, they select the text inside this cell. Is there a way to return to the black arrow key with a shortcut?

  23. Okay so having tried this manual application of stroke setting of, how do I remove it? When I click on my preset Table Style if fails to override these manual settings, for instance I set all row and column lines to 0pt width and so now none of the stokes in the Table Styles I select are applying.

    Also the Table styles seem to be setting a setting which by rights they should not be recording because theres no way I can see to adjust it. That is the Headers and Footer Repeats on {Every text column, Once every frame, Once every page}. it’s definitely changing with different styles but I can’t see the setting when I double click on a Table style to edit it.

    • Alastair: On the first point, I’m not sure why it wouldn’t be taking effect. Perhaps there’s local formatting overriding the strokes.

      But on the second point: Wow! I don’t know if that’s a new feature or a bug, but I don’t recall seeing that before. If the table has this setting when the table style is first created (and the text cursor is inside the table when the style is made), then the setting gets saved inside the table style… and you’re right that it appears to be no way to remove it from the style definition! That’s crazy.

  24. I have a table in InDesign. I am trying to add two different color strokes to the cells. I need black for the top and left side but I need white for the bottom and the right side. I have tried only selecting the boarders that I need a certain color but it changes all the boarders. What am I doing wrong?

  25. It sure would be easier if Adobe could take a lesson from MS Word on how to EASILY control table, column, row, and cell strokes, n’est pas??? I’ve tried everything mentioned above but still CANNOT get my left and right OUTSIDE column borders (of a 6-column table)to disappear…just the left and the right outermost column wall.

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