Word: Show table grid lines

May 3, 2010

Table grid lines are NOT table borders. Borders display all the time in your document; borders show in print preview; and borders print. Table grid lines are guidelines for borderless tables or table cells. And you should turn them on when you’re working in Word.

Why? Because if you don’t, you may assume you’re working just in text, not in a table cell. Why is it important to know that? Well, if you decide to add more content, you may not add it in the correct place and so may mess up the table or the table sort order (if you use it).

Here’s a simple example. The first screen shot below shows a document without table grid lines and without the paragraph marks turned on. You can’t tell just by looking at it that this content is contained within a table.

The second screen shot shows the grid lines and paragraph marks turned on. Notice how it is obvious that the content has been placed in individual table cells.

This example is from Word 2003; Word 2007’s table grid lines are blue dashes not gray lines.

By showing the table grid lines, the author can make informed decisions about how to deal with the next piece of content they have to deal with. In the example above, they know they have to insert a new row to add a new reference to the list. Without table grid lines turned on, an author might just press Enter at the end of one reference and add the next one to the same table cell — this can cause problems when sorting a list alphabetically.

If you are using borderless tables in your document, do yourself a favor and turn on the grid lines:

  • Word 2003: On the menu, go to Table > Show Gridlines.
  • Word 2007/2010: Click inside any table, then go to the Table Tools > Layout tab, Table group and click View Gridlines.


(Please note: This article is not an argument for or against using tables for layout — the fact is, my client uses them for their Terms and References lists.)

Update February 2013:

The show gridline setting is associated with the computer, not the document, as far as I know.

The only way to guarantee that it’s turned on is to have it as part of an autorun/autoopen macro associated with the document’s template, or with the specific document.

See these blog posts for how to do that:


  1. I was killing myself trying to play with the borders/shading options. Who knew it’s so simple? Thanks!!!

  2. Who is the genious who thought of turning such a simple action to such a complicated one?
    Give MS another fail point!

  3. What about Word 2010? I can’t see to find that feature. Microsoft – the Complicators!!!


  4. Word 2010 is the same as Word 2007; i.e., click inside any table, then go to the Table Tools > Layout tab, Table group and click View Gridlines.

  5. No actually, it’s not. You have to first create a table, then under “Design” tab you will find the “Table Styles” option. Under that, to the far right hand side is a small drop down that says “Borders.” You can then select “View Gridlines.” Once you have done that, you will be able to see all the gridlines on all tables, unless you turn off this option.

  6. Hi Lori

    Yes, you can do it via that drop-down menu, but I find it quicker to use the big ‘View gridlines’ button on the Table Tools > Layout tab. I can see this button in both Word 2007 and Word 2010 — you should have it too.

    And yes, you have to have a table in your document before you can access the options to do anything with tables, even default settings like view gridlines. Of course, when you insert a new table it comes in with borders, so you don’t even see the gridlines as they are covered/replaced by the borders. Gridlines only come into play when you have no borders on some or all cells of a table.


  7. In Word 2007, my gridlines are printing and I don’t want them to. It never did this in Word 2003. I’m referring to an Excel table embedded in Word. Other than actually unchecking show gridlines in all the tables, is there any way to get this to stop? Why does it do it in the 2007 version but it never did in the 2003 version?

  8. I’ve never embedded an Excel table in a Word document, in either Word 2003 and 2007. I suspect how Word does this has changed if you say that you didn’t get gridlines in Word 2003 but do in Word 2007.

    Have you asked this question at the Microsoft Support forums? Somewhere there is bound to know the answer.


  9. No, I didn’t ask the question there. Thanks for referring me to that forum!

  10. I created a planner in Microsoft word and I have “ghost” lines that only appear when I print it. To look at the tables or print preview they look perfect until I print them. Does anyone have any idea what is going on? Would anyone be willing to look at my document? I have spent a lot of time on this project to get it exactly how I want only for it to get ruined in the end. I would appreciate any help.
    Thank you!

  11. It would be nice if you’d just tell me how to find Table Tools. Sometimes we need the basic stuff.

  12. Hi Bill

    If you’re using Word 2007 or later, then you have to click inside any table before ‘Table Tools’ shows above the ribbon. Once ‘Table Tools’ is showing, there are two new tabs just for tables — ‘Design’ and ‘Layout’ — as I’ve described above in the Word 2007 instructions.


  13. […] 2007 and later: Table Tools tabs December 30, 2011 In a comment on one of my posts about showing table grid lines, Bill asked for more information on how to get Table Tools to display in Word 2007 and Word […]

  14. Bill: I’ve now written a post on showing the Table Tools tabs. It’s here: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2011/12/30/word-2007-and-later-table-tools-tabs/


  15. How do you get rid of the gridlines to allow continuous typing without the borders?

  16. Hi Nichole

    I’m not sure what you mean — can you describe what you’re trying to do in more detail?


  17. I do not understand why MS does it. It took me more than 10 minutes to do it. I hate MS software, including Word and Excel. I hope that a competitor can replace it someday.

  18. in 2010 Microsoft word not enough to help option. there is nothing is there…i want table tools option with details and drawing tools option also..

  19. Hi Sneha

    The drawing tools option (and other table options) is on the Table Tools > Design tab. As with anything to do with tables, you have your cursor inside a table to see this tab (it’s on the far right, just to the left of the Table Tools > Layout tab).


  20. I am trying to use the border tool to outline my entire table. I am choosing the option for a complete border around the table. Each time I do this it puts a border everywhere except the right side. I have tried changing the margins and moving the table further in from the edge but it doesn’t work. Any other suggestions?

  21. Hi Bill

    Does this table have any merged cells or a nested table within it? If so, that may be affecting the borders. Often you can’t see a nested table at normal view, so try zooming in to 150% or more and see if you can see the gridlines for another table within the one you have. Or hovering over various parts of the table to see if you get the crosshair marker (the one you use to select a table) anywhere other than the very top left of the table.

    I guess you’ve tried completely removing all borders (‘No borders’ option), then reapplying the outline border — that would be my first option. Then I’d check to see if I had a nested table.


  22. Bill – I’ve noticed that issue with borders as well. When I use Print Preview they sometimes show up, but they don’t appear when I’m working with the document in draft view or some of the other views.

  23. Is there any way for the gridline setting to be associated/saved with the document itself, i.e. if I have gridlines visible in a particular document, would they appear as visible to the next person to open that document (even if their application setting may be to have gridlines turned off). OR… is there any type of group policy setting that can be used to ensure that all the installations of word on a certain domain would have gridlines visible by default. Gridlines are great, but if people don’t see them and don’t know they are there, or how to turn them on/off than they will just screw up a document with a table even more.

  24. Hi Phil

    The show gridline setting is associated with the computer, not the document as far as I know.

    The only way to guarantee that it’s turned on is to have it as part of an autorun/autoopen macro associated with the document’s template, or with the specific document.

    See these blog posts for how to do that:
    * https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2010/09/01/word-macro-to-show-field-shading-etc/
    * https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2011/07/13/word-macro-to-show-all-formatting-on-opening-a-document/

    I’ll also add this information to the blog post above.


  25. In Word 2010 I don’t see any Table menu. What I did see was this:
    Click on the DESIGN tab on the ribbon.
    Click on the “Borders” drop-down menu under “Table Styles” and select
    “View Gridlines.”

  26. That will work too, Blake. But that ‘Design’ tab is only available when you click inside a table or select the table — it’s part of the ‘Table Tools’ pseudo tab above the main ribbon. Likewise, the Layout tab is only available under this ‘Table Tools’ pseudo tab too (i.e. you must click inside a table or select it before the ‘Table Tools’ shows). The Layout tab is a much quicker way of turning gridlines on and off.

    I’ve added a screen shot to show the Table Tools pseudo tab and its related Design and Layout tabs.

  27. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! I’d had Office 2007 for so long that I forgot how to get the ‘view gridlines’ turned on again. Do you think you can find it in Help? Bah. You saved me a ton of time and frustration!

  28. Awesome, THANKYOU. They had hidden it on me

  29. For some reason my table won’t print please help!

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