Word: Custom headers and footers the easy way

September 12, 2011

You want to set up your own headers and footers, but you’re having trouble getting the center and right tabs to align properly, and the logo won’t stay put either. You get it all sorted, then decide to change the page margins a little and now everything’s out of whack again. Arrggh!

There’s a simple method for setting up headers and footers that are a little more complex than those provided by Word — use tables! (Before using tables, check out the supplied header/footer options in Word 2007 under the Insert tab > Header or Footer — one of them may suit you perfectly.)

Tables allow you to set up text and images in individual cells without affecting anything in the other cells. And with table cells controlling the alignment, you should be able to avoid using tabs altogether. Tables in headers/footers also let you easily have multiple lines of text — something that can be painful to achieve when using normal paragraphs and tabs. And if they are set up correctly, changing a page margin setting should automatically change the width of the header to match.

Here’s a very basic set of steps for setting up a header in Word 2007 and later; you can use the same steps for setting up a footer.

  1. Double-click in the empty area near the top of the page where the header will go.
  2. On the Insert tab, click Table and then click the box corresponding to the last cell for the number of rows and columns for your header. In the example below, I wanted three columns and one row, so I clicked the third cell from the left on the top row of cells.
  3. By default, the table is inserted with borders and with the default font/style settings. You can deal with the font/style settings later; for now, you want to get rid of the borders. Select the entire table, then go to Table Tools > Design tab, then select the Borders option for No Border. (If you can’t see the blue dashed grid lines for the table, turn them on: Table Tools > Layout tab >View Gridlines.)
  4. Select entire the table and apply the font/style settings you want. You can set different settings for each cell, if you want.
  5. Put your cursor in the center cell and set its text alignment to Centered (Ctrl+E), then go to the right cell and set it to Right aligned (Ctrl+R).

That’s it for the main setup… click into the body part of the document if you’ve finished, or read on for some more things you can do to set up a decent looking and functional header.

Add a dividing line and extra spacing to the header

In the example above, you created a basic header. Now you want to add a dividing line between the header text and the body of the document, and you want a little bit of extra white space between the header text and the dividing line. There’s already a paragraph after the header table, so if you want more or less space between the dividing line and the body text, you can adjust its above/below paragraph settings.

  1. Select the table (or, if you have a multiple row table, select just the bottom row).
  2. Go to Table Tools > Design tab, then select the Borders option for Bottom Borders.
  3. Optional: Change the color, width and line style of the bottom border, if you wish (right-click on the selected row, Borders > Borders and Shading).
  4. To add space between the header text and the bottom border, right-click on the selected row, then select Table Properties.
  5. Select the Cell tab, then click Options.
  6. Clear the Same as the whole table check box, add a value to the Bottom field, click OK, then click OK again. (You change the spacing for the cells in the selected row and not the whole table; if you left it as whole table and if you had more than one row in the header, the spacing would apply to ALL header rows, not just the bottom one.)

  7. Select the entire table, then go to Table Tools > Layout tab > Autofit > Autofit to Window. Even though the table fits to the current page width by default when you insert it, you still need to set this in case you change the page margins later and want the header table to resize automatically.
  8. Apply any other formatting to the cells.

Insert a logo into the header

One thing that gets people in knots is trying to place a logo in a header in such a way that it stays put and doesn’t move around when you shift around the other header elements. If you use an anchored box or frame, and tabs for aligning text, you are likely to have problems with logos moving when they shouldn’t. Using a table and forcing the logo to be inline with the text solves that problem.

  1. Click inside the cell in the header where you want the logo to go.
  2. Go to Insert > Picture and select the logo.
  3. When it’s inserted, right-click on the logo and check its Text Wrapping setting — make sure it’s set to In Line with Text.
  4. After you’ve inserted the logo, you may need to change the vertical alignment of the text in the other cells (Table Tools > Layout tab > Alignment group) so that it all fits nicely.

When you’ve finished, double-click into the body text and you’re done!


  1. I will donate $10 via Paypal if you can help me out here – i need to make a Header that will incorporate the Section, Sub-Section and Page Numbers, as well as the date. They have to be in a “living” format (I am an old tech writer, used Wordperfect’s first and second copies, am now using Microsoft Word for an Operations Manual for a growing franchise). It will also need to have the company logo and a couple of other fields (I will find out next week what fields they want, they are calling me Tuesday to see if i can do this).

    This tip is very helpful for a starter, but i need a bit more help, as you can see…

    Can you help? I was told maybe fields in a table in the header? Thanks!

  2. i did donate $2.50 so far for this very helpful post! Another 10 if you can help me with fields… thanks!

  3. Hi Marc

    You might be best served by using StyleRef fields in the headers/footers. I’ve written a blog post on that: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2009/01/30/word-use-styleref-field-to-populate-headerfooter/


  4. beautiful, thanks!

  5. Except I need the middle table to be a page number and cannot get it to change per page.

  6. Hi Michelle

    I assume you mean you want the page number in the middle table cell. I just tested it in Word 2010, and it works fine for me.

    What I did:
    1. Set up a 3-cell table table in the header (footer works the same).
    2. Placed my cursor in the middle cell.
    3. On the Design tab of the Header and Footer Tools, selected the Page Number drop-down arrow.
    4. Selected Current Position, then Plain Number. The page number went into the middle cell.
    5. Pressed Ctrl+E to centre the page number in that cell.
    6. Added more pages to the doc to check that the page number remained centered in the middle cell — it did.

    If you don’t want to use tables (e.g. if you have a mix of landscape and portrait pages), try this method instead: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2014/07/25/word-auto-aligning-headerfooter-info-in-portrait-and-landscape-pages/

    One other thing — if you’re getting different results on different pages, check your header/footer settings — you might have ‘Different First Page’ and/or ‘Different odd/even’ checked.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: