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Creating Stylish Tables in InDesign

Tables are an important part of any designers repertoire, and while they may not prove overly challenging to create, there are tools in InDesign that help keep your tables consistent and easy to edit. As you will see, these tools will speed up the process of formatting tables like rocket fuel in a scooter!

Lets get started creating one.


Step 1 - Create some Color Swatches

I always start off by setting out my color scheme as it makes these colors available to my styles. 

Open the Swatches Panel and create a New Color Swatch from the panels options menu.

New Color Swatch

Create one swatch that is PANTONE 117 C and click Add. Do the same again to create a Swatch of PANTONE 209 C. 

Step 2 - Create a Body Style

Open the Paragraph Styles panel and create a new style (TIP: Hold down Option as you click on the New Style button. It opens the Style Options Panel straight away).

Name the style “Table Body” and set the text to Georgia 14pt Regular Text, Center aligned and with a fill color of PANTONE 209 C. 

Style 1

This will be the text for most of the table.

Step 3 - Create some alternative text styles

Add another Paragraph style and name it “Table Header”, base it on “Table Body”, then change the alignment to Left and the text color to PANTONE 117 C.

Style 2

Create a 3rd style named “Table Totals” in the same way again, i.e. based on “Table Body”. This time, align the text to the Right, leave all the other settings the same.

Step 4 - Create a Cell Style

Choose Window > Styles > Cell Styles to open the Cell Styles panel. You will use this to create some cell styles for inside our table. 

Click on the Create New Style button in the Cell Style Panel (again Option-Clicking works here as well) and name the Style “Body Cell”. From the Paragraph Style drop down menu apply the “Table Body” paragraph style. 

Cell Style 1

Align the text to the Vertical Center using the styles Text options. This style will be used for most of the cells in your table. 

Step 5 - Create a Header cell style

Create another Cell style and name it “Header Cell”. Apply the “Table Headings” paragraph style to the Paragraph Style option. Also align the text Vertically. 

Cell style 2

From the Strokes and Fills option change the Cell fill color to PANTONE 209 C. This will allow the Gold colored text from the “Table Headings” style to be visible. 

Also to divide the columns utilize the stroke selector to apply a vertical 3pt stroke colored PANTONE 117 C and Solid, as per the image above. 

Step 6 - Create a Totals cell style

Create a third cell style and name it “Totals Cell”. 

Cell style 3

Change the Paragraph Style option to “Table Totals”. As this style will apply to a column instead of a row, use the stroke selector to change the Strokes and Fills option so that the 3pt PANTONE 117 C stroke is horizontal. Set the Fill color to PANTONE 209 C.

Now you have all the assets created you’re set to start building your table.

Step 7 - Create a Table Style

Open the Table Styles panel and click on the Create New Style button. Name the Table Style “Red & Gold”. Did you remember to save time and hold down Option?

Table Style Options

To embed the Cell Styles into the table set the Table Styles cell style options to:

Header Rows: “Header Cell”

Body Rows: “Body Cell”

Right Column: “Totals Cell”

Step 8 - Color the Table 

The cell styles “Header Cell” and “Totals Cell” have a background color applied, but you left “Body Cell” with no color. Lets let the table style look after that part. 

Select the Fills option and from the drop down menu named Alternating Pattern choose Every Other Row. This allows each row in the table to be filled with an alternating color. 

Row Fills

Set the first 1 rows to fill with the color PANTONE 117 C, and set the Tint to 50%. Set the next 1 rows to also fill with PANTONE 117 C, and set the Tint to 100%. 

This keeps the table one color but differentiates between each row, making it easy to distinguish them by eye. The pattern will flow right through the table but will be overridden by the Cell Styles applied to Header Row and Right Column. 

Step 9 - Create a Table

Draw a Text Frame on to the page. When the cursor is active in the frame choose Table > Insert Table. Set the table insert options to have 10 Rows by 5 Columns (or pick another number). Also add 1 Header Row. 

Insert Table

From the Table Style menu choose Red & Gold and press OK.

Step 10 - Add Text

Start adding text into each cell. The Table Body paragraph style will appear in the Body Cell’s. The Table Headings paragraph style will appear in the Header Row and the Table Totals paragraph style will appear on the right hand column. 

Text on a table

Just remember to make sure that when you created the table you had the paragraph style panel set to (Basic Paragraph) or else all the text in the table will be set to the wrong style!

Step 11 - Add a Drop Shadow Effect

Open the Effects panel Window > Effects and select the text frame that contains the table. Click on the Add an Object Effect button in the effects panel and turn on Drop Shadow. 

Drop Shadow

I simply accepted the default settings for this look, but it's worth experimenting with the shadow settings to see if you can improve it. 

Step 12 - Add an Inner Bevel 

After setting the Drop Shadow, turn on the Bevel and Emboss effect, and select the effect from the Effects options to access the effect parameters. 

Final Pic

I set the size of this Inner bevel effect to 4mm, keeping the shading angle the same as the drop shadow. 

The real benefit of using a table style, just as with any other style is the ability to re-use the same style over and over, giving you consistency throughout your document. 

Try experimenting with fonts and colors, strokes and alignment and see what you can create. 

David Smith

David Smith | Articles by this author

David Smith is Scotland's most qualified Apple and Adobe certified trainer. Having completed his education at Edinburgh College of Art's BAFTA winning Film School, David moved straight into TV production, first as a Vision Mixer then quickly becoming, at the age of just 24, a director of live TV studio productions. In 2001 he moved into Higher Education where he became a lecturer in TV Production, specializing in post-production and live studio production. During this time, and working with the support of the BBC, Channel 4 and independent production companies, David was instrumental in the design, development and implementation of industry-approved vocational courses across Scotland's Colleges. In 2006, after working closely with Apple Computers to create a unique multimedia studio for education at the Music and Media Centre in Perth, David became Scotland's first Apple-Certified Trainer for Pro Apps. This led on to David forming the first Apple Authorized Training Centre for Education, north of Manchester. In 2008 David made the move to full time training and joined the ranks at Academy Class, Ltd. where he continues to train industry professionals as a certified trainer across the Adobe Creative Suite and Apple Pro Apps range.


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