Improve Your Excel Reports by De-Emphasizing Borders - dummies

Improve Your Excel Reports by De-Emphasizing Borders

By Michael Alexander

Table design is one of the most underestimated endeavors in Excel reporting. Believe it or not, borders get in the way of quickly reading the data in a table. Because borders help separate data in nicely partitioned sections, this may seem counterintuitive, but the reality is that a table’s borders are the first thing your eyes see when you look at a table.

Don’t believe it? Stand back a bit from an Excel table and squint. The borders will come popping out at you.

You should always endeavor to de-emphasize borders and gridlines wherever you can. Try to use the natural white space between the columns to partition sections. If borders are necessary, format them to lighter hues than your data; light grays are typically ideal. The idea is to indicate sections without distracting from the information displayed.

This figure shows a table with lots of distracting gridlines, headings, and colors.


This figure demonstrates the effect of minimizing the use of borders and using the single accounting underlines to accent the column headers. Notice how the numbers are no longer caged in gridlines and that headings now jump out at you with the addition of Single Accounting underlines.


Single accounting underlines are different from the standard underlining you typically apply by pressing Ctrl+U on the keyboard. Standard underlines draw a line only as far as the text goes — that is to say, if you underline the word YES, standard underlines give you a line under the three letters.

Single accounting underlines, on the other hand, draw a line across the entire column, regardless of how big or small the word is. This makes for a minimal, but apparent visual demarcation that calls out your column headers nicely.

To format your borders, highlight the cells you are working with, right-click, and select Format Cells. On the Border tab of the Format Cells dialog box, take the following steps as shown in the figure:

  1. Select an appropriate line thickness.

    Typically, this means you should select the line with the lightest weight.

  2. Select an appropriate color.

    Again, lighter hues are the best option.

  3. Use the border buttons to control where your borders are placed.


To apply the single accounting underline, right-click the column headings and select Format Cells. Click the Font tab of the Format Cells dialog box and in the Underline drop-down menu, choose the Single Accounting option as demonstrated in this figure.