Borders Disappear on Shaded Table Rows

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated October 1, 2022)
This tip applies to Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021


Kimberly has a document with several tables in it, each of which uses single-line borders around the table and between each row and column. In those tables, some rows are also shaded. When she prints to a PDF document, some of the lines around cells within the shaded rows disappear. If she removes the shading and regenerates the PDF, the border lines appear properly. Kimberly wonders if there is a workaround for this problem.

There are two things at work here when it comes to your PDF—what you see on the screen and what you see on a printout.

The first thing is to check what you see on the screen. When you open a PDF file in a viewer of some type, what you see is seldom at full resolution. This has to do with the resolution of your monitor and the zoom factor used to display the PDF file. As the zoom factor of your PDF document goes down, the PDF viewer will leave out details of the document. Most of the time this doesn't matter a whole lot—a dot here or a line there won't be noticeable. The exception is if the dots or lines being left out are horizontal and happen to be the dots and lines used for your borders.

You can check if this "leaving out" issue is happening by zooming in on your PDF. Go to a full 100% zoom factor and see if the previously missing border lines are there. If they are not visible, then zoom in even further (perhaps to 150% or even 200%) and see if they reappear. If so, then the problem definitely isn't with Word; it is simply an artifact of how your PDF viewer displays the PDF file.

Now for the other possibility—your printout. If you print out your PDF file and notice that some horizontal lines are missing, then the issue may be with your printer driver and/or printer. Some printers, particularly when printing shading, will exhibit what is called a moire pattern. This simply means that the size of the dots used by the printer to creating the shading effect can interfere with the desired output. This is especially true if the shading looks fine on the screen (in the PDF), but looks muddy or muddled on the printer. This is because the display can show the shading using smaller dots than what the printer can do. If you determine that the missing border lines appear only on the printout of the PDF, then there is no way around this short of using a different printer.

In fact, that brings up something you can do to test out the potential cause—use different equipment. If you have access to a different computer system (perhaps a coworker's system) that has a much higher-quality display, then open the PDF on that system and check out if the borders are still missing. Similarly, if you have access to a system with a higher-quality printer, then try printing the PDF on that printer and see if there is a noticeable improvement in what you see.

If, after checking both the display and the printer, you determine that the problem is actually with what is being generated by Word, then you'll need to figure out if the problem is with how you are creating the PDF. Many people create the PDF file by using the export-to-PDF capability that Microsoft relatively recently added to Word. That, however, will produce a different PDF file than you would get if you were using a third-party PDF utility of some type. It should also be noted that you are likely to get the highest-quality PDF file if you use Adobe Acrobat to generate the PDF file.

If you have access to systems that utilize different methods of creating the PDF files from your Word document, then you should experiment with those different methods and check your results. You may be surprised at the differences in the final PDF.

If there is no appreciable difference in how the PDF looks when using the different generation methods, then there is one last thing to try out. Go back to your Word document and change the percentage of shading applied to your table rows. If, for instance, you are using a 20% shading pattern, then change to a 15% shading pattern and see if that changes your output quality. This is closely related to the printer discussion earlier and the concept of moire patterns. When you change the percentage of shading, you are changing the dot pattern used to produce that shading. A different dot pattern will affect (or eliminate) the interference (moire) pattern created when the dots are displayed or printed.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (12996) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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