Microsoft Excel

Create 3D Effects in Tables or Cells

Whenever you see a nifty 3D effect in a program or application such as Excel, you are actually seeing an illusion created by specific formatting. It is easy to create this illusion yourself by applying formatting to a cell or range of cells.

To start off with a simple example, we'll give a cell a 3D effect so that it appears raised, like a button. On a clean worksheet, select cell D5. (You're selecting D5 because it's not on an edge.) Select Format » Cells » Border. From the Line box, choose the second thickest line style. Ensure that the color selected is Black (or Automatic, if you haven't changed the default for this option). Now click the righthand border and then click the bottom border. Return to the color option and select White. The second thickest border still should be selected, so this time click the two remaining borders of the cell, the top border and the left border. Click the Patterns tab on the Format Cells dialog and make the cell shading Gray. Click OK and deselect cell D5. Cell D5 will have a raised effect that gives the appearance of a button. You did it all with borders and shading.

If, for fun or diversity, you want to make a cell look indented or pushed in, select cell E5 (because it's next to D5 and it makes the next exercise work). Select Format » Cells » Border, select the second thickest border from the line styles, and ensure that the color is black.

Apply the formatting to the top and left border of the cell. Select White for the color option and apply a white line to the right and bottom borders. Click the Patterns tab and change the cell's format to Gray. Click OK. Cell E5 should appear indented. This works even better in contrast with cell D5, which has the raised effect.

Using a 3D Effect on a Table of Data

Next, we'll experiment with this tool to see the sorts of effects you can apply to your tables or spreadsheets to give them some 3D excitement.

Select cells D5 and E5, and click the Format Painter tool (the paintbrush icon) on the standard toolbar. While holding down the left mouse button, click in cell F5, and drag across to cell J5 and release.

Now select cells D5:J5 and again click the Format Painter tool on the standard toolbar. While holding down the left mouse button, select cell D6 and drag it across and down to cell J15, then release. This should produce the effect shown in the figure.

Figure. A 3D effect applied to a range of cells

We have used a fairly thick border to ensure that the effect is seen clearly; however, you might want to make this a little subtler by using a thinner line style. You also could use one of the other line styles to produce an even greater effect. The easiest way to find good combinations is to use trial and error on a blank worksheet to create the effect you want. You are limited only by your imagination and, perhaps, your taste.

Always keep in mind that 3D effects can enhance readability and give spreadsheets a more professional look and feel, but when they're used in excess, they can have the opposite effect. Remember, use everything in moderation.

If you want to take this a step further and apply 3D effects automatically and dynamically, you can combine the 3D with conditional formatting, automating the application of the style choices you prefer.