Expanding Colors Available for Highlighting

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated March 19, 2016)


Word provides a highlighter tool that allows you to...well, "highlight" text, much as you would do with a highlighter pen on a printed document. The default color for highlighting is yellow, but you can change the color if you click the down-arrow to the right of the Highlight tool on the Formatting toolbar. Word allows you to pick any of fifteen different colors.

The colors used for highlighting cannot be changed beyond what is offered in the fifteen colors. (The colors appear to be hard-wired into Word.) You can, however, highlight text in a different way, if you prefer: by using shading. Follow these steps:

  1. Select the text you want to highlight.
  2. Choose Borders and Shading from the Format menu. Word displays the Borders and Shading dialog box.
  3. Make sure the Shading tab is displayed. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. The Shading tab of the Borders and Shading dialog box.

  5. From the colors displayed, select the one you want to use. (If you'd like to choose from more colors, click the More Colors button.)
  6. Click OK.

Word then applies the selected color to the selected text, and it looks exactly like what you apply using the Highlight tool. If you find a color you like to use a lot, you can create a macro that applies the shading to the selected text. The following macro applies pale yellow shading to the selected text.

Sub HighlightPaleYellow()
    With Selection.Font
        With .Shading
            .Texture = wdTextureNone
            .ForegroundPatternColor = wdColorAutomatic
            .BackgroundPatternColor = wdColorLightYellow
        End With
    End With
End Sub

With the macro in place, you can assign it to a shortcut key or to a toolbar button so you can apply your own "highlighting" whenever you want. Or, if you prefer, you can bypass macros altogether and simply create a character style that applies the desired shading to selected text.

There is only one downside that I can find to using shading to highlight text, and that has to do with Find and Replace. One of the formatting attributes that you can search for is if the text is highlighted, but you cannot search for shading applied to text. If this is a big concern for you, then I'd suggest defining styles for your shading, since you can always search for specific styles.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (105) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.

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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What is four less than 8?

2017-12-04 09:55:23


Does not work. No "Formatting toolbar" exists.
No "Format menu" exists.
Design Menu-> Page Borders, Clunky, Clumsy: does not work.

2017-12-04 09:49:22


Does not work. No "Formatting toolbar" exists.
No "Format menu" exists.

2017-10-18 05:29:58


In Microsoft Word 2016 the borders and shading menu can be found in Design > Page Borders .. and then select the Shading tab. I also suggest selecting 'Apply to:text' to have the same highlighter effect.

(see Figure 1 below)

Figure 1. Menu

2017-09-04 23:18:32


@Terry (or anyone else with this question) On the left side of the Borders and Shading box, Shading tab is where you pick your color, on the right side at the bottom it should say "Apply to:", change this from Paragraph to Text. This way it'll just effect the portion of text you selected, not the whole line.

2017-03-08 16:40:57


I don't have fifteen choices. My shading tab doesn't look like this one.

2017-02-17 10:47:57


The trouble I find with shading as opposed to highlighting is that applies the shading to the WHOLE LINE (including any blank space after a return key push to create a short line) instead of applying colour ONLY to the selected text like the highlighting feature. Am I doing something wrong?

2016-11-30 16:00:38


Thank you for this tip!! The awful highlighting colours in word was actually driving me nutty

2016-11-26 15:11:12


You don't say how to put the macro in. I've never used macros. I did go to macros and pasted your macro. But what do I do next? I don't really see any options in the window I put the macro in. I tried "Run sub/user form" and nothing happened. How do I "assign it to a shortcut key or to a toolbar button"?

Also, do you have a website just for Word 2016? I would think there are a lot of changes since 2007, 2010 and 2013.

2016-09-14 07:07:27

Craig B

Hi all, like others, I struggled to find the format menu. If you go to Page Layout in the ribbon and select Page Borders, you get to the Borders and Shading box shown above. From there, click the Shading tab, change Style from Clear to Solid (100%), and then select your colour from the drop-down.

2016-08-19 12:58:07


Although the highlight colours may appear to be hard wired I suspect they might not be. I have highlighted a document using two different PCs and noticed that when I copied a piece of highlighted text into another area which had been highlighted on the other PC that the grey hjighlight is slighty different between the two. One is 25% grey, the other is less then 20%, probably about 18%.

2016-08-01 14:15:38


Thanks a million it is so easy to forget about the shading bucket!

2016-07-05 01:33:24


For those who don't have the ribbon displayed - paragraph formatting is under the Home tab.

2016-07-05 01:25:05


Hi Allan

Can also obtain the same function in Word 2013 by choosing the shading button (tipping paint tin) in paragraph formatting, if you have the Ribbon as well as the menu bar displayed.

2016-05-25 18:05:36


All good, but where is the Format Menu?

thanks, in advance

2016-05-14 15:48:57


I'm not sure where a format tab is, but you can find Borders & Shading under the borders option on the home tab.

2016-04-13 21:41:28


Under step #2, you say to find it on the format tab. I can't find a format tab anywhere.
where would I find that?

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