Creating Toolbars in Microsoft Word


In my earlier article, Moving Text from Word to InDesign, I mentioned creating palettes that house your styles, your macros, or just about any command found in Microsoft Word. That article focuses on creating and applying styles in Word to match the paragraph and character styles of your InDesign templates. It also links to my second article, Creating Macros in Word, that describes how to create and use macros to run a multitude of repetitive tasks with the click of a button. Both the styles you create and the macros you develop can be accessed by burrowing through menus and commands, but a simpler way to trigger them is by creating custom-made palettes, or, as Microsoft Word calls them, Toolbars.

Word Toolbars

When you create a new document in Word, the document window opens with the default “Standard” Toolbar showing.

Default Word Toolbars

Word’s default window. The top row of icons is the “Standard Toolbar.” Beneath is the Ribbon, with the Home tab selected.

Below that sits Microsoft’s Ribbon, which is basically a supercharged Toolbar with multiple tabs containing related commands, such as Tables or Review. Word ships with two other pre-defined Toolbars, “Formatting” and “Database,” but these are turned off by default. You can turn them on by selecting them from the Edit > Toolbars submenu, but they are most likely unnecessary—the Formatting Toolbar contains commands found in the Home tab of the Ribbon, and unless you’re adding and managing databases to your Word documents, you likely don’t need the Database Toolbar turned on either. The Toolbars submenu also contains the “Customize Toolbars and Menus” command where you can create, rename, and delete Toolbars.

Customize Toolbars and Menus

The Customize Toolbars and Menus dialog box, where you create, rename, and delete Toolbars.

Open the “Customize Toolbars and Menus” dialog box and select “New.” Word will ask you to give your new Toolbar a name and once you do, its name will appear in the list of Toolbars, and an empty Toolbar will appear.

New Toolbar

Creating a New Toolbar in Word.

To start filling your Toolbar with commands, switch to the “Commands” tab of the dialog box, find the command(s) in the list on the right, and drag the command(s) to the Toolbar.


The Commands tab of the Customize Toolbars and Menus dialog box lists all the Commands you can use to create Toolbars.

Word helpfully provides categories for different commands on the left as well as descriptions. Picking up from my earlier articles, to create a Toolbar full of paragraph and character styles, select the Styles category in the list on the left. The Styles that are saved as part of the document template are listed on the right, so it’s just a matter of dragging the styles to the Toolbar (keep in mind paragraph styles are indicated with a pilcrow (paragraph symbol “¶”) and character styles with an underlined, lowercase “a”.)

As you drag paragraph and character styles to your new Toolbar, it’s likely that, instead of the style name, you’ll see the text “Apply Style Name” appear in the Toolbar. Once you close out of the dialog box by selecting “OK,” the actual names of the styles will appear in the Toolbar.

Styles Added to my Toolbar

Adding paragraph/character styles to my “Chapter Styles” Toolbar. Until you close out of the dialog box, “Apply Style Name” is used instead of the actual style name.

As you add commands to Toolbars, Word likes to grow the Toolbar horizontally, but you can rearrange commands and re-orient the Toolbar with the resize widget in the lower right corner.

Again, picking up from my earlier article Creating Macros in Microsoft Word, to create a Toolbar filled with your macros, create a new Toolbar, switch to the “Commands” tab, and select the Macros category from the list on the left. You’ll see your macros listed on the right with the macro icon, followed by a name like “Normal.NewMacros.NameYouGaveYourMacro.” As you drag these to your Toolbar (in any order that you like), you’ll notice that the whole name as presented in the dialog box is added to the Toolbar, making it pretty wide.

Text Macros Toolbar

When creating a Macro Toolbar, the whole name as presented in the dialog box is used. Fortunately, the appearance of Toolbar Commands can be customized.

Luckily, there’s a way to customize the appearance of Toolbar Commands.

Customizing Your Toolbar

When you create new Toolbars and add Commands, the default appearance of those commands is an icon. However, you’ll notice if your Toolbar contains Styles or Macros, their appearance is only text. This makes perfect sense for Styles and Macros—their name is their description. Normally, however, commands are signified by their icon, such as the “Save” Command found in the Standard Toolbar. For more than a decade the “Save” icon has been the floppy disk (even though floppy disks haven’t been used in all that time!) The appearance of Commands added to Toolbars can be changed by right-clicking (or Control + Clicking for single-button mouse users) on the name of the Command and selecting “Properties,” bringing up the Command Properties dialog box.

Command Properties

The Command Properties dialog box, where you can change the appearance of Commands added to Toolbars.

Here you can change the name of the Command and it’s View type, choosing between Default Style, Text Only (Always), Text Only (in Menus), and Image and Text (when creating Toolbars full of either paragraph/character styles or macros, you get “Text Only (Always)” because there is no unique icon for items you create). To the left of the “Name” field is the Command’s icon, if it has one (paragraph/character styles don’t, and all Macros have a generic one), and a small triangle denoting a drop-down menu for additional icons.

Additional Icons

Additional icons can be added, copied, and pasted by accessing the drop down menu next to the Command’s icon.

Any of these icons can be used for your Commands, and icons can be copied from one Command and pasted to another. For example, I use a collection of eight Macros on my documents.

My Macros

My collection of Macros, with icons copied from other Word Commands.

Because Macros all have the same generic “macro” icon, making them difficult to tell apart, I gave them different icons I copied from other Microsoft Word Commands—in this case, from the Commands “Show Heading1,” “Show Heading2,” etc. found in the “All Commands” list of the “Customize Toolbars and Menus” dialog box. You can do this as well—if you find an icon you like from some other Command, follow these steps:

  1. Drag the Command to your Toolbar from the Commands list
  2. Close the dialog box by selecting “OK”
  3. Right-click on the Command’s icon and select “Properties”
  4. Click on the small drop down menu next to the icon
  5. Select “Copy Button Image”
  6. Select “OK” to close the Command Properties dialog box
  7. Right-click on the Command you want to copy the icon to
  8. Select “Properties”
  9. Click on the small drop down menu next to the icon
  10. Select “Paste Button Image”
  11. Select “OK” to close the Command Properties dialog box
  12. If you change your mind, go through the same process, but select “Reset Button Image” instead. Finally, with the “Customize Toolbars and Menus” dialog box open, drag the Command that contained the icon you copied from off your Toolbar to delete it.

Final Thoughts

Over the years, Microsoft Word has taken a lot of abuse. True, the program is full of obscure commands and functions that likely only get used by a very small percentage of people. But if you take the time to explore what it can do—creating reusable paragraph and character styles, developing macros capable of running multiple repetitive tasks, and creating custom-made Toolbars full of Commands—you’ll discover a program that can make your work easier and quicker to accomplish!


My typical workspace in Word, including Toolbars that I created that store my Macros (top) and Styles (bottom).


Jamie McKee is a book designer and typesetter for university presses throughout the US. More information about him can be found at
  • Melise Gerber says:

    Thanks for this–I knew about creating macros, but I never even thought to create a separate toolbar for MY styles. GENIUS!!!

  • Karen says:

    What version of Word is this? Just a suggestion: When creating tips such as these, it would be helpful to put the posting date AND the Word version at the very top of the article (rather than having the post date at the very end, and no version info). This doesn’t look like any version of Word I’ve ever seen, and I don’t have any of the options you have described in the article.

  • Jamie McKee says:

    The position of the posting date is handled by the layout of So while I had no control over where it is posted, I would agree it makes more sense to place it at the top.

    As for the version, it should be obvious from the screen shots that this is on a Mac. When you consider that it’s a Mac version of Word, posted in July of 2015, then the logical conclusion should have been that it’s the latest version of Word for Mac at the time of posting—Word 2011 for Mac. If it doesn’t look like any version of Word you’ve ever seen, then it’s likely that you’re on Windows, using the Windows version of Word…in which case none of this info applies to you.

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