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Excel Formatting Tips

Format worksheet cells to make text or fill color stand out. Create a color spectrum across a range of cells. Show color palettes near cells

Open the Format Cells Dialog Box

Open the Format Cells with the keyboard or mouse, to change any of the formatting options for the selected cells

Open With a Keyboard Shortcut

  1. Select the cells that you want to format
  2. On the keyboard, press Ctrl + 1

Open With the Mouse

  • Select the cells that you want to format
  • Right-click on one of the selected cells
  • Click Format Cells

The Format Cells dialog box opens, and you can click any of the tabs, to change the formatting options for the selected cells.

Format Cells dialog box

Show the Color Spectrum

To show an electromagnetic spectrum in a range of 6 cells, you can use a 2-color gradient fill in each cell.

Thanks to Robert Lepper, for sharing this tip. He used this technique to help with a homework assignment.

fill effects gradient for color spectrum

To show a color spectrum, like the one above, each cell is filled with a 2-color gradient. Each adjacent cell starts with the finishing color of the cell to the left.

To fill each cell:

  1. Right-click on a cell, and click Format Cells
  2. On the Fill tab, click Fill Effects
  3. fill effects button

  4. Under Colors, the Two Colors option is automatically selected.
  5. Select your starting and ending colors in the Color 1 and Color 2 drop downs
  6. Under Shading Styles, select Vertical
  7. fill effects dialog box

  8. Click OK, twice, to close the dialog boxes
  9. Repeat these steps in each of the 6 cells, to create the full color spectrum.

fill effects gradient for color spectrum

Move Color and Border Palettes

While working on a worksheet, you might want to change a cell's fill color or font colour, or add borders. To do that, you can use the fill, font, and border commands on the toolbar.

color palette

Move the Formatting Palettes

If you have lots of formatting to do, it will be easier if the palettes are closer to the area where you're working.

In Excel 2007 and Later Versions

In Excel 2007 and later, right-click on the cell that you want to format, to see the popup menu. A mini toolbar also appears, with several formatting options, including fill, font and borders.

cell format popup

If the mini toolbar does not appear, go into Excel Options, in the General category, and add a check mark to "Show Mini Toolbar on selection".

mini toolbar option setting

In Excel 2003 and Earlier Versions

In Excel 2003 and earlier, you can detach the formatting palettes from the toolbar, and move them onto the worksheet. This video shows the steps, and the written instructions are below the video.

To move one of the “tear away” palettes (Font Color, Fill Color, Borders):

  1. On the toolbar, click the dropdown arrow, to open the palette.
  2. At the top of the palette, point to the thin grey bar.
  3. When your pointer changes to a four-headed arrow, drag the palette down onto the worksheet.

drag the color palette

When you've finished working with the palette, click the X at its top right, to close it.

close the color palette

Download the Sample File

Download the sample formatting workbook. The zipped file is in xlsx format, and does not contain macros.

More Tutorials

FAQs, Worksheet Functions and Formats

Data Entry - Tips

Conditional Formatting - Basics

Drop Down List in Cell - Basics

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Last updated: December 28, 2016 2:13 PM
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