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No More Custom Formats Can Be Added

Some day, as you are working with a large workbook, you may be surprised by an error message that pops up. You may be trying to change the formatting of a cell, and Excel refuses to make the change and instead displays a message that says "No more custom number formats can be added." Why does Excel do this?

Every time you change the format of a cell to a "custom format" you are adding formats to Excel. According to Excel's specifications, the number of custom formats you can use is only limited by memory, but you must remember that limitation is theoretical—it is very possible that you will run out of space for custom formats long before you run out of memory.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to correct this problem. Once a custom format is created, Excel "remembers" it, and you cannot get rid of it easily. There are a few different things you can try, however.

  • Use File | Save As to save the workbook under a different name.
  • Save the worksheets as HTML files, and then load them from HTML back into Excel. (You may loose some formatting during the round trip, but it should help clear things up.)
  • Copy the contents of each worksheet to a new, blank workbook. Don't use Edit | Move or Copy Sheet, as this can also move or copy your custom formats. You should instead select all the cells in a worksheet, press Ctrl+C, go to the new worksheet, and press Ctrl+V.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2133) applies to Microsoft Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.

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Comments for this tip:

V    25 Jun 2012, 12:23
I experienced this problem when I was faced with integrating different versions of Excel worksheets into a required 2003 worksheet format file. Excel would 'shutdown' when the 2003 excel formatting exceeded allowed number of format changes. There are software programs available (for a small charge) from other sources that will solve this. I purchased a program that stripped the excessive formatting changes from the 2003 excel file. It solved the problem.
Ray    24 Jun 2012, 08:42
We like this site, but if you are more modern then you're looking at the wrong site. As it says above, "Got a version of Excel that uses the menu interface (Excel 97, Excel 2000, Excel 2002, or Excel 2003)? This site is for you!
If you use a later version of Excel, visit our ExcelTips site focusing on the ribbon interface" ie ExcelTips (Ribbon)not EcelTips (Menu).
D    23 Jun 2012, 20:43
This tip is for Excel 2003 and older (SEVEN YEARS AGO)! Why not get up to date with Excel 2010?

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