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Changing Excel's Background Color

Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Excel 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Excel, click here: Changing Excel's Background Color.

The standard background color in Excel is white. You may, at some time, want to change the background color to something else, such as a light grey. Unfortunately, there is no way to change the background color; it is not a configurable option in Excel. There are a few things you can try as workarounds, however.

One approach involves selecting all the cells in the worksheet and applying a fill color to the cells. If you don't want the color to print, then you simply need to select all the cells and remove the fill color. This could be automated by using a macro to do the color removal, printing, and re-application.

There are drawbacks to such an approach, however. First, the colors used to fill the cells could interfere with the successful application of conditional formatting, if the conditional formatting involves the use of fill colors. (Conditional formatting applied to font specifications shouldn't be a problem.)

Another option is to create, in your favorite graphics program, a small rectangle that matches the color you want used for your background. Save the small rectangle as a graphics file, using the JPG file format. Then, within Excel, follow these steps:

  1. Choose Sheet from the Format menu, then choose Background from the resulting submenu. Excel displays the Sheet Background dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  2. Figure 1. The Sheet Background dialog box.

  3. Use the controls in the dialog box to locate and select the graphic image you created (the small rectangle of color).
  4. Click on OK.

The graphic image is placed in the background and repeated over and over again so that it fills the entire background. The benefit to this approach is that it doesn't affect any conditional formatting and the background image won't print.

Speaking of conditional formatting, if you aren't using conditional formatting for any purpose in a worksheet, you could use it to create your background. In a blank area of your workbook, define a cell that contains the value True. Then select your worksheet that you want to have the background color, and use a conditional format to define that color. The format can look at the cell you defined, and if it is True, then the color is applied. If the cell is not True, then the color is not applied. This allows you to turn the background color on or off (for printing) by changing the value of a single cell.

You could also define styles for use in your worksheet. Define a style that has the desired background color, and another that does not. You can then apply the colored style when editing and the non-colored style when preparing to print.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (3133) applies to Microsoft Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Excel (Excel 2007 and later) here: Changing Excel's Background Color.

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Comments for this tip:

Sheila    23 Oct 2015, 16:13
I had the same "red" problem solved it by going to preferences - color - copy colors from-select the sheet you are moving.
Worked for me.
Phil Reinemann    21 Mar 2013, 17:59
I found the answer. Windoze had the Display option to Show contents when moving windows unchecked. When checked it no longer grays out the window when moving or resizing.
This might be something left from when graphics processors weren't fast enough to display contents when moving windows.
It seems to be only an issue for Excel. I think because Word, Outlook and ??? Display windows separately from the application not within the app's desktop.
Phil Reinemann    21 Mar 2013, 17:19
This tip came up but I want to change the color of the Excel applicaton background. I know how to do cells and worksheets but I want the gray behind those sheets to be something else.
This is because I edit most excel sheets in non-maximized mode and when I move a sheet or change the size - the border and contents are the same color as the gray background so I can't see where I'm moving it! I even turned on a different border color for the active window, but the border becomes the same gray.
This is for Excel 2003 in XP Pro. The background is blue for Excel 2007 on W7 - much better and the window is obvious when moved or resized.
Any ideas?
Zara    25 Feb 2013, 12:29
Many thanks for the help I am disabled and needed to change the background color from white and have now done it .
wira    09 Dec 2012, 08:21
Could i change the background color when in editing mode (When i press the F2 button)?
HLM    21 Jun 2012, 14:39
There is a simple way to change the default color of a worksheet. Change the "Normal" style in the Format menu to the color or pattern you like
senta    19 May 2012, 10:20
There actually IS a way--two ways--to change the background color in 2 steps and it only takes a few seconds. I can only remember one way though, and that is to hold down the Ctrl key and then hit the 'a' key and let it back up while still holding the Ctrl key down. That highlights the entire background so you can then click on the fill icon to make it any color you want-the entire background. I can't remember the other way to highlight the background but it's something you click on near the top left of the worksheet. I've googled it to death to try and find it, which is how I stumbled across this page, by the way, and I just had to leave this comment telling you that there are easy, quick ways to change the color of the background. I just wish I could remember where it is on the top left area that highlights the background when it's clicked...
Gook    08 Feb 2012, 12:59
Hi Allen
Hi Ricardo

Thx respectively for the feedback and the comment.

All I can reply to the X vs 10X formula is: Gawd help us humans if the only way we can be 'communicated' with is through the onscreen equivalent of a blindfold or a mask (as in The Man in the Iron Mask).

I might also add that the X vs 10X equation can be perhaps taken a little further as in:

X - (10X) = Z
where Z stands for Zombie, or partly Zombie, subscribers: not Zombie in their everyday lifestyles, but only when it comes to actually "reading" all those newsletters.

(but also with tongue in cheek)
awyatt    02 Feb 2012, 14:15
It's very simple why people do it: Because it works.

The pop-up is an invitation to subscribe to the ExcelTips newsletter. Click on close, and you don't see it again for about 6 months. (Provided you have cookies turned on and don't clear them out over the next 6 months.)

Back to the "it works" part: I've done testing on this several times. Without the pop-up, subscriptions to the newsletter are X. With the pop-up in place, subscriptions are approximately 10x. That's a 900% improvement by having the pop-up. It may be aggravating, but it works.

I also tried a less-obtrusive slide-in sign-up form, where it slid-in from the bottom of the screen and then "retreated" so that only a small tab was visible. Got way more complaints about that less-obtrusive approach than I ever did about the pop-up.

Bottom line, though is that 10X is better than X, any day.

Ricardo Jimenez    31 Jan 2012, 10:51
Gook, you are not alone. I am pleased with the information on the page, but what I keep as a memory is the annoying popup. Why do people do that?
gook    23 Jan 2012, 23:18
Hi Allen,

Thx for the super tip on how to get a change of backround colour in Excel, the brilliant white was killing my eyes.

A small tip in return, Allen: *just* as I was *fiercely* concentrating on what you had written ZING! out jumps this insert, or square, with exhortations or recommendations, I don't know which, because I was too busy snarling to read what the insert said. In a nutshell, Allen, speaking as a common or garden everyday browsing beast, I truly truly *abhor* this particular 'communication' technique. Few things arouse my negative feelings so readily and violently. And I'm ready to bet I'm not alone :-)


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