A Ruler in Excel

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated February 15, 2017)

It seems odd that Word allows you to display an on-screen ruler, but Excel does not. Perhaps it is because you can scale Excel so that you can make whatever you want fit on any size page; perhaps not. Whatever the reason, you are left to your own devices to come up with a way to "measure" whatever you place on the screen.

One way you can approach the problem is to simply use your own physical ruler to determine on-screen measurements. This may seem strange, but it works pretty well. Try this:

  1. Open a new worksheet.
  2. Change the font used in the worksheet to Courier New.
  3. Change the width of each column to 12.
  4. Place a number one (a single digit) in columns A through G.
  5. Print the sheet.

If you get out your ruler, you should find that the digits on the printed page are about one inch apart. If they are not, then you can adjust the column widths and print again, until they are very close to an inch apart.

Now, hold the ruler up to the screen and measure the distance between the digits. Reduce the zoom setting for the screen until the digits are very close to an inch apart. (On my system, I needed to set the zoom at 82%.)

That's it. You can now use the ruler to figure out horizontal measurements on the screen. Even if you change the column widths or change the font, the zoom setting is what counts. In my case, every time I set my magnification at 82%, I can rest assured that what I see on screen is a very close approximation of what will print.

You can also use the same general approach to create your own graphic ruler. For instance, you could use a screen capture of the ruler in Word, and then size it to match the settings you made above. The graphic is "overlaid" on the screen (the same as you would do with a physical ruler), and therefore serves the same function.

Obviously, either of these workarounds takes a little trial and error. Hopefully, just about the time you get an approach figured out, Microsoft will release a version of Excel that has built-in rulers.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2484) applies to Microsoft Excel 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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