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: Too Many Formats when Sorting.

Too Many Formats when Sorting

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated March 12, 2016)

Debi is running into a problem when she tries to sort her worksheet. Instead of doing the sort, she gets a message that says "Too Many Different Cell Formats."

According to sources at Microsoft, this error occurs when your workbook gets close to exceeding one of the built-in limitations of Excel. A workbook can contain only about 4,000 "custom formats."

Custom formats are unique combinations of formatting attributes, applied to cells. For instance, let's say that you have two cells, both formatted for 10-pt. Arial type. Both use the same number format, and neither of them have borders applied. If you change the font size of one of the cells to 11-pt., then you now have two unique custom formats. If you copy the format of the 11-pt. cell to a third cell, you still have only two custom formats. But if you add a border to one of the 11-pt. cells, you now have three custom formats.

Basically, a custom format is any unique combination of things like typefaces, font sizes, colors, alignment, borders, or other cell attributes. If you have a workbook that has, say, 40 complex worksheets, then it is very possible to get close to the 4,000 custom-format limit.

There is only one way to correct the situation: Reduce the number of custom formats. Select a large block of cells in the workbook, and then choose Edit | Clear | Formats. If Excel won't let you do this even (perhaps you have put the workbook into an unstable state by having way too many custom formats), then you should copy the contents of your worksheets, one by one, to a new workbook. Make sure you use Edit | Paste Special | Formulas to do the pasting, so that your formulas are preserved and you don't copy formatting.

For further information on this topic, refer to the following Microsoft Knowledge Base article:

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/213904

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2554) 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: Too Many Formats when Sorting.

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. ...

MORE FROM ALLEN

Entering Large Time Values

If you need to input humongous times into a worksheet, you may run into a problem if you need to enter times greater than ...

Discover More

Finding the First Non-Digit in a Text Value

If you have a string of text that is composed of digits and non-digits, you may want to know where the digits stop and the ...

Discover More

Faster Text File Conversions

Want to make your importing of text data faster than ever? Here are some ideas you can apply right away.

Discover More

Save Time and Supercharge Excel! Automate virtually any routine task and save yourself hours, days, maybe even weeks. Then, learn how to make Excel do things you thought were simply impossible! Mastering advanced Excel macros has never been easier. Check out Excel 2010 VBA and Macros today!

MORE EXCELTIPS (MENU)

Sorting Data Containing Merged Cells

When formatting the layout of your worksheet, Excel allows you to easily merge adjacent cells together. This can cause havoc ...

Discover More

Sorting Huge Lists

Got a huge amount of data you need to sort in a worksheet, but Excel doesn't seem to be sorting it correctly? Here's some ...

Discover More

Understanding Ascending and Descending Sorts

When you sort information, Excel follows a set pattern of how your data is organized. This tip illuminates the burning ...

Discover More
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

View most recent newsletter.

Comments for this tip:

If you would like to add an image to your comment (not an avatar, but an image to help in making the point of your comment), include the characters [{fig}] in your comment text. You’ll be prompted to upload your image when you submit the comment. Images larger than 600px wide or 1000px tall will be reduced. Up to three images may be included in a comment. All images are subject to review. Commenting privileges may be curtailed if inappropriate images are posted.

What is eight more than 7?

There are currently no comments for this tip. (Be the first to leave your comment—just use the simple form above!)


Newest Tips
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

(Your e-mail address is not shared with anyone, ever.)

View the most recent newsletter.

Links and Sharing
Share