How Column Widths Are Determined in Excel

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SUMMARY

The standard column width in Microsoft Excel is 8.43 characters; however, the actual width you see on the screen varies, depending on the width of the font defined for the Normal style of your workbook. Changing the default font also changes the column width. This occurs because of the way that Excel stores the column width information for individual fonts. This article discusses how column widths are determined.

MORE INFORMATION

Excel begins with a default width of 8 characters and translates this into a number of pixels, depending on the Normal style font. It then rounds this number up to the nearest multiple of 8 pixels so that scrolling across columns and rows is faster. The pixel width is stored internally in Excel for positioning data on the screen. The number that you see in the Column Width dialog box is the pixel width retranslated into character units (based on the Normal font) for display.

A column width of 8.43 means that 8.43 of the default font's characters will fit into a cell. The default font for the worksheet is the font that is assigned to the Normal style. Excel defaults to the following fonts depending on the version of Excel:

   Excel version 5.0 and later: Arial 10

   Excel 4.0: MS San Serif 10

   Excel 3.0: Helv 10
				


To determine the default font on your worksheet, click Style on the Format menu. To change this font, click Modify (version 5.0 and later) or Define (version 4.0 and earlier). You can change the font in the dialog box that appears.

If the default font is a non-proportional (fixed width) font, such as Courier, then 8.43 characters of any type (numbers or letters) will fit into a cell with a column width of 8.43 because all Courier characters are the same width. If the font is a proportional font, such as MS San Serif or a True Type font such as Arial, then 8.43 integers (numbers such as 0, 1, 2, and so on) will fit into a cell with column width of 8.43. This is because numbers are fixed-spaced with most proportional fonts. However, because letters are not fixed-spaced with proportional fonts, more "i" characters will fit and fewer "w" characters will fit.

When you change the width of a column to a fractional number, the column width may be set to a different number depending on the font used in the Normal style. For example, with a Normal style font of Arial, if you attempt to change the width of a column to 8.5, the column will be set to 8.57 or 65 pixels. This behavior is because of the translation of font characters to pixel units. Fractional pixel units cannot be displayed; therefore, the column width rounds to the nearest number that results in a whole pixel unit.

Example of Column Width Behavior

Use the appropriate method for your version of Excel.

Excel Version 5.0 and Later:

  1. In new workbook, select cell A1.
  2. On the Format menu, point to Column and click Width. Set the Column Width to 10 (75 pixels wide).
  3. Click Style on the Format menu. Verify that the default font is correctly set to Arial 10.
  4. In cell A1, type 1234567890. Note that the letters fit perfectly into the cell and the column width is still 10 (75 pixels wide).
  5. On the Format menu, click Style. In the Style dialog box, click Modify. Click the Font tab, and change the default font to a non-proportional font such as Courier. Click OK twice.
Excel 4.0 and Earlier:

  1. In new workbook, select cell A1.
  2. On the Format menu, click Column Width. Set the Column Width to 10 (75 pixels wide).
  3. Click Style on the Format menu. Verify that the default font is correctly set for your version of Excel:

    Excel 4.0: MS San Serif 10

    Excel 3.0: Helv 10
  4. In cell A1, type 1234567890. Note that the letters fit perfectly into the cell and the column width is still 10 (75 pixels wide).
  5. On the Format menu, click Style. Click Define and then click Font. In the Fonts box, click a non-proportional font such as Courier. Click OK twice.
Note that the Column Width box automatically updates to accommodate the new font and that the number in the cell still fits, even though the column width is still 10 but increased to 85 pixels wide.

Properties

Article ID: 73591 - Last Review: November 16, 2006 - Revision: 1.4
APPLIES TO
  • Microsoft Excel 97 Standard Edition
  • Microsoft Excel 95 Standard Edition
  • Microsoft Excel 5.0 Standard Edition
Keywords: 
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Retired KB Content Disclaimer
This article was written about products for which Microsoft no longer offers support. Therefore, this article is offered "as is" and will no longer be updated.

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