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How Column Widths Are Determined in Excel

This article was previously published under Q73591
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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.
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 ofthe font defined for the Normal style of your workbook. Changing thedefault font also changes the column width. This occurs because of the waythat Excel stores the column width information for individual fonts. Thisarticle discusses how column widths are determined.
MORE INFORMATION
Excel begins with a default width of 8 characters and translates this intoa number of pixels, depending on the Normal style font. It then rounds thisnumber up to the nearest multiple of 8 pixels so that scrolling acrosscolumns and rows is faster. The pixel width is stored internally in Excelfor positioning data on the screen. The number that you see in the ColumnWidth 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 characterswill fit into a cell. The default font for the worksheet is the fontthat is assigned to the Normal style. Excel defaults to the following fontsdepending 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 theFormat 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 dialogbox that appears.

If the default font is a non-proportional (fixed width) font, such asCourier, then 8.43 characters of any type (numbers or letters) will fitinto a cell with a column width of 8.43 because all Courier characters arethe same width. If the font is a proportional font, such as MS San Serif ora 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 isbecause 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 columnwidth may be set to a different number depending on the font used in theNormal style. For example, with a Normal style font of Arial, if youattempt to change the width of a column to 8.5, the column will be set to8.57 or 65 pixels. This behavior is because of the translation of fontcharacters to pixel units. Fractional pixel units cannot be displayed;therefore, the column width rounds to the nearest number that results ina 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 newfont and that the number in the cell still fits, even though the columnwidth is still 10 but increased to 85 pixels wide.
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Article ID: 73591 - Last Review: 11/16/2006 04:37:26 - Revision: 1.4

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