Three easy ways to use color in an Excel worksheet

These simple color tips for Excel can help you add a bit of color to designate purpose or task.

You'll want to apply color to attract attention to specific areas of a sheet and to identify purpose, category, and other important specifications. Used discretely and with specific intent, color can guide users through their work and help them work more efficiently. These three tips are easy ways to consider color when working with Excel sheets.

Color tabs

Adding descriptive text to sheet tabs is usually enough, but sometimes a bit of color can help - especially if your org already has a set of conventions that utilize color. To add color to a tab, do the following:

  1. Right-click the tab and choose Tab Color.
  2. Select a color from the resulting palette. If you're using Excel 2003, click OK.
  3. Move to another sheet and watch as Excel colors the tab.

Change gridline color

Gridlines are the cell outlines that you see on screen. They don't print (by default) and they're not the same as borders. You can turn them off for individual sheets by clicking the View tab and unchecking Gridlines in the Show group. In Excel 2003, choose Options from the Tools menu, then, click the View tab and uncheck Gridlines in the Window Options section. Besides turning the display off and on, you can also change their color, as follows:

  1. Click the File tab and choose Options in the left pane (under Help). In Excel 2007, click the Office button and then click Word Options. In Excel 2003, choose Options from the Tools menu.
  2. In the left pane, select Advanced. In Excel 2003, click the View tab.
  3. In the Display Options For This Worksheet section, choose a color from the Gridline Color dropdown. (Automatic is the default setting.)
  4. Click OK.

If you want to print gridlines, use the Page Setup dialog in the Backstage (File tab or Office button).  Click the Sheet tab and check Gridlines in the Print section.

Printing in black and white

While we're discussing colors and printing, you might want to know that you don't have to print your sheets in color. In fact, unless you have a specific reason to do so, printing all those colors is expensive. To print a colorful sheet in black and white, do the following:

  1. Click the File tab or Office button. In Excel 2003, choose Page Setup from the File menu and skip to step 4.
  2. Choose Print from the left pane.
  3. At the bottom of the print options, click the Page Setup link.
  4. Click Options in the resulting dialog.
  5. On the Paper Quality tab, click the Black & White option in the Print section.
  6. Click OK twice and click the Home tab to return to your sheet.


Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.


Long ago (in a galaxy far, far away)...actually it was way back from a much earlier version of Windows & Office... ...I could change the background color (by default for all of Excel) from white to another color. This was helpful to me because I could then add notes/comments that were helpful to me in working on the spreadsheet in a white font - they would show up on my screen, but not print. I haven't been able to find this again for years and years. Does anyone else remember this and is there a way to do this now (in Office 2010)? Thank you for any input you may have on this.


always check your output prints effectively in black and white (and colour) many shades appear the same when printed and can obliterate text cell patterns take precedence over cell shading (at least, it does here) use the lightest possible cell pattern or it will make the text unreadable my other tip about using colour: generally don't, or at least use very sparingly - it's much more effective


I also use conditional formatting but also in conjunction with an IF statement to display a user data entry error message AND paint to cell with the message RED.


there is also conditional formatting where you can highlight cells containing certain values. another usefull feature is to sort rows based on color instead of value.


Just when you think you know it all you come out with a useful tip that I didn't even know I needed or would want. Always enjoy your articles, new and recycled! Thanks.


Good to know what you guys like! Thank you!

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