Precise Column Width Resizing in Microsoft Excel

 In Excel Tips

How To Articles on Launch ExcelWe saw in previous articles how to use the mouse to fit the width of a column to the widest contents of that column, and how to use keyboard shortcuts to do the same thing.

Now for this question: how can I change a column width precisely? And how can I change the standard column width in an Excel worksheet? Read on to find out more…

When would I want to Change the Width of Columns Precisely?

When I say I want to change the width of a column precisely, I mean fine-grained control that you get by entering numbers in a dialog box instead of just using the mouse.

Yes in most cases it it fine to drag the column wider or narrower using the mouse, but what if you want to fine-tune the column width?

The way to do this is right click on the column header, select column width and then type in the precise width. Excel measures column width in characters, and the default width on my version of Excel 2010 is 8.43 characters.

Step by Step: How to resize column widths precisely

Here is a picture showing how this looks in Excel. (1) Right Click column header, (2) Select Column Width from the context menu that comes up, (3) Enter the precise width in the dialog box (measured in characters).

Step-by-step-How-to-resize-column-widths-precisely

Three steps to resize column widths precisely using the Column Width dialog box

Scenario: Spreadsheet column is too wide to fit on the screen in Excel

On rare occassions when the column is too wide to fit on the screen, you will find that it is not easy to drag the column narrower using the mouse. To fix this problem, you can either zoom out or you can set the column width to a smaller value that does fit on the screen, using the steps above. Set the column width to something small like 20 characters.

Scenario: I want to change the standard column width (Excel 2007, 2010)

At the start of this article I asked the question ‘How can I change the standard column width in an Excel worksheet?’ If you want to create a spreadsheet which uses a standard column width that is not the default 8.43 characters, follow these instructions.

  1. On the Excel ribbon, go to the Home tab → Cells → Format → Default Width
    Excel opens the Standard Width dialog box.

  2. Enter the new width in characters (between 0 and 255) in the Standard Column Width text box.
    Setting a column width to 0 is the equivalent of hiding the column in the worksheet by choosing Format → Columns → Hide & Unhide → Hide columns. You can hide columns that you don’t want printed as part of the final spreadsheet, for example if you want to hide certain calculations. However, if you enter 0 as the new standard width, you end up hiding all the columns in the worksheet, which makes it impossible to add, edit, or print any of its cells!

  3. Click OK to close the Standard Width dialog box.

Related Posts: Resize & autofit column widths in Excel

Click on one of the following post links to read more on this topic.

Victor Chan
Victor has been using Excel intensively since 2002. He is a Chartered Accountant (Fellow of the ICAEW) and has an MEng in Manufacturing Engineering from the University of Cambridge. He is on a mission to help you learn how to use Excel better.
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