We can do a lot of fancy formatting with spreadsheets, but at the end of the day, spreadsheets serve one real purpose: to clearly display data. Fortunately, even if you know next to nothing about spreadsheets, these simple formatting and design tips will ensure you create beautiful excel spreadsheets that look professional every single time. As crazy as it seems, this is half of the battle and you can easily impress your boss or clients with these easy fixes.

For this blog post, we'll work with this really terrible looking spreadsheet and slowly improve it step by step. These quick excel tips will take this spreadsheet from ugly to aesthetically pleasing in minutes.

Really Bad Spreadsheet

Oh, and you need zero prior excel skills to make this method work for you. In fact, it can be advantageous to not know how to create all sorts of cell styles and wild designs. We are going with a professional, minimalistic approach that will look much better anyway.

#1 Correct Your Alignment

Fix Spreadsheet Alignment

For most of us, the natural tendency is to center our text in the cells of our excel spreadsheet. However, we should avoid doing that in most cases.

By centering some text and not others, you make the content uneasy on the eyes. Ironically, centering some elements makes the full document seem unbalanced.

Spreadsheets are for skimming over, so making them easy to read is critically important.

Fix: Give your data a strong, left alignment to text and a right alignment to numbers.

#2 Distinguish Your Headings

Distinguish Sheet Headers

Make your headings obvious and separate them from content that follows them. However, be sure that you don't overdo it with excessively large or multi-colored fonts in your cell style. 

The best ways to distinguish headings are by using bold text, underlines (across the entire column width of the header), different colored background text or by using slightly larger text. In most cases, bold text looks the best. You do not need to use more than one of these methods of distinguishment and of course, the headers should be different from the alternate rows beneath them that will repeat or alternate cell design style.

#3 Use Fewer Colors

Use Fewer Colors on Spreadsheets

Fight the urge to use anymore than 3 colors. When possible, use a color palette template or any alternating colors that come with your spreadsheet program (there will be many).

Never go for the dark background, light text approach. These are difficult on the eyes and aren't easy to read.

#4 Leave "Row 1" and "Column A" Empty 

Leave Space in Excel

It's amazing how giving the data some room to breath quickly makes your spreadsheets look better instantly. Play around with the grid lines as well to make your sheet look naturally spaced and even.

#5 Remove Borders and Use Light Zebra Stripe

Zebra Stripes Excel

Borders seem like a good idea at first but are often unnecessary. When you have multiple columns and multiple rows, you do need to distinguish them from one another clearly but it's an amateur design style to make your grid lines stand out with darkened borders. Your spreadsheets might actually look better if you pass on borders entirely, especially thick one larger than 1px, and instead focus on separating column headings from rows through subtle alternating background colors.

A subtle zebra stripe pattern for alternating rows will make it easier to read across long lines of data and down long columns. I recommend sticking to white and then a very light grey or something else that is very subtle.

Keep in mind, if you don't want your zebra stripes to cover an entire row, just the corresponding data. So, since we left column A row 1 empty, we would NOT add zebra striping to cells in those regions.

#6 Use Calibri or Arial Font and Just 2-3 Font Sizes

Best Font for Excel

Microsoft excel gives you a number of different fonts to choose from, but I recommend sticking with Calibri and Arial. Unless your company uses a specific, branded font type, these fonts are easy to read and aren't distracting.

Don't try to force too much pizzazz into a spreadsheet with a fancy font. Not only does this often make your sheets look bad, but it can also be problematic when sharing your spreadsheets with other users who don't have that font installed. 

When it comes to font sizes, avoid using more than 3 sizes maximum. Title, headers and body text can all be different sizes if you like, but keeping the heading and body texts the same size is a find option as well as long as you differentiate the headings and body in some other way (such as by using bold in the headers).

Obviously, these fonts must remain consistent across your entire workbook and across each worksheet. Don't use different fonts on worksheet A and worksheet B for instance. Continuity is key and a spreadsheet that looks good on its own might throw off the overall design if it's different from the other spreadsheets in the workbook.

#7 Center Your Title

Center Excel Title

If your excel sheet has titles, consider centering them over the width of the content. Do this by left clicking the cell to the left of the content and dragging it across to the last cell on the right of the content. Then right click and choose "merge text" and then choose "center text" if it wasn't already set to be centered.

This will give your spreadsheet a nice printing layout.

#8 Format Row Height and Column Width

Resize Columns and Rows

You want your data to fit snuggly. When possible, opt for uniformity in size of row heights and column widths, but don't be afraid to manually tweak them if data looks bunched up or hard to read.

You want to ensure that your rows and columns also fit nicely over several print pages. Whenever possible, keep your worksheets set so they can print across a single page and do not overlap onto other pages.

Many people don't actually print their spreadsheets so this part is an afterthought. The rule of thumb though is that if it looks good when you print pages, it will also look good when viewed in Excel, but something can look great in Excel and terrible in print.

#9 Strategically Freeze Panes (Header Rows or Columns)

Freeze rows

If you have large amounts of data but want to keep the headers visible while scrolling, consider freezing them so they remain "sticky" when scrolling. Freezing panes in this way will make your spreadsheet easier to to view and much easier to edit and work with.

#10 Organize Workbooks with Colored Tabs

Color Worksheet Tabs

An Excel workbook is a collection of different worksheets. Worksheets appear as tabs on the bottom of the workbook. You should utilize multiple worksheets whenever possible to make data easier to understand.

Excel Workbooks = Collections of Excel Worksheets

You can assign a color to each sheet tab if you have more than 2 sheets in your workbook. This is a little utilized feature that makes your workbooks easier to browse through and also gives a nice aesthetic appeal. However, like we mentioned before, avoid using too many colors here. Just using 2 colors and alternating them can be enough.

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