How to change column width and AutoFit columns in Excel

In this short tutorial, you will learn a few efficient ways to change the column width manually and have it adjusted automatically to fit the contents (AutoFit).

Changing the width of a column in Excel is one of the most common tasks that you perform daily when designing your reports, summary tables or dashboards, and even when using worksheets only to store or calculate data.

Microsoft Excel provides a variety of ways to manipulate the column width - you can resize columns using the mouse, set the width to a specific number or have it adjusted automatically to accommodate the data. Further on in this tutorial, you will find the detailed information about all these methods.

Excel column width

On an Excel spreadsheet, you can set a column width of 0 to 255, with one unit equal to the width of one character that can be displayed in a cell formatted with the standard font. On a new worksheet, the default width of all columns is 8.43 characters, which corresponds to 64 pixels. If a column's width is set to zero (0), the column is hidden.

To view the current width of a column, click on the right boundary of the column header, and Excel will display the width for you:
To check the width of a column, click on the right boundary of the column header.

Columns in Excel do not resize automatically as you input data in them. If the value in a certain cell is too large to fit in the column, it extends over the column's border and overlaps the next cell.  If the column to the right contains data, then a text string is cut off at the cell border and a numerical value (number or date) is replaced with a sequence of hash symbols (######) like shown in the screenshot below:
Columns are too narrow to display data.

If you want the information in all cells to be readable, you can either wrap text or adjust column width.

How to change the width of a column in Excel using the mouse

I believe everyone knows the most common way to make a column wider or narrower by dragging the border of the column header to the right or to the left. What you might not know is that using this method you can adjust the width of several columns or all columns on the sheet at a time. Here's how:

  • To change the width of a single column, drag the right border of the column heading until the column is set to the desired width.
    Changing the width of a single column
  • To change the width of multiple columns, select the columns of interest and drag the border of any column heading in the selection.
    Changing the width of multiple columns
  • To make all columns the same width, select the entire sheet by pressing Ctrl + A or clicking the Select All button  The Select All button, and then drag the border of any column header.

How to set column width to a certain number

As explained at the beginning of this tutorial, the Excel column width value represents the number of characters that can be accommodated in a cell formatted with the standard font. To resize columns numerically, i.e. specify an average number of characters to be displayed in a cell, do the following:

  1. Select one or more columns that you wish to resize. To select all columns, press Ctrl + A or click the Select All button.
  2. On the Home tab, in the Cells group, click Format > Column Width.
    Setting the column width numerically
  3. In the Column width box, type the desired number, and click OK.
Tip. You can get to the same dialog by right-clicking the selected column(s) and choosing Column Width... from the context menu.

How to AutoFit columns in Excel

In your Excel worksheets, you can also auto fit columns so that they get wider or narrower to fit the largest value in the column.

  • To autofit a single column, hover the mouse pointer over the right border of the column header until the double-headed arrow appears, and then double click the border.
  • To autofit multiple columns, select them, and double click any boundary between two column headers in the selection.
  • To force all columns on the sheet to automatically fit their contents, press Ctrl + A or click the Select All button, and then double click a boundary of any column header.

Double click any boundary between two column headers to autofit the selected columns.

Another way to autofit columns in Excel is by using the ribbon: select one or more columns, go to the Home tab > Cells group, and click Format > AutoFit Column Width.

Using the AutoFit Column Widths feature on the ribbon

How to set the column width in inches

When preparing a worksheet for printing, you may want to fix the column width in inches, centimeters or millimeters.

To have it done, switch to the Page Layout view by going to the View tab > Workbook Views group and clicking the Page Layout button:
Switching to the Page Layout view

Select one, several or all columns on the sheet, and drag the right boundary of any of the selected column headings until you set the required width. As you drag the boundary, Excel will display the column width in inches like shown in the screenshot below:
Setting the column width in inches

With the width fixed, you can exit the Page Layout view by clicking the Normal button on the View tab, in the Workbook Views group.

Tip. In the English localization of Excel, inches is the default ruler unit. To change the measurement unit to centimeters or millimeters, click File > Options > Advanced, scroll down to the Display section, select the desired unit from the Ruler Units drop-down list, and click OK to save the change.
Changing the ruler unit to centimeters.

How to copy the column width in Excel (in the same or to another sheet)

You already know how to make several or all columns on the sheet the same width by dragging the column border.  If you have already resized one column the way you want, then you can simply copy that width to other columns. To have it done, please follow the steps outlined below.

  1. Copy any cell from the column that has the desired width. For this, right-click the cell and choose Copy in the context menu or select the cell and press Ctrl + C.
  2. Right-click a cell(s) in the target column(s), and then click Paste Special... .
  3. In the Paste Special dialog box, select Column widths, and click OK.

Alternatively, you can select some cells in the target columns, press the Paste Special shortcut Ctrl + Alt + V, and then press W.
Copying the column width

The same technique can be used when you create a new sheet and want to make its column widths the same as those in an existing worksheet.

How to change the default column width in Excel

To change the default width for all columns on a worksheet or the entire workbook, just do the following:

  1. Select the worksheet(s) of interest:
    • To select a single sheet, click its sheet tab.
    • To select several sheets, click on their tabs while holding the Ctrl key.
    • To select all sheets in the workbook, right-click any sheet tab, and choose Select All Sheets from the context menu.
  2. On the Home tab, in the Cells group, click Format > Default Width... .
  3. In the Standard column width box, input the value you want, and click OK.

Changing the default column width in Excel

Tip. If you would like to change the default column width for all new Excel files that you create, save an empty workbook with your custom column width as an Excel template, and then create new workbooks based on that template.

As you see, there exist a handful of different ways to change column width in Excel. Which one to use depends on your preferred work style and situation. I thank you for reading and hope to see you on our blog next week!

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6 Responses to "How to change column width and AutoFit columns in Excel"

  1. Rohan Singh says:

    Thanks!!! Svetlana Cheusheva!!! Very nice Article. Can you please publish Article on Form control and Basic VBA lessions

  2. Jimmy Morrell says:

    What will 80 pixels convert to in characters? And how can I calculate this in the future?

    • Hello, Jimmy,
      unfortunately, we can’t tell you exactly how many characters 80 px will take, because it depends on the font family, font size, Excel and Windows versions installed, and your monitor resolution. The simplest way to see how many characters fits into your cell is to right-click and hold between two column headings, and Excel will instantly show you the result.

      • Glenn From Iowa says:

        I think Jimmy was looking for a default calculation. The article states, "On a new worksheet, the default width of all columns is 8.43 characters, which corresponds to 64 pixels." It makes sense that the character width to pixel ratio is dependent on the standard font (although I haven't tested to see if changing the standard font affects this ratio). However, I suspect the default ratio of 8.43 characters to 64 pixels is pretty standard. Or perhaps the article should not have stated the default column width and the corresponding pixel count?

        Jimmy, on my version of Excel, which has the default ratio above, each character past the first one takes up 7 pixels. For some reason, Excel divides the first character into 12 divisions. You can hover over each column divider to see the width in both characters and pixels. Test by changing the column width, then hover the mouse to confirm that ratio is correct on your version also.

        So the formula to convert column width to pixels (for the default ratio above, which has valid widths from 0 to 255) is this:
        =ROUND(IF(ColWidth<1, ColWidth*12, 12+((ColWidth-1)*7)), 0)

        To convert back to ColumnWidth, use this formula:
        =ROUND(IF(Pixels<12, Pixels/12, 1+((Pixels-12)/7)), 2)

  3. Barend Klitzke says:

    Thanks Svetlana
    This information helped a lot

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