Too Black for Excel

You know what bothers me? As you can tell from the ambiguously racist title of this post…black font.

I know it sounds strange, but the default font in Excel is somehow too black. The contrast of the white background and the really dark black font color annoys me. In a time when we’ve moved away from the standard VB colors, why does Excel default to RGB(0, 0, 0)?


Lately, I’ve made it a point to tone down the default black color in my spreadsheets. Although the difference is subtle, I think my reports look better both on the screen and in print form.


For example, in the screenshot below,

the table on top is formatted with the default Excel black RGB(0, 0, 0). The bottom table is formatted so that the font color is RGB(75, 75, 75).


Here is another example without the gridlines. See how harsh the black looks in the top table? Toning down the black font makes a subtle, but positive, difference.


Here’s another example. Which looks better to you?

To me, the font color on the left looks very 1997. The text on the right feels more modern.


Now if you think I’m being a little mental, I understand.

Not all of us can have the superb style and taste that flows through my ample thoroughbred physique.


If you agree with me, you may be wondering how you can change the default Excel font color.

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a setting that lets you simply select a default font color. But there is a workaround. You can format a blank workbook and save it as your Startup workbook.


Step 1: Modify the ‘Normal’ Cell Style

Open a new workbook and then right click the Normal cell style found on the Home tab.

Select the option to Modify…


This will open the Style dialog box where you can choose to apply your own formatting to Numbers, Font, Borders, etc. Click the Format button and then format the font color. I chose to apply a custom color RGB(75, 75, 75).


Step 2: Save the Workbook as your Startup Workbook

Once you confirm all your formatting changes for the Normal cell style, you can now save the workbook as your Startup workbook.

To do this, you will need to save the workbook in the XLSTART directory on your computer.

This directory is typically found at this path:



If your XLSTART directory is not there, or you can’t find the XLSTART directory, you can find the actual path using the Immediate Window.

1. Open the Visual Basic Editor (press Alt+F11)

2. Activate the Immediate Window (press Ctrl+G)

3. In the Immediate Window, type: ?Application.StartupPath

4. Press Enter

You’ll see where your XLSTART directory lives. Save your workbook to the path shown.


At this point, you can close Excel, open it back up, and then open a new workbook.

You will see that Excel opened your preformatted workbook with your toned-down font.


Well, that’s my rant on black. Time to go get some black coffee.

8 thoughts on “Too Black for Excel

  1. Heather

    The Problem: a coworker who believes everything Excel is voodoo – and that only a properly trained priestess (yours truely) is able to do any work in the program.

    The Solution: now everytime she sends me a file in Excel to add a simple column of numbers – I go into the workbook options and change the gridlines to red. I then add the sum total as requested and return the document.

    She now believes that the files I return to her are ‘infected’ because of the red gridlines – so she’d learning to do her own work. I know it’s evil, but it feels good 🙂

  2. GMF

    1) Sorry, but the grayer font makes me feel that my glasses need to be cleaned. I can see toning the other numbers down if you wanted to use 0,0,0 for emphasis, but having it as the standard makes me wonder how my empty printer toner cartridge got connected to my monitor.

    2) I had thought that the XLSTART path you noted was for the PERSONAL.XLSB macro workbook. With earlier Excel versions at least, the default worksheet had to be saved as “Book.xlt(x)” in the C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office15\XLSTART directory. When did that change?

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