Changes in Excel's Color System

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated March 27, 2017)


Don has some complex worksheets that are in their present state after years of development. These worksheets use the classic 40-color palette for fonts, patterns, and borders. When Don opens the workbook in Excel 2007, he noticed right away that the program apparently doesn't use the same colors used in previous versions of Excel and his original well-understood color-coding system is now a horrible mix of all sorts of colors. Don wonders if there a way around this, short of throwing out Excel 2007.

Don is not the only person to have this same question, and for good reason—Excel 2007 has, indeed, abandoned the older 40-color palette and replaced them with color themes. These themes cannot contain as many colors as the old palette, so if you used the old colors extensively, then you may be out of luck.

There is one workaround—you can still use the Format Painter to copy old-version colors to new cells in your worksheet. This means that you could open your legacy worksheet on an older system, copy all your colors to a series of cells in a new worksheet, and then use that worksheet as a "palette" in conjunction with the Format Painter to format your cells in Excel 2007.

This problem (and suggested workaround) is discussed in somewhat more detail at the following page by MVP Bob Umlas:

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (6204) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


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What is 4 - 0?

2013-03-10 14:06:12

Peter Kimberley

I am in despair! I just upgraded to Office 365 so I could read important docx files that a colleague has sent me and I find that Microsoft themes have screwed up literally five years of carefully colour coded work. I now face the prospect of either changing hundreds of spreadsheets or throwing Office 365 in the bin and reverting to Office 2003. I am so angry at Microsoft. Why do they change things so irrevocably. This approach is going to have severe consequences when future generations try to make sense of our published works.

2012-11-01 08:16:57

Paul Seaman

Another approach could be to use Excel styles. Open your workbook in Excel 2007/10, select a cell with a colour you want to keep, and click the Cell Styles button on the Home tab.

Now choose New Cell Style from and name your style (this will help you remember what each colour means). Cell styles also store number formatting, alignment, font, border and protection state. The style will now appear in the cell styles gallery.

The change only affects this workbook, but you can copy these styles to another workbook by switching to the other workbook and choosing Merge Styles from the Cell Style menu.

You could presumably edit the master workbook template so all new workbooks had the required colour styles.

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