Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016. If you are using an earlier version (Excel 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Excel, click here: Shrinking Cell Contents.

Shrinking Cell Contents

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated May 25, 2020)


Excel includes a feature that allows you to shrink the contents of a cell so that everything fits on a single line. This feature can have bizarre results if the cell contains quite a bit of text, or if the column width is relatively narrow. You can take advantage of this feature by following these steps:

  1. Choose the cell (or cells) you want to affect.
  2. Display the Home tab of the ribbon.
  3. Click the small icon at the lower-right corner of the Number group. Excel displays the Format Cells dialog box.
  4. Make sure the Alignment tab is selected. (See Figure 1.)
  5. Figure 1. The Alignment tab of the Format Cells dialog box.

  6. Make sure the Shrink To Fit check box is selected.
  7. Click on OK.

You should note that this option does not cause Excel to reduce the point size of the text within the cell, only to make it appear to be smaller. This may sound confusing, and quite frankly is of little consequence when applied to the real world. Whether the point size is technically adjusted or not, the information in the cell still appears smaller, as necessary, to fit everything on a single line.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (11946) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Excel here: Shrinking Cell Contents.

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 seven minus 5?

2016-10-12 08:39:13

Jennifer Thomas

Thanks Joe - for my part I was actually looking for a way to control the internal margins of a cell in the way you described for a shape.

I have since done some research on the issue, and Microsoft says it's not possible because "it's not required for interoperability" (this is 'geek' for 'it's not my J-O-B to accommodate your whims, only to produce a stable application).

What you can do is set alignment values - but Excel won't accept a negative alignment value that would, in a Word table, override the 0 left indent value.

So I think we're out of luck here; Microsoft is sticking to the core functionality of Excel which is to function as a flat database, not a word processor or graphic-based application.

But I would be delighted to be wrong about that, so if anyone can find another solution, you'll be a hero :).

2016-10-11 11:37:29

Joe Morello

For Jennifer and Roland, regarding controlling the padding values:

1.Right-click the border of the shape or text box you want to adjust the margin for and then click Format Shape.

Format Shape command on the shortcut menu, triggered by right-clicking a shape border

2.Click the Size & Properties icon (Layout & Properties in Word) Layout & Properties tab , and then click Text Box.

Text Box options on the Format Shape pane

3.In the box for each margin, click the down arrow to decrease the distance. The change is applied immediately, so you can tell when you’ve got it right.

2016-10-10 17:34:44

Roger Barnes

This is an interesting tip. However, Shrink To Fit does not affect the behavior of auto-sizing a column width (i.e. double clicking the column divider to automatically change the column width to fit the widest cell in the column). The cell still acts as if it is full size and the column width is expanded to fit it.

2016-10-10 09:42:04

Jennifer Thomas

Like Roland, I would like to know about controlling padding values if possible -- maybe this could be another tip from Allen but if someone knows, thanks!

2016-10-08 12:19:43

Roland Garton

Good to know about this. Say, do you know of any way to remove the padding from a cell in Excel? I would like to insert a font character that takes up the entire cell, in two adjacent cells. I'd like them to display without any break in between. But the padding in Excel forces a physical separation.

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