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. ...


Changing Character Color

Need to easily change the color of some selected text? A quick way to do it is with a custom macro that sets just the hue ...

Discover More

Getting Rid of Modify Style Message

When you apply styles to a paragraph, you may periodically see a message asking if you want to reapply the style or ...

Discover More

Clearing and Deleting Cells

When you want to remove information from a worksheet, you can either clear cells or delete cells. This tip examines the ...

Discover More

Program Successfully in Excel! John Walkenbach's name is synonymous with excellence in deciphering complex technical topics. With this comprehensive guide, "Mr. Spreadsheet" shows how to maximize your Excel experience using professional spreadsheet application development tips from his own personal bookshelf. Check out Excel 2013 Power Programming with VBA today!

More ExcelTips (ribbon)

Changing Cell Colors

If you need to change the color with which a particular cell is filled, the easier method is to use the Fill Color tool, ...

Discover More

Using Strikethrough Formatting

Need a line through the middle of your text? Use strikethrough formatting, which is easy to apply using the Format Cells ...

Discover More

Creating 3-D Formatting for a Cell

The formatting capabilities provided by Excel are quite diverse. This tip examines how you can use those capabilities to ...

Discover More

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

View most recent newsletter.


If you would like to add an image to your comment (not an avatar, but an image to help in making the point of your comment), include the characters [{fig}] in your comment text. You’ll be prompted to upload your image when you submit the comment. Maximum image size is 6Mpixels. Images larger than 600px wide or 1000px tall will be reduced. Up to three images may be included in a comment. All images are subject to review. Commenting privileges may be curtailed if inappropriate images are posted.

What is 5 + 7?

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.

This Site

Got a version of Excel that uses the ribbon interface (Excel 2007 or later)? This site is for you! If you use an earlier version of Excel, visit our ExcelTips site focusing on the menu interface.

Newest Tips

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

(Your e-mail address is not shared with anyone, ever.)

View the most recent newsletter.