Setting the Default Fill Color for a Shape to None

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated February 15, 2022)
This tip applies to Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Microsoft 365


When Gary adds a shape to a worksheet, Excel automatically fills it with a color that he can then change. The problem is that Gary doesn't want the shapes filled with any color; he wants them empty, by default. He wonders if there is a way to change the default for shapes so that they don't have a fill color.

There are a few ways you can approach a solution to this issue. First, if you want to affect just the current workbook, then you can set the default format for your shapes, which includes the fill they use. To set the default, simply format a shape the way you want and then right-click on the border of the shape. In the Context menu that appears, choose the Set As Default Shape option. Now, anytime you are working with this particular worksheet, Excel remembers the formatting you want used for any new shapes you add.

The second approach is to create a theme that reflects how you want shapes to appear. Excel uses themes to define the colors, fonts, and effects available within a workbook. By default, every workbook has a theme associated with it; the default theme is called Office Theme. You can choose a different theme by displaying the Page Layout tab of the ribbon and using the Themes tool to choose which one you want used.

With a theme applied (or the default theme, if you don't explicitly apply another theme), you can start to make changes to the theme. If all you want to do is affect the fill color used for shapes, follow these general steps:

  1. Insert a shape into your workbook. (It doesn't really matter what shape you choose.)
  2. Format the shape so it has no fill. (You can apply any other formatting to the shape, as desired.)
  3. Right-click the line around the shape and choose Set As Default Shape from the Context menu.
  4. Delete the shape you just added and formatted.
  5. Make sure the Page Layout tab of the ribbon is displayed.
  6. Click the Themes tool. Excel displays a set of theme options.
  7. Choose Save Current Theme. Excel displays the Save Current Theme dialog box.
  8. Provide a name for the theme you are saving.
  9. Click Save.

Now, with your theme saved (which includes the default formatting for your shapes), you can apply the theme to other workbooks. Once applied, any shapes you add to those other workbooks will reflect the formatting you created and saved in the theme.

Note that this approach doesn't provide for the unfilled shapes to be the default for all new workbooks; you still need to apply the theme you created. If you want to remove even that one necessary step, you can follow these general steps:

  1. Create a new, blank workbook.
  2. Apply the theme you earlier created.
  3. Press F12 to display the Save As dialog box.
  4. In the File Name box, enter the name book.
  5. Use the Save As Type drop-down list to choose Excel Template or Excel Macro-Enabled Template. (Which one you choose depends on whether your current workbook has any macros in it or not.)
  6. Use the other controls in the dialog box to locate and select the XLStart folder. (This folder is where you are going to store your template.)
  7. Click Save.

If you are unsure of where the XLStart folder is located (step 6), use Windows to search for the folder. Its exact location can vary depending on how Excel was installed on your machine. The folder is normally in the same folder where Excel was installed on your system, but it may not be. (Thus the suggestion to search.)

Now, when you restart Excel, the template you just created and saved is used as the default template for your new workbooks. That means that it will already have your custom theme applied, which controls whether your shapes are filled or not.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (12641) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Microsoft 365.

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 two more than 4?

2023-02-09 16:38:22

J. Woolley

@Rebecca Healy
Try this with the active workbook (I'm using Excel 365 and Windows 10). This is method A:
A.1 Click Page Layout > Colors > Customize Colors..., make changes if necessary, name it MyColors, and Save.
A.2 Save the active workbook as MyColors.xlsx.
A.3 In Explorer, navigate to "C:\Users\[UserName]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Templates\Document Themes\Theme Colors" substituting your user name for [UserName]. You should see a file named MyColors.xml.
A.4 Copy MyColors.xml to the equivalent folder on your other computer.
A.5 Copy MyColors.xlsx to your other computer and open it.
A.6 Click Page Layout > Colors. You should see MyColors under Custom.
Here is alternate method B, which might be easier:
B.1 Apply custom colors to your active workbook, then save it as MyColors.xlsx.
B.2 Copy MyColors.xlsx to your other computer and open it.
B.3 Click Page Layout > Colors > Customize Colors..., do not make any changes, name it MyColors, and Save. The custom colors applied to MyColors.xlsx are now saved in "...\Theme Colors\MyColors.xml" on that computer.
B.4 Click Page Layout > Colors. You should see MyColors under Custom.

2023-02-08 10:20:52

Rebecca Healy

Do you have a method to embed a custom color theme in a workbook? If I create a custom color theme on one computer and open that workbook on a different computer, the custom colors do not follow the workbook - an entirely different - and sometimes unreadable because the color palette is generated is too dark. Can a custom theme be coded in VBA? Thanks

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