Microsoft Excel Cell Size Restrictions

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Microsoft Excel Cell Size Restrictions
Excel's cell limitations changed significantly between Excel 2007 and Excel 2010. (Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Microsoft Excel's basic unit of data is the "cell." Cells are addressed by a column designator (a letter) and a row number. Thus, cell A1 is always the upper left cell in a given worksheet. These cells can be used to store text, or have formulas entered into them; they can be designated as data entry fields for users to put values into. Excel's cells do have some fundamental limitations, and knowing them makes it easier to plan around them.

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Maximum Cell Dimensions

Excel 2010 has a maximum cell width of 255 characters, where a character width is defined by the width of the numeral "0" in the default font specified for the program. You can change the default font for Excel by going to the File tab (in Excel 2010) or clicking the Office button (in Excel 2007), and clicking Excel Options, then selecting "Popular" from the left-hand pane. There will be a drop down available to select the new Default Font, including its size. The maximum height of a cell is expressed in points, where one point is approximately 1/72nd of an inch. The maximum height of a cell is 409 points, or about 5.68 inches. These limits on cell dimensions are also applicable to Excel 2003 and earlier versions.

Maximum Rows & Columns

Prior to Excel 2007, the maximum number of rows and columns that an Excel worksheet could have was 65,536 rows and 256 columns. From Excel 2007 through Excel 2010, the number of rows and columns increased to 1,048,576 rows by 16,384 columns. One significant improvement in Excel 2010 is that it's now a fully 64-bit program, and can use RAM in excess of 4GB (prior versions were limited to having no more than 2GB allocated to a single workbook) To find the lower rightmost cell that Excel is using on a given worksheet, type "Ctrl+End", which will move the cursor to that cell.

Maximum Characters Per Cell

The maximum number of characters an Excel cell can contain is 37,767 characters. While the limit on the number of characters Excel 2003 and earlier versions can contain is the same, in Excel 2003, the maximum number that can be displayed is 1,024, though in both cases, the formula bar can show the full contents of the cell.

Maximum Number Of Conditional Formats

Excel 2003 is limited to no more than three conditional formats in a given cell, in a strict priority. Those formats are all "stop if true" formats, meaning that once a conditional format is evaluated as "true," any subsequent formats aren't checked. By contrast, Excel 2007 and Excel 2010 have no hard limits on the number of conditional formats a cell can have, and each format on a cell can have "stop if true" set individually. This conditional format limit, and the maximum number of columns mentioned earlier, are the likeliest causes of an incompatibility message if you save an Excel 2007 or Excel 2010 file as an Excel 2003 file.

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