When you create a new Excel workbook, you get a standard default Excel workbook. But what if you don’t like that workbook? Maybe you have a standard header that you always (or almost always) use on pages of your workbook. Or possibly you prefer a different default font style or size, typically use the comma number format or you often change the layout of column widths when you create a new worksheet. Do you frequently print your worksheets on legal-size paper with a landscape orientation? Does your company require a disclaimer or confidentiality footer on key Excel workbooks? How can you customize the default Excel workbook?
As it turns out, Excel gives you quite a bit of control over the look and layout of your worksheets. It’s fairly straightforward to create an entirely customized default workbook. The trick behind this magic in Microsoft Excel is creating a template file named book.xltx (or book.xltm if your default workbook contains macros), and then saving this file to the appropriate location on your hard drive.
Creating a New Excel Workbook Template
To create a new default Excel workbook template:
- Open a new blank Excel workbook.
- Next, customize the blank workbook exactly as you want it to look.
- Save the workbook with a specific file name in a designated folder. Additional ideas and steps are provided below.
Some Excel workbook elements you might change:
- Font style and font size: Highlight the portions of the worksheet you want to change and select your preferences for number, alignment, and font formatting from the Font group in the Home tab.
- Print settings: Select one or more worksheets and then choose Page Layout tab > Page Setup group to specify print settings including the header and footer, margins and orientation, and indicate other print layout choices.
- Number of sheets: Add or delete worksheets, re-name sheet tabs, and even change worksheet tab color.
- Column widths and layout: If you normally prefer different column widths, select the columns or even the entire worksheet and then modify the column width.
NOTE: Any new worksheets you insert into your custom default workbook will revert back to the original formatting and layout. You may want to add extra worksheets to the original workbook, or reserve an extra or master worksheet you can copy as desired.
Applying Changes to Multiple Cells and/or Worksheets
To add custom formatting changes to every cell, column, or row, first highlight all cells with Select All (press [Ctrl] + A). When you are done, press [Ctrl] + [Home] to clear the cell highlights.
To apply changes such as formatting or print settings to multiple worksheets in a workbook, right-click on any sheet tab then left-click on Select All Sheets which groups the worksheets together for shared actions. When you have finished your changes, left-click again on any sheet tab to clear the worksheet grouping.
You don’t need to create a new default workbook if all you want to do is change the number of worksheets in a new workbook (the default is 3). In Excel 2013 and Excel 2010, choose File > Options, pick the General category, and specify the desired number of sheets in the Include this many sheets setting.
Saving Your New Workbook
To save your new default workbook:
- When the new default workbook is set up to your preferences, choose the File tab and then Save As > Excel Workbook.
- In the Save As dialog box, choose the Save As Type drop-down list, and select Excel Template (*.xltx).
- Name the file as xltx
The file needs to be saved in your XLSTART directory which is on your local C: drive. The location of this directory varies depending on your version of Windows and Microsoft Office; search your hard drive for the folder.
After you save the template file, you can close it.
- Close Excel.
- Start Excel to see your new workbook.
Using the New Default Excel Workbook
Now, every time you start Excel, the new blank workbook will be based on the template you created. In addition, when you click the New toolbar button (or press [Ctrl] + N), the new workbook will be created from your template.
As always, this or any other workbook can still be individually customized as needed.
Keep in mind that creating and saving a custom default Excel workbook only changes the default workbook on the active computer and does not affect the workbook used by others on your computer network. You can, however, share your default workbook by copying your book.xltx file to the proper location on another computer.
If the XLSTART directory is on a network, you may not have permission to save files. Instead, you can create a startup directory on your own system with any name you want and store the book.xltx file in this new alternate startup directory. The directory name you choose doesn’t matter, but you will need to tell Excel where it is.
To save your default workbook in an alternate directory:
- Create a new folder on your C: drive where you will store your xltx file.
- Next pick File > Options, and then click the Advanced.
- Under the General section, type the full path of the folder that you want to use as the alternate startup folder in the At startup, open all files in
- If a workbook with the same name is in both the XLSTART folder and the alternate startup folder, the file in the XLSTART folder opens.
Caution: Because Excel will try to open every file in the alternate startup folder, make sure you specify a folder that contains only files that Excel can open and only files you want to see every time you start Excel.
Create your own custom workbook today to save you time and effort in Microsoft Excel.
Discover more Excel shortcuts, tips and tricks here.
By Dawn Bjork, MCT, The Software Pro®
Microsoft Certified Trainer, Technology Speaker, Software Consultant