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Microsoft Excel:
How to Customize the Default Workbook

When you create a new Excel workbook, you get a standard default workbook. But what if you don’t like that workbook? For example, maybe you have a standard header that you always (or almost always) use on printed 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?

Excel 2010, Excel 2007, new workbook, customize the default workbook, format worksheetAs 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 2010 and Excel 2007 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:

  1. Open a new blank Excel workbook.
  2. Next, customize the blank workbook exactly as you want it to look.
  3. 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 2010, choose File > Options, pick the General category, and specify the desired number of sheets in the Include this many sheets setting. In Excel 2007, pick the Microsoft Office Button and then click Excel Options. Choose the Popular 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:

  1. When the new default workbook is set up to your preferences, choose the File tab or Microsoft Office Button and then Save As > Excel Workbook.
  2. In the Save As dialog box, choose the Save As Type drop-down list, and select Excel Template (*.xltx).
  3. Name the file as book.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.
  4. After you save the template file, you can close it.
  5. Close Excel.
  6. Start Excel to see your new 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:

  1. Create a new folder on your C: drive where you will store your book.xltx file.
  2. In Excel 2010, pick File > Options, and then click the Advanced category. In Excel 2007, click the Microsoft Office Button, choose Excel Options, and then choose the Advanced category.
  3. 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 box.
  4. 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.

Note: If you are not able to save your updated default workbook, you may need to run Excel as an administrator.

Create your own custom workbook today to save you time and effort in Microsoft Excel.

© Dawn Bjork Buzbee, MCT, The Software Pro®

Dawn Bjork Buzbee is The Software Pro® and a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) as well as a certified Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) Master Instructor, certified Microsoft Applications Specialist (MCAS) Instructor, and a certified Microsoft Office expert. Dawn shares smart and easy ways to effectively use software through her work as a software speaker, trainer, consultant, and author of 8 books.

This article and more can be reprinted at no charge in your publications and website with copyright and attribution.
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Hot Excel Tip
Right-click on any workbook tab for worksheet management commands such as Delete, Rename, Select All Sheets.
Did You Know?
Excel 2010 and Excel 2007 files with an .xlsm  extension are macro-enabled workbooks, that is, they can or do contain macros to automate your work in Excel.
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