Excel How to Alternate Row Colors

admin31 March 2023Last Update :

Introduction to Alternating Row Colors in Excel

When it comes to data presentation, Microsoft Excel is a powerhouse that offers a plethora of features to enhance the readability and visual appeal of spreadsheets. One such feature is the ability to alternate row colors, which can significantly improve the legibility of large datasets by providing a clear distinction between rows. This technique, often referred to as “zebra striping,” is not only aesthetically pleasing but also reduces the strain on the eyes, making it easier to track data across a screen or printed page. In this article, we will delve into the various methods of applying alternate row colors in Excel, ensuring that your data stands out and is interpreted with ease.

Why Alternate Row Colors Matter

Before we jump into the “how-to,” let’s first understand the “why.” Alternating row colors can transform a monotonous table into a more organized and visually appealing dataset. Here are some reasons why this feature is beneficial:

  • Enhanced Readability: Alternating colors help users follow a line of data without losing their place, especially in wide tables that extend beyond the viewable area of the screen.
  • Reduced Eye Fatigue: Constantly scanning rows of data can be tiring. The color distinction acts as a guide and reduces the effort required to differentiate between rows.
  • Professional Presentation: A well-formatted spreadsheet with alternating row colors looks professional and can make a positive impression in business settings.
  • Error Reduction: When checking or entering data, alternating colors can help prevent errors by making it easier to ensure that you are looking at the correct row.

Basic Method: Using Conditional Formatting

One of the simplest ways to apply alternating row colors in Excel is through Conditional Formatting. This feature allows you to apply formatting to cells based on certain criteria or conditions. Here’s how you can use it to alternate row colors:

  1. Select the range of cells or the entire table where you want to apply the alternating colors.
  2. Go to the Home tab on the Excel ribbon.
  3. Click on Conditional Formatting and then choose New Rule.
  4. In the New Formatting Rule dialog box, select Use a formula to determine which cells to format.
  5. Enter the following formula:
  6. Click on the Format button and choose the fill color you want for the even rows.
  7. Press OK to apply the formatting and again to close the New Formatting Rule dialog box.

After these steps, you should see that every other row in your selected range has been filled with the color you chose. This method is dynamic, meaning if you add or remove rows, the striping will adjust automatically.

Expanding Conditional Formatting for More Complex Alternations

If you want to alternate more than two colors or create patterns that span multiple rows, you can modify the formula used in the conditional formatting rule. For instance, to alternate three colors, you can use the following formula:


This formula will apply the formatting to every third row starting from the first row. You can create additional rules with =MOD(ROW(),3)=2 and =MOD(ROW(),3)=0 for the second and third colors, respectively.

Using Table Styles for Automatic Alternating Colors

Excel’s Table feature comes with built-in alternating row colors. When you convert a range of data into a table, Excel automatically applies a style that includes alternating colors. Here’s how to use this feature:

  1. Select the range of data you want to format.
  2. Go to the Insert tab and click on Table, or press Ctrl+T.
  3. In the Create Table dialog box, confirm the range and check the box for My table has headers if applicable.
  4. Press OK, and Excel will format your data range as a table with alternating row colors.
  5. To change the color scheme, go to the Table Design tab (or Design in some Excel versions) and select a different style from the Table Styles gallery.

This method not only applies alternating colors but also provides additional table functionality, such as sorting and filtering options, and maintains the color pattern as you add or remove rows.

Customizing Table Styles for Unique Color Schemes

If the default table styles don’t meet your needs, you can create a custom table style with your own color scheme. Follow these steps:

  1. With your table selected, go to the Table Design tab.
  2. Click on the More button in the bottom-right corner of the Table Styles gallery.
  3. Choose New Table Style at the bottom of the gallery.
  4. In the New Table Style dialog, you can add and modify elements such as header row, total row, and banded rows with your preferred colors and formatting.
  5. Once you’ve set up your custom style, give it a name and click OK.
  6. Your new style will now be available in the Table Styles gallery for you to apply to any table.

Advanced Alternating Colors with VBA

For those who are comfortable with Excel’s programming language, Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), you can write a macro to apply alternating row colors. This method gives you the most control and can be particularly useful for complex or non-standard alternating patterns. Here’s a basic example of a VBA macro that alternates row colors:

Sub AlternateRowColors()
    Dim rng As Range
    Dim row As Range
    Dim colorIndex As Integer
    Set rng = Selection
    colorIndex = 0
    For Each row In rng.Rows
        colorIndex = 1 - colorIndex
        row.Interior.ColorIndex = colorIndex + 15
    Next row
End Sub

To use this macro, select the range you want to format and run the AlternateRowColors macro. The macro will apply two different colors to the selected rows, alternating between them.

Creating More Complex Color Patterns with VBA

If you want to create a more complex pattern, you can modify the VBA code to suit your needs. For example, you can change the colorIndex variable to cycle through more colors or adjust the pattern of alternation.

FAQ Section

How do I remove alternating row colors in Excel?

To remove alternating row colors applied with conditional formatting, select the formatted range, go to the Home tab, click on Conditional Formatting, and choose Clear Rules > Clear Rules from Selected Cells. If you used a table, you can either convert the table back to a range or select a table style without banded rows.

Can I apply alternating row colors to only specific columns in Excel?

Yes, you can apply alternating row colors to specific columns by selecting only those columns when setting up your conditional formatting rule or by modifying the range in your VBA macro.

Do alternating row colors affect the printing of an Excel spreadsheet?

Yes, alternating row colors will appear when you print your Excel spreadsheet, provided you have a color printer. To ensure the best print quality, choose colors that are print-friendly and provide enough contrast.

Is there a limit to how many rows I can format with alternating colors?

There is no specific limit to the number of rows you can format with alternating colors. However, performance may be affected if you apply formatting to a very large number of rows, especially when using conditional formatting or VBA.


Alternating row colors in Excel is a simple yet powerful way to enhance the readability and visual appeal of your spreadsheets. Whether you choose to use conditional formatting, Excel’s Table feature, or VBA, you have the tools to create a data presentation that is both functional and attractive. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can transform your data into a clear and professional-looking document that stands out in any setting.

Remember, the key to effective data presentation is not just about making it look good, but also about making it as easy as possible for your audience to understand and interpret the information. Alternating row colors is just one of many features in Excel that can help you achieve this goal. So go ahead, give your data the visual boost it deserves, and watch as it becomes more accessible and engaging for everyone who views it.

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