How Do I Add a Background Color or Pattern to Excel Cells?

By Aaron Parson

To change the background color or pattern of cells on an Excel 2013 or 2010 spreadsheet, set the Fill options in the Format Cells window. These options include several pattern styles and customizable colors for both the cell backgrounds and pattern lines. Neither background colors nor patterns affect the data in a spreadsheet, but you can search by colors and patterns to find cells with specific styles.

Step 1

Select one or more cells on a spreadsheet, click "Format" on the Home tab and choose "Format Cells." Alternatively, press "Ctrl-1" as a shortcut to reach the Format Cells window.

Step 2

Switch to the "Fill" tab and pick a background color, or leave the option set to "No Color" to add a pattern without a background color. To set the color without using a pattern, click "OK." Otherwise, open the "Pattern Style" menu and pick a pattern.

Step 3

Open the "Pattern Color" menu and choose a color for the pattern's lines. On some patterns, including "75% Gray" and "Thick Diagonal Crosshatch," the pattern color completely overwhelms the background color. Check the Sample area to see how the background color, pattern and pattern color work together.

Step 4

Click "OK" to apply the pattern and colors to the selected cells.

Tips & Warnings

  • Click "Cell Styles" on the Home tab to choose from preset background color, font color and font size combinations. Pick "New Cell Style" to save a commonly used style to the preset list.
  • Press "Options" and then "Format" on the Find and Replace window to search for cells matching a particular background color or pattern.
  • Select a fill color from the Font section of the Home tab to quickly change a cell's background color without adding a pattern.
  • To apply a gradient background, click "Fill Effects" below the background color options, pick a style and choose two colors.
  • Many of Excel's patterns use thick lines that obscure data. To keep a cell's contents visible, either use a thin pattern or a light pattern color. Alternatively, zoom in on the spreadsheet to see cells more clearly.
  • Background colors -- including white, but not "No Color" -- cover up Excel's grid lines. To separate highlighted cells after coloring, open the Borders drop-down menu on the Home tab and pick "All Borders" with the line style and weight that matches your document's intended style.