How to Troubleshoot and Fix Excel Display Problems

There are a number of issues that can arise with how Microsoft Excel displays spreadsheets and the Power Query Editor on high resolution monitors. We’ll show you how to quickly fix these problems when they arise.

Microsoft Excel display issues include washed out gridlines, misaligned interface elements, elements that are too big, text is difficult to read, and blurry text

Other issues can occur when launching Power Query for Excel where buttons don’t align and some of the items in the ribbon look like they are the incorrect size. We’ll highlight a quick fix for Excel not rendering spreadsheets correctly and other items that can help you troubleshoot and resolve rendering issues.

Let’s jump in!

Adjusting Microsoft Excel Display Compatibility Options

The first thing to check when there is a display issue in Excel are the Multiple Displays settings, even if you are working on a single monitor. Go to Options, General, When Using Multiple Displays and select “Optimize for best appearance” and restart excel.

The example below shows one of the issues that Excel has when the display settings are off.

Example of an excel sheet with difficult to see gridlines that are blurry or washed out

You’ll notice that the text itself doesn’t look quite right and the gridlines around cells look washed out and don’t form crisp lines like you’re used to seeing.

Go to File > Options > General and at the top of the options list are User Interface Options when using multiple displays. These settings impact how Excel renders spreadsheets on monitors with different resolutions and can be helpful for single monitor setups and not only multiple-display setups.

Adjusting the Excel User Interface for use with Multiple displays and high resolution monitor settings

If optimize for best appearance is already selected, try switching it to optimize for compatibility to see if it resolves the issue.

The optimize for best appearance setting is designed to ensure that Excel (and other Office applications) looks as good as possible, especially on high-resolution displays. When selected, Excel tries to use the full resolution and scaling capabilities of each display to render text, images, and other elements in the sharpest

This setting is most common for newer high resolution displays.

The optimize for compatibility setting prioritizes consistent functionality and appearance of Excel across multiple displays, especially when those displays have different resolutions or scaling settings. It’s particularly useful in setups where one monitor might have a significantly higher DPI than another.

When you select “Optimize for compatibility,” Excel adjusts its rendering behavior to ensure that it displays correctly on all monitors. This may involve lowering the resolution or scaling on high-DPI monitors to match that of the lower-DPI monitors. The result is a more consistent appearance and behavior across different screens, but it might come at the cost of not fully utilizing the high resolution of better monitors.

After adjusting the setting, you should be able to reload your Excel workbook and see the interface, text and gridlines rendered in a sharp easily readable fashion.

Example of an Excel workbook that displays gridlines and interface elements correctly after a settings change

Hopefully this quick setting fixes your Excel display issues, if not here are some additional ideas to troubleshoot further.

Additional Troubleshooting Tips for Excel Display

Here are some additional steps that you may want to consider when Excel is blurry or isn’t displaying interface elements correctly. We’ve attempted to list them in order of the easiest fix to the most involved.

Restart Your Computer

This sounds lame, but many times it does indeed fix problems. We’ve fallen into the Google trap many times when a quick reboot corrects the problem. Try this first.

Unplug and Re-plug-in Your Monitor

If Excel normally looks okay on your monitor, try unplugging the monitor and plugging it back in. There are times that Windows seems to get confused as to which peripheral is plugged in and which monitor it should be displaying that will throw off the auto-resolution-detection of the screen.

It’s not uncommon when plugging a laptop monitor into an external monitor for example.

Adjust Display Settings

Try adjusting the resolution and scaling of your computer monitor to make sure that the issue is specific to Excel instead of a more global setting that could be off on your computer.

  • Scale and Layout: Right-click on your desktop, choose “Display settings,” and adjust the “Scale and layout” to 100%, or whatever is recommended for your monitor.
  • Screen Resolution: In the same “Display settings” menu, ensure the screen resolution is set to the monitor’s native resolution.

Try Launching Excel in Safe Mode

Hold down CTRL while left-clicking on a shortcut to launch Excel. You’ll be prompted to start Excel in Safe mode which disables all add-ons and resets Excel to the default settings. This helps you determine if it’s something specific to the way Excel is setup, an add-on that’s malfunctioning etc.

Screenshot of the Excel Safe mode dialog box when launching Excel in Safe Mode.

Disable Hardware Graphics Acceleration

This option is available on older versions of Excel. Microsoft removed the option in newer versions of Excel, and requires a workaround Windows Registry Edit which we generally save as an option of last resort.

In Excel, go to “File” > “Options” > “Advanced.” Under “Display,” check the box for “Disable hardware graphics acceleration.”

Update Excel/Office

The options screen may look slightly different depending on which version of Excel you are running and how up to date you are. Generally the update settings will be available under File > Options > Update Now.

How to update Microsoft Excel to the latest version from inside of Excel File, Options

As an alternative to updating Excel you can also re-install or repair Excel from the Add/Remove programs control panel of Windows.

Update Display Drivers

Ensure your graphics card drivers are up to date. You can usually find the latest drivers on the manufacturer’s website. Many of the common drivers can also be found by running Windows Update.

Use Excel Online as a Temporary Alternative

If display issues persist and still need to get some Excel spreadsheets done, you might want to try out Excel Online, you can sign up for free or access it through your Office 365 account. Excel online runs inside of web browsers such as Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome.

It’s progressed significantly over the last several years and has many of the same features that the Excel Desktop application has. The most notable shortcoming is that it doesn’t currently support building Power Query models but it allows you to refresh them. Most other standard functionality is available.

Conclusion

By systematically going through these steps, we hope you will be able to resolve most display issues with Excel. If the problem persists, it might be specific to your hardware or an issue with the Excel application itself, in which case contacting Microsoft Support could be the next best step.

Our first recommendation is to adjust the multi-display settings within Excel Options. Excel sometimes has trouble rendering correctly on high resolution monitors. If that doesn’t solve the problem, try unplugging and plugging in your monitor to see if the auto-detection is off or reboot your computer.

Additional troubleshooting options are more involved and may require some assistance from IT if you work for a corporation that doesn’t allow you to adjust software on your computer.

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