The Format Painter is a time saving tool inside the Microsoft Office Suite that allows you to copy the existing formatting of your objects and text and apply it elsewhere.
As formatting can consume 40% or more of your time in the Microsoft Office suite if you let, that is what makes the Format Painter such a powerful timesaving tool. Why re-format the wheel if you do not have to, right?
Before we dive into the different mechanics of how the tool works, there are two different commands you can use.
There is what I call the Object Format Painter, which you can find on the Home tab in Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. There is also what I call the Text Format Painter that pops up when you select text using your mouse.
You can identify both commands by the paintbrush icon (see picture above). Both commands can be used as a single use or locked Format Painter depending on how much formatting you want to copy and paste. The difference between the two is how you access them, and what kind of formatting you can copy.
The Object Format Painter is always accessed through the Microsoft Ribbon and can be used to copy both object level formatting (shapes fills, shape outlines, shape outline weights, etc.) as well as text formatting.
The Text Format Painter can only be accessed in the popup toolbar that appears whenever you highlight or select text. Its primary function is to copy only the formatting of the text you have selected.
Both commands now work seamlessly with the Pick Up Style shortcut and Apply Style shortcut. In the latest version of the Microsoft Office Suite – Microsoft 365 – these two shortcuts are now considered the Format Painter shortcut (see details below).
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Single Use Format Painter
The most basic way to use either of the two commands is as a single use copy and paste. That is, you are copying something’s formatting and applying it once as follows:
Step #1. Find and select a formatted object (shape, line, or text box) or block of text that you want to copy the formatting of.
You do not need to know how an object is formatted to copy all its formatting. All you need to do is find the object (shape, line, text box, or text) with the formatting you want to reuse.
Step #2. Click the Format Painter on the Home tab or in the popup toolbar that appears when you highlight text with your mouse cursor.
If you are into keyboard shortcuts, you can alternatively use copy and paste formatting shortcuts discussed below.
Step #3. After clicking one of the commands, your mouse cursor becomes a paintbrush icon, indicating that you have successfully copied your formatting. So, you know you are ready to paste it.
Step #4. Click the object or select the block of text you want to apply your formatting to. Doing so, the paintbrush icon on your mouse cursor disappears.
Note: Once you have copied formatting using either of the Format Painter commands, you can continue to apply that formatting using the Format Painter shortcuts discussed below.
The Locked Format Painter
If you want to copy and paste formatting and apply it to multiple objects (one after the other), the locked Format Painter is the way to go.
To lock the Format Painter, simply click the paintbrush icon twice, that’s it. If you forget this trick, simply hover your mouse cursor over the Format Painter in any of the Microsoft Office programs and read the FYI at the bottom.
FYI: To apply the formatting in multiple places, double-click Format Painter.
Locking the tool like this works for either of the two commands (the one in the Ribbon or the one in the popup toolbar when you select text with your mouse).
When locking the Format Painter like this, your cursor remains a paintbrush (allowing you to click and apply your formatting to multiple objects one after the other) until you hit the Esc key.
In this way, you can copy the formatting of a rectangle in PowerPoint for example, and then apply that formatting to other objects within your presentation without having to copy your formatting again.
Note: Once you have copied formatting using the any of the Format Painter tricks in this article, you can continue to apply that formatting using the Format Painter’s paste formatting shortcut.
Format Painter Shortcuts
The Format Painter shortcut is two different keyboard shortcuts that combine to create the Format Painter in PowerPoint and Word.
If you are using Excel and want to copy and paste formatting, you will instead need to use the Paste Special shortcut.
The two shortcuts that make up the Format Painter in Word and PowerPoint are:
- Pick Up Style shortcut (Ctrl+Shift+C) to copy formatting
- Apply Style shortcut (Ctrl+Shift+V) to paste formatting
These two shortcuts are easy to remember as they mimic the Copy (Ctrl+C) and Paste (Ctrl+V) shortcuts. All you need to do is add the Shift key to each shortcut to copy and paste formatting.
If you ever forget these shortcuts, you can always hover your mouse cursor over the Format Painter icon in Microsoft Word to see what the shortcuts are.
This keyboard shortcut reminder currently only works in Microsoft Word. Hopefully, Microsoft updates Excel and PowerPoint with this useful feature soon too.
To expand your knowledge and more about using the Copy shortcut, read our guide here. To learn how to use the Paste shortcut (and how to control your formatting as you paste content), read our guide here.
Text Formatting Limitation
The one formatting limitation of the Format Painter is when copying and pasting the formatting of text.
That limitation is that the Format Painter can only hold one style of text formatting at a time. It cannot copy and paste multiple styles of text formatting within a block of text, and then perfectly apply it to another block of text.
Instead, the Format Painter simply picks up the formatting of the first character of text and uses it for all its text formatting.
For example, in the picture above, notice that only the Bold (Ctrl+B) and Underlined (Ctrl+U) text formatting on the left side of the picture is copied and then applied to all the text in the rectangle on the right.
This means that when copying and pasting text formatting, you will need to make some manual formatting adjustments, or copy and paste your text formatting in multiple steps.
This is still WAY better than recreating your formatting yourself. It is just something to be aware of as you get more familiar with the Format Painter.
The Format Painter is one of the best time savings tools of the Microsoft Office Suite. That is because it allows you to copy and paste your object and/or text formatting without having to manually recreate it. As formatting objects and text can consume 40% or more of your time in the Microsoft Office Suite if you let it, that is what makes this tool so powerful.
The Format Painter also has a lot of flexibility depending on what your situation is. You can use the command as a single use instance, a locked Format Painter and/or use its shortcuts to quickly copy and paste your formatting.
Also, once you have used the Format Painter once, you can continue to use the Ctrl+Shift+V Apply Style shortcut to continue applying your formatting without having to copy it again.
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