How to Customize your Ribbon in Office 2010

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For years, Microsoft Office has struggled to create a menu system that works for everyone.

While huge improvements have been made since the first release of Microsoft Office, the truth is, there is no one configuration that works for everyone. We have seen customization options in the past, but it usually took quite a bit of trial and error before getting the right menu system without filling up your screen with toolbars.

In Office 2010, Microsoft has introduced the ribbon in all of its applications, including Outlook and OneNote.

The ribbon is basically a standardized bar that holds all of your tools and actions. What I like most about the Office ribbon is that it is always the same size; I always had trouble getting all of my tools to fit just right in past versions of Microsoft Office; with the ribbon, if you add too many tools to one tab, they are condensed into a drop-down style box.

Microsoft Office 2010 Ribbon

Office 2010 Ribbon: Initial Thoughts

To be completely honest, I wasn't very excited about the method Microsoft decided to use to customize the ribbon. The interface seems clunky and complicated, a huge contrast compared to the clean ribbon interface. However, it is manageable and does what it's supposed to. Once you get the hang of the customization menu structure, it's actually not that hard to manage.

Customizing the Office 2010 Ribbon: Getting Started

You can start customizing your ribbon by right clicking anywhere on the ribbon, and choosing “Customize the ribbon ...” You can alternatively click on “File -> Options -> Customize Ribbon.” But I find the first method to be faster and easier to remember.

Customize your Ribbon

After clicking, you'll be taken to a customization interface similar to this one. (There may be slight differences based on what product you are customizing for.)

Customization Interface

This is where things start to look complicated, so let's take a look at what's shown here. On the left, you'll see Microsoft Office's general configuration tabs, since we're only working on the ribbon, we don't have to worry about any of these.

On the right, we have to sections. The section on the right is your current ribbon. The section on the left is where all of the possible commands, tools, and actions are stored. So the way customizing works so far, is you choose a tool on the left, click on “Add > >” in the center, and it will be added to your ribbon. To remove a tool, click on a tool already on your ribbon on the right, and click on “< < Remove” in the center.

From Menus to Ribbons

You might be thinking to yourself, “My ribbon is linear, this is a menu structure ...” To better understand the menu structure, we'll take a look at how they relate to the ribbon itself. The menu structure in the customization interface is 3 layers deep, the first layer is the tab, the second layer is the group, and the third layer is the tool.

Customization Interface vs. Ribbon Interface

If you take a look at this comparison, you'll see how the menu structure relates to the ribbon. In red is the tab, in green is the group, and in blue is the tool. You can also add a deeper layer, turning a tool into a drop-down menu, as you can see with the “Paste” tool.

Making the Office 2010 Ribbon Yours

Now that I've explained how the customization interface works, let's get into the customizations themselves. I find it easiest to take one tab at a time. It's important to note that you cannot modify pre-existing tabs, so the best thing to do would be to disable the first tab, and create your own to replace it.

You can rename a tab by clicking on the item and then clicking the “Rename” button below. Alternatively you can right click on the item and then click “Rename” from the drop down menu. Once you have your tab and group named, you can start dragging your favorite (most used) tools and actions into the group. Note that while you can drag tools into the ribbon menu to add a tool, you cannot drag them out to remove them. You must click on the “Remove” button in between the menus.

Types of Tools in Office 2010

You may notice that some tools contain small icons to the right of their names. These icons note special functions that the tool includes. (Shown below in green.)

Types of Tools

There are four types of tools you'll run across. The first is a tool with no icon; this type of tool is one that requires no other action, such as the “Bold” or “Italic” tools. The next is a tool with an arrow as an icon; these tools contain a drop down menu with special options, such as the “Breaks” tool. The next type of tool has the same arrow, but this time with a small line before it; this type of tool contains multiple levels of options available. The final tool type contains an icon with a typing curser and a down arrow; this type of tool will have a user editable drop down menu, for example, the “Font Size” tool allows for both drop down options, and user input.

Working Across Computers

After reading through, you'll probably realize that customizing is a lot of work. It would be really inconvenient to have to make these same modifications on multiple computers you own, or even just on your personal and work machines. Luckily, on the bottom right hand side of the customization page, you'll notice an “Import/Export” function. You can use this to not only export from one machine and import on another, but you can also use exported ribbons as a backup method just in case you lose your current settings.


While I do think that the customization interface chosen for Microsoft Office 2010 is a bit crowded, it does the job quite well. If you set aside some time to customize your ribbon, you'll save loads of time searching for tools in the future.

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Mike Rodriguez

Mike Rodriguez is a computer technician with over 8 years of experience in the IT field. He has completed training in CompTIA A+, Network+, Computer Business Applications (Microsoft Specialist), Web Page Design and Graphic Design, and is working on completing his CompTIA A+ and CCNA certifications. Mike has experience working as a computer technician for two local school districts, as well as freelance computer repair work with, which Mike owns. Music is another one of Mike's callings. Using his technical experience, Mike promotes local musicians in Salinas California through his website where local musicians and businesses can gain promotion to a worldwide audience.