In this tutorial, we will continue exploring the fascinating world of Excel Conditional Formatting. If you do not feel very comfortable in this area, you may want to look through the previous article first to revive the basics - How to use conditional formatting in Excel 2010 and 2013.
Today are going to dwell on how to use Excel formulas to format individual cells and entire rows based on the values you specify or based on another cell's value. This is often considered advanced aerobatics of Excel conditional formatting and once mastered, it will help you push the formats in your spreadsheets far beyond their common uses.
- How to create a conditional formatting rule with a formula
- Examples of Excel conditional formatting formulas
- How to fix Excel conditional formatting not working
Excel's pre-defined conditional formatting rules are mainly purposed to format cells based on their own values or the values you specify. I am talking about Data Bars, Color Scales, Icon Sets and other rules available to you on the Conditional Formatting button click.
If you want to apply conditional formatting based on another cell or format the entire row based on a single cell's value, then you will need to use Excel formulas. So, let's see how you can make a rule using a formula and after that I will provide a number of formula examples for different tasks.
How to create a conditional formatting rule using a formula
As you remember, in all modern versions of Excel 2013, Excel 2010 and Excel2007, the conditional formatting feature resides on the Home tab > Styles group. In Excel 2003, you can find it under the Format menu.
So, you set up a conditional formatting rule based on a formula in this way:
1. Select the cells you want to format. You can select one column, several columns or the entire table if you want to apply your conditional format to rows.
Tip. If you plan to add more data in the future and you want the conditional formatting rule to get applied to new entries automatically, you can either:
- Convert a range of cells to a table (Insert tab > Table). In this case, the conditional formatting will be automatically applied to all new rows.
- Select some empty rows below your data, say 100 blank rows.
2. Click Conditional formatting > New Rule...
3. In the New Formatting Rule window, select Use a formula to determine which cells to format.
4. Enter the formula in the corresponding box.
5. Click the Format... button to choose your custom format.
6. Switch between the Font, Border and Fill tabs and play with different options such as font style, pattern color and fill effects to set up the format that works best for you. If the standard palette does not suffice, click More colors... and choose any RGB or HSL color to your liking. When done, click the OK button.
7. Make sure the Preview section displays the format you want and if it does, click the OK button to save the rule. If you are not quite happy with the format preview, click the Format... button again and make the edits.
Now that you know how to create and apply Excel conditional formatting based on another cell, let's move on and see how to use various Excel formulas in practice:
- Formulas to compare values (Greater than, Less than, Equal to)
- Compare values based on several conditions (OR and AND formulas)
- Formulas for blanks and non-blanks
- Formulas for text values
- Formulas to highlight duplicates
- Format values above or below average
As you know Microsoft Excel provides a handful of ready-to-use rules to format cells with values greater than, less than or equal to the value you specify (Conditional Formatting >Highlight Cells Rules). However, these rules do not work if you want to conditionally format certain columns or entire rows based on a cell's value in another column. In this case, you use analogous formulas:
|Not equal to||=$B2<>10|
|Greater than or equal to||=$B2>=10|
|Less than or equal to||=$B2<=10|
The screenshot below shows an example of the Greater than formula that highlights product names in column A if the number of items in stock (column C) is greater than 0. Please pay attention that the formula applies to column A only ($A$2:$A$8). But if you select the whole table (in our case, $A$2:$E$8), this will highlight entire rows based on the value in column C.
In a similar fashion, you can create a conditional formatting rule to compare values of two cells. For example:
=$A2<$B2 - format cells or rows if a value in column A is less than the corresponding value in column B.
=$A2=$B2 - format cells or rows if values in columns A and B are the same.
=$A2<>$B2 - format cells or rows if a value in column A is not the same as in column B.
As you can see in the screenshot below, these formulas work for text values as well as for numbers.
If you want to format your Excel table based on 2 or more conditions, then use either =AND or =OR function:
|If both conditions are met||=AND($B2<$C2, $C2<$D2)||Formats cells if the value in column B is less than in column C, and if the value in column C is less than in column D.|
|If one of the conditions is met||=OR($B2<$C2, $C2<$D2)||Formats cells if the value in column B is less than in column C, or if the value in column C is less than in column D.|
In the screenshot below, we use the formula =AND($C2>0, $D2="Worldwide") to change the background color of rows if the number of items in stock (Column C) is greater than 0 and if the product ships worldwide (Column D). Please pay attention that the formula works with text values as well as with numbers.
Naturally, you can use two, three or more conditions in your =AND and =OR formulas.
These are the basic conditional formatting formulas you use in Excel. Now let's consider a bit more complex but far more interesting examples.
I think everyone knows how to format empty and not empty cells in Excel - you simply create a new rule of the "Format only cells that contain" type and choose either Blanks or No Blanks.
But what if you want to format cells in a certain column if a corresponding cell in another column is empty or not empty? In this case, you will need to utilize Excel formulas again:
Formula for blanks: =$B2="" - format selected cells / rows if a corresponding cell in Column B is blank.
Formula for non-blanks: =$B2<>"" - format selected cells / rows if a corresponding cell in Column B is not blank.
Note. The formulas above will work for cells that are "visually" empty or not empty. If you use some Excel function that returns an empty string, e.g. =if(false,"OK", ""), and you don't want such cells to be treated as blanks, use the following formulas instead =isblank(A1)=true or =isblank(A1)=false to format blank and non-blank cells, respectively.
And here is an example of how you can use the above formulas in practice. Suppose, you have a column (B) which is "Date of Sale" and another column (C) "Delivery". These 2 columns have a value only if a sale has been made and the item delivered. So, you want the entire row to turn orange when you've made a sale; and when an item is delivered, a corresponding row should turn green. To achieve this, you need to create 2 conditional formatting rules with the following formulas:
- Orange rows (a cell in column B is not empty): =$B2<>""
- Green rows (cells in column B and column C are not empty): =AND($B2<>"", $C2<>"")
One more thing for you to do is to move the second rule to the top and select the Stop if true check box next to this rule:
If you want to apply conditional formatting to selected columns when another cell in the same row contains a certain word, you can use a simple formula like =$D2="Worldwide" (we've used a similar formula in one of the previous examples). However, this formula will work for exact match only.
For partial match, you will need another Excel function: =SEARCH. You use it in this way:
=SEARCH("Worldwide", $D2)>0 - format selected cells or rows if a corresponding cell in column D contains the word "Worldwide". This formula will find all such cells, regardless of where the search text is located in a cell, e.g. "Ships Worldwide", "Worldwide, except for..." etc.
=SEARCH("Worldwide", $D2)>1 - shade selected cells or rows if the cell's content starts with the search text.
If your task is to conditionally format cells with duplicate values, you can go with the pre-defined rule available under Conditional formatting > Highlight Cells Rules > Duplicate Values... The following article provides a detailed guidance on how to use this feature: How to automatically highlight duplicates in Excel.
However, in some cases the data looks better if you color selected columns or entire rows when a duplicate values occurs in another column. In this case, you will need to employ an Excel conditional formatting formula again, and this time we will be using the =COUNTIF formula. As you know, this Excel function counts the number of cells within a specified range that meet a single criterion.
Highlight duplicates including 1st occurrences
=COUNTIF($A$2:$A$10,$A2)>1- this formula finds duplicate values in the specified range in Column A (A2:A10 in our case), including first occurrences.
If you choose to apply the rule to the entire table, the whole rows will get formatted, as you see in the screenshot below. I've decided to change a font color in this rule, just for a change : )
Highlight duplicates without 1st occurrences
To ignore the first occurrence and highlight only subsequent duplicate values, use this formula: =COUNTIF($A$2:$A2,$A2)>1
Check for duplicates across multiple columns
If you want apply the conditional format when duplicate values occur in two or more columns, you will need to add an extra column to your table in which you concatenate the values from the key columns using a simple formula like this one =A2&B2. After that you apply a rule using either variation of the =COUNTIF function (with or without 1st occurrences). Naturally, you can hide an additional column after creating the rule.
Compare 2 columns for duplicates
One of the most frequent tasks in Excel is to check 2 columns for duplicate values - i.e. find and highlight values that exist in both columns. To do this, you will need to create an Excel conditional formatting rule for each column with a combination of =ISERROR() and =MATCH() functions:
For Column A: =ISERROR(MATCH(A1,$B$1:$B$10000,0))=FALSE
For Column B: =ISERROR(MATCH(B1,$A$1:$A$10000,0))=FALSE
You can see an example of practical usage in the following screenshot that highlights duplicates in Columns E and F.
As you can see, Excel conditional formatting formulas cope with dupes pretty well. However, for more complex cases, I would recommend using the Duplicate Remover add-in that is especially designed to find, highlight and remove duplicates in Excel 2013, 2010, 2007 and 2003, in one sheet or between two spreadsheets.
When you work with several sets of numeric data, the =AVERAGE function may come in handy to format cells whose values are below or above the average in a column.
For example, you can use the formula =$E2<AVERAGE($E$2:$E$8) to conditionally format the rows where the sale numbers are below the average, as shown in the screenshot below. If you are looking for the opposite, i.e. to shade the products performing above the average, replace "<" with ">" in the formula: =$E2>AVERAGE($E$2:$E$8).
I hope the conditional formatting formulas you have learned in this tutorial will help you make sense of whatever project you are working on. If you need more examples, please check out the following articles:
- How to change the row color based on a cell's value
- Excel conditional formatting for dates
- Alternate row and column colors in Excel
- Two ways to change background color based on cell value
- Count and sum cells by color in Excel 2010 and 2013
- Conditional formatting in Excel PivotTables
If your conditional formatting rule is not working as expected, though the formula is apparently correct, do not get upset! Most likely it is not because of some weird bug in Excel conditional formatting, rather due to a tiny mistake, not evident at the first sight. Please try out 6 simple troubleshooting steps below and I'm sure you will get your formula to work:
1. Make sure your conditional formatting formula uses absolute and relative cell addresses where needed. It's very difficult to deduce a general rule that will work in 100 per cent of cases. But most often you would use an absolute column (with $) and relative row (without $) in cell references. Please keep in mind that the formulas =A1=1 and =A$1=1 will produce different results. If you are not sure which one is correct in your case, you can try both : )
2. Verify whether your conditional formatting rule applies to the correct range. A rule of thumb is this - do not include column headers in the applied range.
3. Write the conditional formatting formula for your 1st row with data. For example, if your data starts in row 2, you will use =A$2=10. A common mistake is to always use a reference to the first row (e.g. =A$1=10). Please remember, you reference row 1 in the formula only if your table does not have headers and your data really starts in row 1. The most obvious indication of this case is when the rule is working, but formats values not in the rows it should.
4. Double-check the rule in the Conditional Formatting Rules Manager. Sometimes, for no reason at all, Microsoft Excel distorts the rule you have just created. So, if the rule is not working, go to Conditional Formatting > Manage Rules and check both the formula and the range it applies to. If you have copied the formula from the web or some other external source, make sure the straight quotes are used.
5. If you copy Excel conditional formatting using Format Painter, don't forget to adjust all cell references in the formula.
6. If you use a complex Excel formula that includes several different functions, split it into simple elements and verify each function individually.
And finally, if you've tried all the steps but your conditional formatting rule is still not working correctly, drop me a line in comments and we will try to fathom it out together : )
In my next article we are going to look into the capabilities of Excel conditional formatting for dates. See you next week and thanks for reading!