Understanding Conditional Formatting Conditions

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated August 11, 2018)

Excel includes a powerful feature that allow you to format the contents of a cell based on a set of conditions that you specify. This is know as conditional formatting. The first step in using conditional formatting, of course, is to select the cell whose formatting should be conditional. Then choose Conditional Formatting from the Format menu. Excel displays the Conditional Formatting dialog box. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. The Conditional Formatting dialog box.

The top line of the dialog box is where you specify the condition for which you want Excel to test. There are two types of conditions you can test, and they are specified in the first pull-down list of the dialog box. You can have Excel test the cell value (Cell Value Is), or evaluate a formula (Formula Is). Each of these are quite different in their effect.

When the first pull-down list of a condition is set to Cell Value Is, you can specify thresholds for the result shown in the cell. You then use the second pull-down list to specify how Excel should examine the cell value. You can choose from any of the following:

  • between
  • not between
  • equal to
  • not equal to
  • greater than
  • less than
  • greater than or equal to
  • less than or equal to

These test conditions cover the entire gamut of how your cell could be viewed. When you specify a test, you can then specify the actual values to test for. For instance, if you wanted Excel to apply a particular format if the value in the cell exceeds 500, then you would choose Greater Than as your test, and enter 500 in the field just to the right of the test.

When the first pull-down list of a condition is set to Formula Is, you can specify a particular formula for determining if special formatting should be applied to the cell. This is most useful if the formatting is based on a value in a cell different from the one you selected when you first chose Conditional Formatting from the Format menu.

For instance, let's say that column A has a list of company names, and column N has a total of all the purchases made by that company during the year. You may want the company name to appear in bold, red type if their sales exceeded a certain amount. This type of scenario is perfect for using a formula for your conditional test. The reason is because the formatting in column A will be based not on column A, but on a value in column N.

To complete your conditional test, select Formula Is in the pull-down list, and then enter your formula in the space provided in the dialog box. Formulas must evaluate to either a true or false condition, not to some other value. For instance, you could use the formula =N4>500 if you wanted cell A4 to be conditionally formatted if cell N4 exceeds a value of 500.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2795) applies to Microsoft Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

MORE FROM ALLEN

Searching for a Specific Field

Fields can be a great boon to document development, as they allow you to insert different types of dynamic information in ...

Discover More

Can't Use Hyperlinks

Before some features in Excel can function properly, you must have the correct permissions set for the user of the ...

Discover More

Changing the Default Drive

Macros can be used to read and write all sorts of files. If those files are on a different drive than the current one, ...

Discover More

Solve Real Business Problems Master business modeling and analysis techniques with Excel and transform data into bottom-line results. This hands-on, scenario-focused guide shows you how to use the latest Excel tools to integrate data from multiple tables. Check out Microsoft Excel 2013 Data Analysis and Business Modeling today!

More ExcelTips (menu)

Conditional Formatting with Data Imported from Access

If you want to apply a conditional format to data imported into Excel from Access, you may run into some difficulties ...

Discover More

Changing Shading when a Column Value Changes

If you have a data table in a worksheet, and you want to shade various rows based on whatever is in the first column, ...

Discover More

Removing Conditional Formats, but Not the Effects

Conditional formatting is very powerful, but at some point you may want to make the formatting "unconditional." In other ...

Discover More
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

View most recent newsletter.

Comments

If you would like to add an image to your comment (not an avatar, but an image to help in making the point of your comment), include the characters [{fig}] in your comment text. You’ll be prompted to upload your image when you submit the comment. Maximum image size is 6Mpixels. Images larger than 600px wide or 1000px tall will be reduced. Up to three images may be included in a comment. All images are subject to review. Commenting privileges may be curtailed if inappropriate images are posted.

What is 1 + 9?

There are currently no comments for this tip. (Be the first to leave your comment—just use the simple form above!)


This Site

Got a version of Excel that uses the menu interface (Excel 97, Excel 2000, Excel 2002, or Excel 2003)? This site is for you! If you use a later version of Excel, visit our ExcelTips site focusing on the ribbon interface.

Newest Tips
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

(Your e-mail address is not shared with anyone, ever.)

View the most recent newsletter.