Excel Tutorial: Excel Savvy #3 Utilizing Formulas and Custom Conditional Formatting for Productivity

Welcome to the third part of our “Excel Savvy” series! In our free Excel tutorial series, we aim to equip you with the knowledge and skills to become a proficient Excel user. In our previous posts, we explored Excel shortcuts and customizations that can enhance your productivity. In this post, we will dive into the exciting world of custom conditional formatting.

But that’s not all. Stay tuned because upcoming posts will cover data clearing and manipulation, Pivot tables, and more advanced tools. By the end of this series, you’ll be well-equipped to navigate Excel’s powerful features and handle various data-related tasks like a boss, or a Savvy! So, let’s explore how we can utilize custom conditional formatting and formulas!

What is Custom Conditional Formatting?

Custom conditional formatting is a powerful feature in Microsoft Excel that allows users to apply formatting to cells based on specific conditions. It enables you to automatically highlight cells, change their font or background color, add data bars, or create icon sets, based on predefined rules or custom formulas.

This feature is especially beneficial when dealing with large data sets or complex spreadsheets. By visualizing data through conditional formatting, you can quickly spot patterns, trends, and outliers. It provides a dynamic way to highlight important information, draw attention to specific data points, and enhance the overall readability and understandability of your Excel worksheets.

Custom conditional formatting can be applied to individual cells, entire columns or rows, or even across multiple worksheets within a workbook. It offers a wide range of formatting options, allowing you to customize the appearance of your data in ways that best suit your needs and preferences.

Key takeaways:

  • Custom conditional formatting allows users to format cells based on specific conditions.
  • It helps in visualizing data, identifying patterns, and highlighting important information.
  • Formatting rules can be applied to individual cells, columns, rows, or entire worksheets.
  • It offers a variety of formatting options to enhance data presentation and analysis.

Applying Conditional Formatting in Excel

Now that we understand the concept of custom conditional formatting, let’s explore how to apply it in Excel.

Step 1: Select the Cells or Range

To apply conditional formatting, you first need to select the cells or range of cells that you want to format. This can be done by clicking and dragging the mouse over the desired cells or by using keyboard shortcuts like Shift + Arrow keys.

Step 2: Access the Conditional Formatting Menu

Once you have selected the cells, go to the “Home” tab in the Excel ribbon and locate the “Conditional Formatting” menu. Click on the drop-down arrow next to it to reveal the various formatting options.

Step 3: Choose a Formatting Rule

In the Conditional Formatting menu, you will find a list of predefined formatting rules such as “Highlight Cells Rules,” “Top/Bottom Rules,” “Data Bars,” and more. You can also create your own custom rules by selecting “New Rule” at the bottom of the menu.


Step 4: Configure the Rule Settings

After selecting a formatting rule, a dialog box will appear where you can configure the rule settings. This typically includes specifying the condition to be met, selecting the formatting options (e.g., font color, fill color, data bars), and defining any additional criteria or formulas.

Step 5: Apply and View the Formatting

Once you have configured the rule settings, click “OK” to apply the conditional formatting to the selected cells. Excel will automatically apply the formatting based on the conditions you set. You can instantly see the applied formatting, and it will update dynamically as you make changes to the underlying data.

Step 6: Modify or Clear Conditional Formatting Rules

If you need to modify or remove a conditional formatting rule, you can do so by selecting the cells with the formatting and accessing the Conditional Formatting menu again. From there, you can edit or delete the existing rules.

By following these steps, you can start applying conditional formatting to your Excel worksheets and bring attention to specific data patterns or insights. Experiment with different formatting rules and conditions to achieve the desired visualization for your data.

Types of Conditional Formatting in Excel

Excel offers various types of conditional formatting options to cater to different data analysis needs. Let’s explore some of the most commonly used types


Data Bars Description
Solid Fill Fill cells with solid color data bars
Gradient Fill Fill cells with gradient color data bars
Variance Data Bars Fill cells with data bars showing variance
Negative-Fill Data Bars Fill cells with data bars indicating negatives

1. Highlight Cells Rules

Highlight Cells Rules allow you to visually emphasize specific cells based on their values. This type of conditional formatting includes options such as highlighting cells greater than or less than a certain value, between certain values, equal to a particular value, or containing specific text.

2. Top/Bottom Rules

Top/Bottom Rules enable you to highlight the top or bottom values within a range. This can be particularly useful when you want to identify the highest or lowest values in a dataset, such as the top 10 sales figures or the lowest performing products.

3. Data Bars


Data Bars create colored bars within cells to represent the relative values of the data. The length of the bar corresponds to the value, allowing for a quick visual comparison. Data Bars are great for visualizing the distribution of data and identifying trends or outliers.

4. Color Scales

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Color Scales apply a color gradient to cells based on the range of values within a selected range. This type of conditional formatting helps to highlight variations in data, making it easier to identify high and low values within a dataset.


5. Icon Sets


Icon Sets add small icons or symbols to cells, representing different values or conditions. For example, you can use icons to indicate progress levels, status indicators, or priority levels. Icon Sets are helpful for quickly assessing data at a glance.

6. Custom Formulas

Custom Formulas provide the flexibility to create personalized conditional formatting rules based on specific formulas. This allows you to define complex conditions and formatting options that are not covered by the predefined rules.

By utilizing these different types of conditional formatting, you can effectively visualize and analyze your data in Excel. Experiment with the various options to find the formatting style that best suits your needs.

Advanced Techniques with Custom Conditional Formatting

While the predefined conditional formatting rules in Excel are powerful, you can also leverage custom formulas and advanced techniques to create more complex and sophisticated conditional formatting rules. Let’s explore some of these techniques:

1. Using Formulas in Conditional Formatting

Excel allows you to use formulas in conditional formatting rules to evaluate complex conditions and apply formatting accordingly. By utilizing functions, logical operators, and cell references in your formulas, you can create dynamic rules that adapt to changes in your data.

For example, you can use formulas to highlight cells that meet specific criteria, such as finding outliers, identifying duplicates, or creating custom rules based on multiple conditions.

Custom Formula Description
=AND(A1<>""; COUNTIF(B1:F1;">100")>=3) Highlight cells if cell A1 is not empty and there are at least 3 values in cells B1 to F1 that are greater than 100.
=OR(A2="Savvy"; A2="Excel") Highlight cells if cell A2 is either “Savvy” or “Excel”.
=ISNUMBER(A3) AND MOD(A3, 2) = 0 Highlight cells if cell A3 contains a number and the number is even.

2. Applying Multiple Formatting Rules

Rule Combination Description
Color Scale + Icon Set Apply a color scale to depict value ranges and an icon set to represent additional conditions.
Highlight Cells Rule + Data Bars Use a highlight cells rule to identify specific values and apply data bars to show relative differences.
Formula + Color Scale Combine a custom formula with a color scale to create a more advanced conditional formatting rule.

In Excel, you can apply multiple conditional formatting rules to a single range of cells. This allows you to combine different formatting techniques and create layered visualizations for your data.

By stacking rules, you can highlight various aspects of your data simultaneously. For example, you can apply color scales to show the overall distribution of values and overlay data bars to display relative differences within specific ranges.

3. Using Named Ranges

Named ranges provide a way to assign a descriptive name to a cell or range of cells in Excel. Using named ranges in your conditional formatting formulas can make your rules more readable and easier to manage.

Instead of referring to specific cell references in your formulas, you can use the named ranges, making your conditional formatting formulas more intuitive and flexible.

4. Managing Conditional Formatting Rules

As you apply conditional formatting to different cells and ranges, you may find it necessary to manage and organize your formatting rules. Excel provides several options for managing conditional formatting:

  • Conditional Formatting Rules Manager: This feature allows you to view and modify all the conditional formatting rules in your worksheet. You can reorder rules, edit their settings, or delete rules that are no longer needed.
  • Clearing Conditional Formatting: If you want to remove conditional formatting from specific cells or ranges, you can use the Clear Rules option to clear the formatting rules without affecting the cell contents.

By utilizing these advanced techniques, you can take your conditional formatting skills to the next level and create even more insightful and impactful visualizations with your data.

Learn more? visit the Microsoft Support page

Best Practices for Using Custom Conditional Formatting

To maximize the effectiveness of custom conditional formatting in Excel, it’s important to follow some best practices. Consider the following tips when applying custom conditional formatting to your worksheets:

1. Keep Rules Simple and Clear

When creating custom conditional formatting rules, aim for simplicity and clarity. Avoid overly complex formulas or rules that are difficult to understand. Clear and concise rules make it easier for others to interpret and maintain your worksheets.

2. Test and Validate Your Formulas

Before applying custom conditional formatting across a large dataset, it’s advisable to test and validate your formulas. Check that your formulas produce the desired results by applying them to a smaller sample of data. Adjust and fine-tune the formulas as needed.

3. Be Mindful of Performance Impact

Using a large number of conditional formatting rules or complex formulas can potentially impact the performance of your Excel workbook. It’s important to strike a balance between the visual impact and the performance of your worksheets. Avoid excessive use of conditional formatting if it leads to noticeable slowdowns.

4. Document Your Formatting Rules

To maintain clarity and ease of future reference, consider documenting your custom conditional formatting rules. This can involve creating a separate section in your worksheet or a separate document that clearly explains the purpose, criteria, and formatting applied to each rule.

5. Apply Formatting to Appropriate Ranges

Ensure that your conditional formatting is applied to the appropriate ranges of cells based on your data requirements. Applying formatting to the entire worksheet can lead to confusion and may not effectively convey the intended message. Be specific and targeted when selecting the cells or ranges to format.

6. Regularly Review and Update Formatting Rules

As your data changes or new insights emerge, it’s important to regularly review and update your conditional formatting rules. Outdated rules may no longer serve their intended purpose or may not reflect the current state of your data. Stay vigilant and adapt your formatting as needed.

By following these best practices, you can optimize your use of custom conditional formatting in Excel and create visually compelling and informative worksheets.

Real world examples of Custom Conditional Formatting

To further illustrate the practical applications of custom conditional formatting in Excel, let’s explore some real-world examples:

1. Sales Performance Analysis

In a sales performance analysis, you can use custom conditional formatting to highlight high-performing or underperforming products or sales representatives. For example, you can apply color scales to visually represent the sales figures and use icon sets to indicate the overall performance level. This allows you to quickly identify areas that require attention or opportunities for improvement.

2. Project Management Tracking

When managing projects, custom conditional formatting can help track progress and monitor deadlines. By using formulas and data bars, you can create conditional formatting rules that highlight overdue tasks, approaching deadlines, or project milestones. This provides a visual snapshot of project status and aids in effective project management.

3. Data Validation and Error Checking

Custom conditional formatting can be used to validate data entries and identify potential errors. By creating rules based on specific conditions, such as highlighting duplicates or enforcing data ranges, you can ensure data accuracy and integrity. This helps in error prevention and data cleansing efforts.

4. Trend Analysis

In trend analysis, custom conditional formatting can be employed to visualize changes or patterns over time. By applying color scales or icons based on historical data, you can identify upward or downward trends, significant fluctuations, or anomalies. This facilitates data-driven decision-making and supports trend analysis efforts.

5. Resource Allocation

When managing resources, custom conditional formatting can assist in identifying overallocation or underutilization. By applying formatting rules to resource allocation tables, you can indicate areas where resources are overloaded or where additional resources are required. This helps in optimizing resource utilization and balancing workloads. for example:

Resource Allocation Rule Description
Overallocated Resources Highlight cells where the allocated hours exceed a certain threshold.
Underutilized Resources Highlight cells where the allocated hours are below a certain threshold.
Resource Overlap Identify cells where multiple resources are allocated, indicating potential conflicts.

These examples demonstrate how custom conditional formatting in Excel can be leveraged to analyze and visualize data in various real-world scenarios. Feel free to adapt and customize these examples to suit your specific needs.


Utilizing Formulas and Functions

When working with Microsoft Excel, formulas and functions are powerful tools that can help you perform calculations and manipulate data. Understanding how to utilize formulas and functions effectively is crucial for maximizing your productivity in Excel. Here are some key tips to help you harness the power of formulas and functions:

Understanding the Basics of Formulas

Formulas in Excel start with an equal sign (=) and can consist of various mathematical operators, cell references, and functions. By using formulas, you can perform calculations on your data and automate repetitive tasks. For example, to add the values in cells A1 and B1, you can enter the formula =A1+B1 in another cell. Excel will calculate the sum for you.

Understanding the Basics of Functions

Functions are predefined formulas that perform specific calculations or operations. Excel offers a wide range of functions, such as SUM, AVERAGE, COUNT, and IF. To use a function, start by typing the function name followed by an opening parenthesis. Then, provide the necessary arguments or cell references within the parenthesis. Finally, close the parenthesis. For example, the function SUM(A1:A5) will calculate the sum of the values in cells A1 to A5.

Leveraging Formulas and Functions in Excel

By utilizing formulas and functions, you can accomplish various tasks in Excel. Some common use cases include:

  • Calculating totals, averages, and other aggregate values from a range of cells.
  • Sorting and filtering data based on specific conditions.
  • Performing conditional calculations using logical functions like IF and AND.
  • Extracting and manipulating text using text functions like LEFT, RIGHT, and CONCATENATE.
  • Performing date and time calculations using date functions like TODAY, MONTH, and YEAR.

As you become more familiar with Excel’s formulas and functions, you’ll find that they can be incredibly versatile and powerful tools for data analysis and manipulation. Don’t hesitate to experiment with different formulas and explore the vast array of functions available in Excel to unlock its full potential.
Here is our recommended list of key Excel formulas that you should master

Excel Functions List (Recommended list)

The list begins with the most essential and progresses to more advanced ones. We suggest starting with the first and working your way down. Keep practicing, and you will master these functions before you know it! Also, don’t forget to bookmark this page for future reference

Excel Essential Functions list


Formula Function Example
SUM Adds up a range of cells =SUM(A1:A5)
AVERAGE Calculates the average of a range of cells =AVERAGE(A1:A5)
COUNT Counts the number of cells with values =COUNT(A1:A5)
MAX Returns the maximum value in a range =MAX(A1:A5)
MIN Returns the minimum value in a range =MIN(A1:A5)
IF Performs a conditional test and returns one value if true and another value if false =IF(A1>10, "Pass", "Fail")
VLOOKUP Searches for a value in the leftmost column of a table and returns a value in the same row from a specified column =VLOOKUP("apple", A1:B5, 2, FALSE)
HLOOKUP Searches for a value in the top row of a table and returns a value in the same column from a specified row =HLOOKUP("apple", A1:B5, 2, FALSE)
INDEX Returns the value at a given position in a range or array =INDEX(A1:A5, 3)
MATCH Searches for a value in a range and returns its relative position =MATCH("apple", A1:A5, 0)
COUNTIF Counts the number of cells that meet a specific criterion =COUNTIF(A1:A5, ">10")
SUMIF Adds the cells that meet a specific criterion =SUMIF(A1:A5, ">10")
AVERAGEIF Calculates the average of cells that meet a specific criterion =AVERAGEIF(A1:A5, ">10")
CONCATENATE Combines text from multiple cells into one cell =CONCATENATE(A1, " ", B1)
LEFT Extracts a specified number of characters from the start of a text string =LEFT(A1, 3)
RIGHT Extracts a specified number of characters from the end of a text string =RIGHT(A1, 2)
LEN Returns the number of characters in a text string =LEN(A1)
UPPER Converts text to uppercase =UPPER(A1)
LOWER Converts text to lowercase =LOWER(A1)
AND Returns TRUE if all arguments are TRUE, and FALSE otherwise =AND(A1>10, A2="Yes")
OR Returns TRUE if any argument is TRUE, and FALSE otherwise =OR(A1>10, A2="Yes")
NOT Reverses the logical value of its argument =NOT(A1=10)
IFERROR Returns a value if there is an error, and a different value if not =IFERROR(A1/B1, "Error")
ROUND Rounds a number to a specified number of decimal places =ROUND(A1, 2)
COUNTIFS Counts the number of cells that meet multiple specific criteria =COUNTIFS(A1:A5, ">10", B1:B5, "<20")
SUMIFS Adds the cells that meet multiple specific criteria =SUMIFS(A1:A5, B1:B5, ">10")
AVERAGEIFS Calculates the average of cells that meet multiple specific criteria =AVERAGEIFS(A1:A5, B1:B5, ">10")
DATE Returns the sequential serial number of a particular date =DATE(2022, 1, 1)
TEXT Converts a value to text in a specific format =TEXT(A1, "mm-dd-yyyy")
TRIM Removes extra spaces from text =TRIM(A1)
PROPER Capitalizes the first letter of each word in a text string =PROPER(A1)
SUBTOTAL Calculates a subtotal in a range of cells, using a specified summary function =SUBTOTAL(9, A1:A5)
RANK Returns the rank of a number in a list of numbers =RANK(A2, A1:A5)
MEDIAN Calculates the median of a range of numbers =MEDIAN(A1:A5)
MODE Returns the most frequently occurring value in =MODE(A1,B2,C4)

Excel Most-Used Advanced Functions List

Formula Function Example
IFNA Returns a value if there is a #N/A error, and a different value if not =IFNA(VLOOKUP(A1, B1:C5, 2, FALSE), "Not Found")
COUNTA Counts the number of non-empty cells in a range =COUNTA(A1:A5)
SUMPRODUCT Calculates the sum of products of corresponding array components =SUMPRODUCT(A1:A5, B1:B5)
NETWORKDAYS Calculates the number of working days between two dates =NETWORKDAYS(A1, A2, A5:A10)
ISBLANK Checks if a reference is blank =ISBLANK(A1)
STDEV Estimates the standard deviation of a sample =STDEV(A1:A5)
VAR Estimates the variance of a sample =VAR(A1:A5)
SUBSTITUTE Substitutes new text for old text in a text string =SUBSTITUTE(A1, "old", "new")
ISNUMBER Checks if a value is a number =ISNUMBER(A1)
ISERROR Checks if a value is an error =ISERROR(A1)
ISLOGICAL Checks if a value is a logical (Boolean) value =ISLOGICAL(A1)
ISTEXT Checks if a value is text =ISTEXT(A1)
ISNONTEXT Checks if a value is non-text (numeric, date, time, error) =ISNONTEXT(A1)
ISREF Checks if a value is a reference =ISREF(A1)
ISFORMULA Checks if a value is a formula =ISFORMULA(A1)
GETPIVOTDATA Retrieves data stored in a PivotTable or PivotChart report =GETPIVOTDATA("Sales", A3)
NA Returns the #N/A error value =NA()
ACCRINT Calculates the accrued interest for a security that pays periodic interest =ACCRINT(A1, A2, A3, A4, A5)
IMSUM Returns the sum of complex numbers =IMSUM(A1, B1)
IMPRODUCT Returns the product of complex numbers =IMPRODUCT(A1, B1)
IMDIV Returns the quotient of two complex numbers =IMDIV(A1, B1)
IMREAL Returns the real coefficient of a complex number =IMREAL(A1)
IMAGINARY Returns the imaginary coefficient of a complex number =IMAGINARY(A1)
IMABS Returns the absolute value (modulus) of a complex number =IMABS(A1)
IRR Calculates the internal rate of return for a series of cash flows =IRR(A1:A5)
NPER Calculates the number of periods for an investment =NPER(A1, A2, A3)
PMTRATE Calculates the interest rate for a loan or investment =PMTRATE(A1, A2, A3, A4)
PV Calculates the present value of an investment or loan =PV(A1, A2, A3, A4)
FV Calculates the future value of an investment or loan =FV(A1, A2, A3, A4)
RATE Calculates the interest rate per period for an investment or loan =RATE(A1, A2, A3, A4)

For the complete list of MS Excel Functions: Visit Microsoft Excel functions page

Excel Formulas AI Tool:  You can try this cool AI tool to assist you with writing formulas. While you can use this AI tool to help you in your early Excel days, we don’t recommend relying on tools. Mastering Excel doesn’t happen without mastering formulas yourself.

By understanding these basics of formulas and leveraging both the predefined and custom conditional formatting options, you can perform calculations, manipulate data, and automate tasks effectively in Microsoft Excel. Experiment with different formulas and functions to unlock the full potential of Excel in your data management and analysis workflows. Remember, Practice makes perfect!


A Quick Revision

In this article –

  • We explored custom conditional formatting
    • Applied formatting rules and created custom formulas
    • Leveraged advanced techniques for customized formatting
    • Discussed best practices for using custom conditional formatting
    • Provided real-world examples of its applications
  • We dived into Excel formulas
    • Learned fundamentals of utilizing formulas and functions in MS Excel
    • Explored common use cases for leveraging formulas and functions
    • Discovered our recommended lists of key Excel Functions (Essential List and Advanced List)
Remember: keep your formatting rules simple and clear, test and validate your formulas, and be mindful of performance impact. Regularly review and update your formatting rules to ensure they remain relevant and align with your evolving data requirements.

Excel Savvy #3

Congratulations on completing the third step of becoming Excel Savvy! We hope you found the insights and techniques on Custom Conditional Formatting, Functions, and Formulas valuable in your Excel journey. In our upcoming posts, we will continue to explore more data-related topics, including data clearing and manipulation techniques, data cleaning best practices, Pivot tables, and many other advanced tools. By following this comprehensive Excel tutorial series, you’re well on your way to mastering MS Excel. So keep up the enthusiasm and dedication, Stay tuned for more guides and tutorials, and Stay Savvy, Until next time!

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