Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 2007, 2010, and 2013. If you are using an earlier version (Excel 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Excel, click here: Understanding Color and Conditional Formatting Codes.

Understanding Color and Conditional Formatting Codes

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated July 5, 2017)

In other issues of ExcelTips you learn how formatting codes are used to create custom formats used to display numbers, dates, and times. Excel also provides formatting codes to specify text display colors, as well as codes that indicate conditional formats. These formats only use a specific format when the value being displayed meets a certain criteria.

To understand these codes a bit better, take a look at this format within the Currency category:

$#,##0.00_);[Red]($#,##0.00)

Notice there are two number formats divided by a semicolon. If there are two formats like this, Excel assumes that the one on the left is to be used if the number is 0 or above, and the one on the right is to be used if the number is less than 0. This example results in all numbers having a dollar sign, a comma being used as a thousands separator, amounts less than $1.00 having a leading 0, and negative values being shown in red with surrounding parentheses. The _) part of the left format is used so that positive and negative numbers align properly (positive numbers will leave a space the same width as a right parenthesis after the number).

You are not limited to only two formats, as in this example. You can actually use four formats, each separated by a semicolon. The first is used if the value is above 0, the second is used if it is below 0, the third is used if it is equal to 0, and the fourth is used if the value being displayed is text.

The following table shows the color and conditional formatting codes. As you may have surmised, these codes are used with the formatting codes discussed in other issues of ExcelTips.

Symbol Effect
[Black] Black type.
[Blue] Blue type.
[Cyan] Cyan type.
[Green] Green type.
[Magenta] Magenta type.
[Red] Red type.
[White] White type.
[Yellow] Yellow type.
[COLOR x] Type in color code x, where x can be any value from 1 to 56.
[= value] Use this format only if the number equals this value.
[< value] Use this format only if the number is less than this value.
[<= value] Use this format only if the number is less than or equals this value.
[> value] Use this format only if the number is greater than this value.
[>= value] Use this format only if the number is greater than or equals this value.
[<> value] Use this format only if the number does not equal this value.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (8352) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, and 2013. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Excel here: Understanding Color and Conditional Formatting Codes.

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. ...

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