Excel Conditional Formatting: How to Trigger Actions with Cell Color

Whether you’re a data analyst or a small business owner, mastering Excel’s conditional formatting based on cell color can significantly boost your productivity. By setting up rules that automatically format cells based on their fill color, you can quickly identify trends, outliers, or important data points at a glance. Let’s dive into how you can harness the power of conditional formatting with cell colors.

Excel Conditional Formatting: Step by Step Tutorial

Before we start, let’s understand what we’re aiming for: we want Excel to perform specific actions based on the color of a cell. This could be changing the text color, applying a different fill color, or another action based on your needs.

Step 1: Select the cells you want to format

Click and drag your mouse over the cells you wish to apply conditional formatting to.

Selecting the correct cells is crucial because the formatting rules will only apply to the cells you choose. Make sure to include all the cells that may contain the data points you’re tracking.

Step 2: Go to the ‘Home’ tab and click on ‘Conditional Formatting’

This is where you’ll find all the options for setting up rules for your cells.

The ‘Conditional Formatting’ button is in the ‘Styles’ group on the ‘Home’ tab. It’s your gateway to creating dynamic spreadsheets that respond to your data.

Step 3: Choose ‘New Rule’ from the dropdown menu

This will open the ‘New Formatting Rule’ dialog box.

By selecting ‘New Rule,’ you can create custom formatting options that aren’t available in the default list. This is where you can get creative with your formatting.

Step 4: Select ‘Format only cells that contain’

This option allows you to set conditions for the cell formatting based on their contents, including the cell color.

Choosing this option is key because it gives you control over the specific conditions that trigger the formatting change.

Step 5: In the next dropdown, choose ‘Cell Color’

This tells Excel that you want to format cells based on their background color.

Specifying ‘Cell Color’ is the core of this tutorial. It allows you to use the visual cues in your spreadsheet to drive automation.

Step 6: Select the color you want to trigger the formatting

You might need to set up multiple rules if you have more than one color to track.

Selecting the color is the "if" in your "if this, then that" statement. It’s the condition that needs to be met for the formatting to apply.

Step 7: Set up the formatting you wish to apply when the condition is met

This could be changing the text color, adding a border, or any number of formatting options.

This step is where you decide what happens when the rule is triggered. Your options are nearly limitless, so consider what will make your data stand out.

Step 8: Click ‘OK’ to apply the rule

Your conditional formatting based on cell color is now set up.

Once you’ve clicked ‘OK,’ Excel will automatically apply the formatting you’ve set up any time the condition is met. It’s like having an assistant who’s always on the lookout for specific data points.

After you’ve completed these steps, your spreadsheet will start to work smarter, not harder. Cells will automatically change based on the rules you’ve set, allowing you to focus on analysis, not formatting.

Excel Conditional Formatting: Tips

  • Use contrasting colors for your conditional formatting to make the changes stand out.
  • Test your formatting rules with a variety of data to ensure they work as intended.
  • Remember that conditional formatting based on cell color won’t change if you manually change a cell’s color after setting the rule.
  • Organize your rules in order of priority, as Excel will apply them in the order they’re listed.
  • Use the ‘Manage Rules’ option to edit or delete formatting rules as your data or needs change.

Frequently Asked Questions

What if I need to format based on more than one color?

You can set up multiple rules, each with different formatting for different colors.

Can I use conditional formatting to change the color of a cell?

Yes, you can set a rule to change the cell color based on certain criteria, like a value range or specific text.

Will conditional formatting slow down my spreadsheet?

It can if you have a large spreadsheet with many rules. Keep your rules simple and streamlined to maintain performance.

Can conditional formatting be used on cells with formulas?

Yes, conditional formatting works on cells with formulas just as it does on cells with static values.

How do I remove conditional formatting from my spreadsheet?

Go to ‘Conditional Formatting,’ choose ‘Clear Rules,’ and select whether to clear rules from the entire sheet or selected cells.


  1. Select the cells to format.
  2. Click on ‘Conditional Formatting’ in the ‘Home’ tab.
  3. Choose ‘New Rule.’
  4. Select ‘Format only cells that contain.’
  5. Pick ‘Cell Color’ from the dropdown.
  6. Choose the color that triggers the formatting.
  7. Set the desired formatting action.
  8. Click ‘OK’ to apply the rule.


Mastering Excel’s conditional formatting based on cell color is like having a secret weapon in your data analysis arsenal. It not only saves time but also brings clarity and focus to your data, allowing you to quickly spot the information that matters most. With the steps and tips outlined in this article, you’re well on your way to creating dynamic, eye-catching spreadsheets that do the heavy lifting for you. So, give it a try, experiment with different colors and rules, and watch as your Excel sheets transform into vibrant, informative dashboards. Remember, the key to success with Excel Conditional Formatting is practice and patience; the more you play around with it, the more intuitive it will become. Happy formatting!