Google Sheets Custom Number Format

Introduction

Google Sheets custom number format rules are used to specify special formatting rules for numbers.

These custom rules control how numbers are displayed in your Sheet, without changing the number itself. They’re a visual layer added on top of the number. It’s a powerful technique to use because you can combine visual effects without altering your data.

Sheets already has many built-in formats (e.g. accounting, scientific, currency etc.) but you may want to go beyond and create a unique format for your situation.

Google Sheets Custom Number Format Usage

Access custom number formats through the menu:

Format > Number > More Formats > Custom number format

Google Sheets Custom Number Format Menu

The custom number format editor window looks like this:

Google Sheets Custom Number Format Editor

You type your rule in the top box and hit “Apply” to apply it to the cell or range you highlighted.

Under the input box you’ll see a preview of what the rule will do. It gives you a useful and pretty accurate indication of what your numbers will look like with this rule applied.

Previous rules are shown under the preview pane. You can click to restore and reuse any of these.

Google Sheets Custom Number Format Structure

You have four “rules” to play with, which are entered in the following order and separated by a semi-colon:

  1. Format for positive numbers
  2. Format for negative numbers
  3. Format for zeros
  4. Format for text

Google Sheets Custom Number Format Structure

1. Format for positive numbers

#,##0.00 ; [red](#,##0.00) ; 0.00 ; “some text “@

The first rule, which comes before the first semi-colon (;), tells Google Sheets how to display positive numbers.

2. Format for negative numbers

#,##0.00 ; [red](#,##0.00) ; 0.00 ; “some text “@

The second rule, which comes between the first and second semi-colons, tells Google Sheets how to display negative numbers.

3. Format for zeros

#,##0.00 ; [red](#,##0.00) ; 0.00 ; “some text “@

The third rule, which comes between the second and third semi-colons, tells Google Sheets how to display zero values.

Rule Before After
0;0;"Zero" 0 Zero

4. Format for text

#,##0.00 ; [red](#,##0.00) ; 0.00 ; “some text “@

The fourth rule, which comes after the third semi-colon, tells Google Sheets how to display text values.

Do You Have To Use All Four Rules?

No, you don’t have to specify them all everytime.

If you only specify one rule then it’s applied to all values.

If you specify a positive and negative rule only, any zero value takes on the positive value format.

Here are some examples of single- and multi-rule formats:

Rule Positive Negative Zero Text
0 1 -1 0 text
0;(0) 1 (1) 0 text
[red]0 1 -1 0 text
0;[red]-0 1 -1 0 text
0;[red]-0;[blue]0;[green]@ 1 -1 0 text

Google Sheets Custom Number Format Rules

Zero Digit Rule (0)

Zero (0) is used to force the display of a digit or zero, when the number has fewer digits than shown in the format rule. Use the zero digit rule (0) to force numbers to be a certain length and show leading zero(s).

For example:

Rule Before After
0.00 1.5 1.50
00000 721 00721

Pound Sign Rule (#)

The pound sign (#) is a placeholder for optional digits. If your value has fewer digits than # symbols in the format rule, the extra # won’t display anything.

Rule Before After
#### 15 15
#### 1589 1589
#.## 1.5 1.5

Thousands Separator (,)

The comma (,) is used to add thousand separators to your format rule. The rule #,##0 will work for thousands and millions numbers.

Rule Before After
#,##0 1495 1,495
#,##0.00 1234567.89 1,234,567.89

Period (.)

The period (.) is used to show a decimal point. When you include the period in your format rule, the decimal point will always show, regardless of whether there are any values after the decimal.

Rule Before After
0. 10 10.
0. 10.1 10.
0.00 10 10.00

Thousands (k or K) or Millions (m or M)

If you add thousand separators but don’t specify a format after the comma (e.g. 0,) then the hundreds will be chopped off the number. Combine this with a “k” or “K” to indicate the thousands and you have a nice way to showcase abbreviated numbers. To achieve this with millions, you need to specify two commas.

Rule Before After
0.0, 2500 2.5
0,"k" 2500 3k
0.0,"k" 2500 2.5k
0.0,,"M" 1234567 1.2M

Negative Number With Brackets ( )

Brackets can be added to the negative number rule to change the format from -100 to (100), which is often seen in accounting and financial scenarios.

Rule Before After
0;(0) -100 (100)

Asterisk (*)

The asterisk (*) is used to repeat digits in your format rule. The character that follows after the asterisk is repeated to fill the width of the cell.

In the following example, the dash is repeated to fill the width of the cell in Google Sheets:

Rule Before After
*-0 100 ——————100

Question Mark (?)

The question mark (?) is used to align values correctly by adding necessary space, even when the number of digits don’t match.

See this example:

Question mark spacing in custom number format

Underscore (_)

The underscore (_) also adds space to your number formats.

In this case, the character that follows the underscore determines the size of the space to add (but is not shown). So this rule allows you to add precise amounts of space.

For example #,##0.00_);(#,##0.00) adds a space after the positive sign that is the width of one bracket, so that the decimal point lines up with the negative numbers with brackets.

You can see this clearly in the following image, where the first line does NOT have the spacing but the second line does. The red highlight has been added to show the result of the spacing:

Underscore for spacing

Escape Character (\)

Suppose you want to actually show a pound sign in your format. If you simply add it into your format rule, then Sheets will interpret it as a placeholder for optional digits (see above).

To actually show the pound sign, precede it with a backslash (\) to ensure it shows.

This applies to any of the other special characters too.

Rule Before After
#0 10 10
\#0 10 #10

At (@)

The At symbol (@) is used as a placeholder for text, which means don’t change the text entered.

Rule Before After
0;0;0;"Special text value!" Some text Special text value!
0;0;0;@ Some text Some text

Fraction (/)

The forward slash (/) is used to denote fractions.

For example, the rule # ?/? will show numbers as fractions:

Rule Before After
# ?/? 2.3333333333 2 1/3

Percent (%)

The percent sign (%) is used to format values as %. As with the other rules, you first specify the digits and then use the % sign to change to a percent e.g. 0.00%

Rule Before After
0.00% 0.2829 28.29%

Exponent (E)

For very large (or very small) numbers, use the exponent format rule to show them more compactly.

The rule is: number * E+n, in which E (the exponent) multiplies the preceding number by 10 to the nth power.

Let’s see an example:

Rule Before After
0.00E+00 23976986 2.40E+07

Google Sheets Custom Number Format Conditional Rules

Adding conditions inside of square brackets replaces the default positive, negative and zero rules with conditional expressions.

For example:

Rule Before After
[<100]"Small" ; [>500]"Large" ; "Medium" 50 Small
[<100]"Small" ; [>500]"Large" ; "Medium" 300 Medium
[<100]"Small" ; [>500]"Large" ; "Medium" 800 Large

Conditional Rules

  • Conditions can only be specified in the first two rules
  • The third rule is used as the format for everything else that doesn’t satisfy the first two conditions
  • The fourth rule is always used for text, so cannot be used for conditional formatting

Meta instructions for conditional rules from the Google Sheets API documentation.

Colors In Google Sheets Custom Number Formats

Add colors to your rules with square brackets [ ].

There are 8 named colors you can use:
[black], [white], [red], [green], [blue], [yellow], [magenta], [cyan]

To get more colors, use the 2-digit color codes written:
[Color1], [Color2], [Color3], ..., [Color56]

For full rundown of the color palette for these 56 colors, click here.

Color Examples

Rule Before After
0;[red](0) -100 (100)

Here’s another example of using Google Sheets custom number format rules with colors: How To Make a Table in Google Sheets, and Make It Look Great

Google Sheets table

where the rule is:

Google Sheets custom number format

Meta instructions for color rules from the Google Sheets API documentation.

Google Sheets Custom Number Format Examples

Telephone

Turn any 11 digit number into a formatted telephone number with the zero digit rule and dashes:

Rule Before After
0 000-000-0000 18004567891 1 800-456-7891

Plural

Use conditional rules to pluralize words. Remember, these are still numbers under the hood so you can still do arithmetic with them. The formatting portion (“day” or “days”) is just added as a layer on top.

Rule Before After
[=1]0" day"; 0" days" 1 1 day
[=1]0" day"; 0" days" 2 2 days
[=1]0" day"; 0" days" 100 100 days

Conditional

Use conditionals to classify numbers directly:

Rule Before After
[<250]"Small"* 0 ; [>750]"Large"* 0 ; "Medium"* 0 70 Small 70
[<250]"Small"* 0 ; [>750]"Large"* 0 ; "Medium"* 0 656 Medium 656
[<250]"Small"* 0 ; [>750]"Large"* 0 ; "Medium"* 0 923 Large 923

Note: these are still numbers under the hood, so you can do arithmetic with them. Moreso, the “Small”, “Medium” and “Large” only exist in the format layer and cannot be accessed in formulas. For example, you can’t use a COUNTIF to count all the values with “Large”. To do that, you need to actually change the value so the word “Large” is in the cell, or add a helper column.

The “* ” part of the rule adds space between the word and the number so that it fills out the full width of the cell.

Conditional + Color

Add color scales to the conditional example:

Rule Before After
[color44][<250]"Small"* 0;[color46][>750]"Large"* 0;[color45]"Medium"* 0 70 Small 70
[color44][<250]"Small"* 0;[color46][>750]"Large"* 0;[color45]"Medium"* 0 656 Medium 656
[color44][<250]"Small"* 0;[color46][>750]"Large"* 0;[color45]"Medium"* 0 923 Large 923

Temperature Example

Combine conditionals with emojis to turn numbers into a emoji-scale, like this temperature example:

Rule Before After
[>90]🔥🔥🔥;[>50]🙂;❄️;"No data" 37 ❄️
[>90]🔥🔥🔥;[>50]🙂;❄️;"No data" 75 🙂
[>90]🔥🔥🔥;[>50]🙂;❄️;"No data" 110 🔥🔥🔥
[>90]🔥🔥🔥;[>50]🙂;❄️;"No data" N/a “No data”

Other Resources

How To Add Subscript and Superscript In Google Sheets

Google documentation on how to format numbers in Sheets.

Custom Number Format Builder for Google Sheets and Excel.

Questions? Comments? Have you used custom number formats? Seen any interesting examples? Leave a comment below.