Google Sheets – Custom Number Formatting Made Easy

You can have complete control over the look and feel of the numbers in your spreadsheet by using custom number formatting in Google Sheets. You can follow this example by starting with this template.

This article will walk you through the process of customizing the appearance of the numbers in your spreadsheet. Accordingly, it will teach you how to control your numbers’ visual presentation with currency signs, arrows, and more.  Changing the look is called Custom Number Formatting. To have a comprehensive understanding of Custom Number Formatting, see this video from the Prolific Oaktree Youtube Channel.

Besides the default look, which presents your data in the black font color, you can infuse some level of creativity in your presentation by assigning different font colors to enhance the message of your presentation. For instance, you may want to present debits in red and credits in green.

Take a look at the image below.

red and green custom numbers
Red and Green custom numbers

The data in red have a minus sign (-) before each, which indicates negative, hence, the use of red. On the other hand, the data in green is positive.

Changing the number formatting allows you to change the look, but the values of each cell will not change. It only gives it a different appearance through the color assigned to individual rows of data.

How To Custom Format Your Numbers in Google Sheets

The procedure is simple; locate your menu bar at the top of your spreadsheet and select Format>Number. 

Finding the number formats in the menu
How to Format Numbers

After the number format menu appears, you will notice that there is a preset format for the display of your data. If that is what you want, you do not need to change anything. Just click on it, and you have your option activated.

However, if you want to give the data in each of the cells on your spreadsheet a custom look, you need to dig deeper. We will walk through how to get that done.

Read here for Conditional Formatting an Entire Row.

Customize the Look of Your Numbers in Google Sheets

The way your spreadsheet looks is up to you. Therefore, if you are not satisfied with the general format, this is how you can change it.

  • Highlight the columns with the numbers to be changed.
  • Click on Format on the menu bar.
  • Click on Number from the pop-down menu.
  • Check if there are pre-defined number formats for you to use (if not).
    • Click on More Formats.
    • Click on More Number Formats.

A dialogue box will pop up for you to choose the syntax:


List of pre-defined custom number formats
Custom Number format

The syntaxes are below:

0; -0; “-“; “not a number”

Formats a positive number with 0

Formats a negative number with -0

Shows zero as a dash (“-“).

Shows a non-number as “not a number.” Anything in quotes in programming as a syntax remains as it is. The quotes signify that it is a string variable. The semicolon is to separate the columns.

If you intend to format a long number such as “$8,000,000,” you would use the “$#,##0.00” syntax. If you don’t intend to include the decimal points, enter “$#,##” and click the “Apply” option. Voila!

How To Insert Currency Before a Number in Google Sheets

To insert a currency sign before your number, the sign should precede the numbers in the syntax dialogue box such as we have below: 

$* 0.00 – positive

$* – 0.00 – negative

The asterisk (*) gives space between the number and the currency sign. The two zeroes after the decimal force the display of tenths and hundredths.


How to Add Color to Custom Number Formatting

As earlier stated, you can give colors to your numbers for easy understanding.

To achieve customized color for your data, type the following syntax:

0[Green]; -0[Red]; ‘-‘[Black] 

NOTE: The name of the color for each number format will come after each of the numbers in parentheses. Make sure you enclose the color for each cell in square brackets (Check the image below).

For the image below, the name for positive numbers is GREEN.  Negative numbers are assigned RED. Zero will appear in BLACK.

Using custom number formatting to change text color
Custom Color format

How to Insert Special Characters in Your Data in Google Sheets

Adding special characters to your presentation can make your Google Sheet easier to understand.

To achieve this

  • Go to the Google Workspace Marketplace and grab a copy of the Insert Special Characters Add-On.
  • Install the add-on and use the new sidebar to select and insert the characters.

Insert Special Characters Add On

Use the search feature to look for a triangle. You will see a lot of triangles to choose from. Pick one for up and one for down.

Triangles in the Insert special characters add-on

In conclusion, the techniques shown in the article will help you to tell the story of your data in the most compelling way possible.

red and green custom numbers
Red and Green custom numbers

 Live examples of Custom Number Formatting in Sheets

Go to this spreadsheet for examples of combining data.