Show Symbols in Drop Down Lists in Excel

Watch Video – Show Symbols in Drop Down Lists

When creating a drop-down list in Excel, it takes a range of cells as input and shows it as a list. There is not much you can do with how your list looks in the drop down. For example, you can not give a background color or change font color, font type, font size, etc.

Despite these limitations, there are a couple of things you can do in a drop down list. Here are some of the tutorials I wrote long back:

In this tutorial, I will show you how to show symbols in drop down lists in Excel.

Inserting Symbols in Cells

To use any symbol in a drop down list, we first need to get it in a cell. Here is how you can insert symbols in excel cells:

  • Select a cell (let’s say A1).
  • Go to Insert –> Symbols –> Symbol.Show Symbols in Drop Down Lists in Excel - insert symbol
  • In the Symbol dialog box, select the font from the drop down.
    • An excel drop-down list displays the content in Tahoma font (info credit: Debra Dalgleish). Any symbol you use from Tahoma font also usually works with other regularly used fonts such as Arial, Calibri, Trebuchet MS, Verdana, etc. However, you should test this in case you are using symbols from other fonts.Show Symbols in Drop Down Lists in Excel - Select Font
  • In the Symbol dialog box, select the symbol you want to insert and click on Insert. This inserts the selected symbol in the cell.
  • Select another cell to insert another symbol. Show Symbols in Drop Down Lists in Excel - Symbols in Cells

Now we can use these symbols in cells (as shown above in the pic) to create a drop down list.

Creating a Drop Down List

Once you have the items you want to show in a drop down list, here are the steps to create it:

  1. Select the cell where you want to create the drop down list.
  2. Go to Data –> Data Tools –> Data Validation.Show Symbols in Drop Down Lists in Excel - Data Validation
  3. In the Data Validation dialog box:
    • In the Settings tab, select List from the drop down.
    • In the source field, select the range of cells that you want in the drop down list.Show Symbols in Drop Down Lists in Excel - Data Validation Settings
  4. That’s it. It will now show the drop down icon when you select the cell. Click on the downward pointing arrow icon to show the drop down list (as shown below).Show Symbols in Drop Down Lists in Excel - Symbols in Dropdown

Examples of Symbols in Drop Down Lists in Excel

You can use only symbols in the drop down list or you can combine symbols and text. Here are some examples of some common symbols that can be used.

Using Symbols Only

  • Upward and Downward arrows to show increase/decrease.Show Symbols in Drop Down Lists in Excel - Symbols 2
  • Upward/Downward/No change arrows.Show Symbols in Drop Down Lists in Excel - Symbols 3

Using Symbols and Text

You can also combine symbol and text and show it in the drop down list.

Suppose you have the symbol in cell A1, use the following formula in cell B1:

=A1&” Increasing”

Show Symbols in Drop Down Lists in Excel - Symbol and Text formula

You can replace the word ‘Increasing’ with any text or cell reference.

Here are some examples to show how this combination of text and symbols can be used in the drop downs.

  • Less-than/Greater-than symbols with text.Show Symbols in Drop Down Lists in Excel - Symbols and Text 2
  • Upward and Downward arrows with text.Show Symbols in Drop Down Lists in Excel - Symbols and Text increase decrease
  • Using Bullets (to show main category and sub-category).
    • To Insert a bullet:
      • Go to the cell and double click (or F2) to get into edit mode.
      • Press Alt + 7 or Alt + 9 from your numeric keypad.
        If you don’t have a numeric keypad, activate the NumLock and follow the above steps.Show Symbols in Drop Down Lists in Excel - Bullets Main and Sub category
      • To get the indentation, as shown above, simply use the space character.

In this tutorial, I have shown some of the examples of how you can use symbols in a drop down lists in Excel. I would love to know how you use it in your work.

Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment.

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  • Deepak

    Great tips….awesome Sumit

    • Thanks for commenting Deepak.. Glad you liked it 🙂

      • Mike

        Hello Sumit. This is Awesome, however is there a way to make the symbols with colors? I mean I have tried to use the “circle” symbol and I have colored it the same way as what we have in a stoplight, but when I use it for data validation, the color is not showing.

        • Mike Robson

          Use conditional formatting to test the cell that gets filled in with the drop down symbol. So let’s say you have an Up arrow, you can use conditional formatting to format the cell automatically Green when the Up arrow is selected. This formatting won’t be visible on the drop down but will be visible once selected. Plenty of tutorials out there for more details.