Outlook: Special View Settings with Conditional Formatting

Are you lost in a sea of emails? It might be useful to make certain emails stand out with a special color or formatting. Perhaps a fillable form that comes to your inbox with a specific subject could be green, or all emails from your boss could show up as red. Customizing your inbox with … Continue reading “Outlook: Special View Settings with Conditional Formatting”

Are you lost in a sea of emails? It might be useful to make certain emails stand out with a special color or formatting. Perhaps a fillable form that comes to your inbox with a specific subject could be green, or all emails from your boss could show up as red. Customizing your inbox with conditional formatting can be a huge time saving tool to help draw attention to certain emails in your inbox at glance. Let’s take a look. Before we get started, I would like to thank Michelle for having an excellent question in last week’s Outlook Advanced class that inspired this Byte.

View tab, view settings

About Conditional Formatting

Just like we experienced in Excel, conditional formatting in Outlook will look for certain conditions and apply a specific appearance to them. Here are a few caveats before we jump in:

  • This feature is currently only available for the PC desktop application of Outlook (apologies to Mac users).
  • Conditional Formatting applies to one folder at a time. This means that you can create separate rules for each folder. It also means that you should be cautious of which folder is selected before jumping into the view setting.
  • Changes you make with this setting are at your computer application level only: it is a view setting within the Outlook desktop application. This means that other instances of Outlook (e.g. the online application, or the desktop application running on an additional computer) on will not adopt these view settings.
  • If you would like to learn more about Conditional Formatting, please attend one of my Outlook Advanced sessions (listed in myTraining).

Create a Conditional Formatting Rule

1. Start by selecting the folder where you would like to apply the rule. This may just be your Inbox if you are not a big fan of folders.

2. Go to the View tab, Current View group, and select View Settings.

View tab, View settings

3. Select Conditional Formatting.

Advanced view settings screen, conditional formatting button

Here are all your current Conditional Formatting rules. That’s right, you already have some rules… like the way an unread message uses blue font, for instance… I would not recommend changing existing default rules.

3. On the right select Add.

Conditional formatting box, add button circled.

4. At the bottom of the popup, you will be prompted to name your rule. Use a name that is relevant to you.

Properties with a name created: "amazing title"

From here, there are two settings we have to create: Font and Condition. Just like with Excel, it is easy to get carried away with creating one setting and forget to do the other…

Font Settings

Let’s set the appearance first.

1. To the left of your title, select Font.

font button in conditional formatting popup

2. A popup screen appears with various font options along the top: font type, style and size…

Font screen, font styles, sizes, color visible

… and of course the funnest part, in the lower left, Color!

Color dropdown menu

3. Make your font and color selections, then press OK once.

Condition Settings

This second part is easy to forget. Sometimes we spend a lot of time crafting the perfect appearance, and then forget to tell Outlook what the Condition is where the appearance should be applied.

1. Below where you selected Font, select Condition.

Condition button, conditional formatting screen

Take a look at your options… you have the ability to format based on:

  • Specific words in a subject field
  • Emails from or to specific people
  • Situations where you are the only person in the To: line
  • … and we will see some more examples shortly.
Filter screen, condition optiosn including items mentioned in bullet points above.

2. For this scenario, I am going to set a condition based on emails From a specific person. Click on the From button to browse the directory. Double click on the person’s name, then press OK.

  • This option works best if you browse for a name, rather than typing in the full email.
Global address list, name search for Ali Levine. OK button circled.

3. Let’s take a look at the More Choices tab, because things get even more interesting here. Not only are more options present here, but we could layer these on top of the previous selection… here are conditions based on:

  • Category
  • Only unread or read items
  • Items with attachments
  • Importance level
  • Items that are flagged
Filter options in conditional formatting, more choices visible, as described in bullets above.

So think about this, you could set your formatting to color code emails from a specific person that are unread; or emails that have specific words in the title that also have attachments. So many possibilities!

4. Once you have this set how you would like, press OK. Then OK again to get back to your Outlook folder.

Conditional formatting screen, OK button circled

If all went well, you should be able to see the effects of your lovely new rule. I picked purple for mine…

Inbox shows email from Ali Levine with purple font


What do you think about Conditional Formatting in Outlook? Do you think you will apply some of these rules to your Outlook folders? I would love to hear from you!

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Samantha Dolan

Samantha Dolan