What is Autofill in Excel?

AutoFill is a handy feature in Microsoft Excel that allows you to fill in cells with data quickly and easily.

It’s especially useful when you have a series of data that follows a pattern or relies on information in neighboring cells.

With AutoFill, Excel can automatically generate and fill in data for you, saving time and effort.

Understanding AutoFill in Excel

AutoFill is a helpful feature in Excel that allows you to quickly fill in data across cells based on a specific pattern.

When you’re working with Excel, you might need to input similar information across multiple cells. Instead of typing it all manually, AutoFill can come in handy!

Think of it as a smart helper that can recognize patterns in the data you enter.

For example, if you type “Monday” in a cell and want the rest of the weekdays to follow, AutoFill can take care of that for you. With the fill option, you can drag the corner of the cell to fill adjacent cells with weekdays, automatically following the pattern.

AutoFill works with both numbers and text. It can help you create sequential lists of numbers, like counting by twos or even listing multiples.

If you enter “2” in one cell and “4” in the cell beneath it, Excel understands you want to increase by two each time. Just select both cells and use the fill option to extend the pattern. Voilà, you have a sequence of even numbers!

Dates are another area where AutoFill shines. If you’re creating a calendar or planning a schedule, you can use the feature to generate a series of dates by days, weeks, months, or years.

Simply start by entering the initial date and drag the fill handle to create your date sequence.

The AutoFill tool is also ideal for managing time-based data. Need to create a list of hourly appointments? Just type the starting time in one cell, and use AutoFill to fill out the rest of the time slots you need.

Another useful feature of AutoFill is the ability to copy formulas across cells. When you apply AutoFill on a cell with a formula, Excel will adjust the formula’s references for the new cells.

This way, you can quickly apply calculations across large ranges of data without manually editing each formula.

To use AutoFill, you simply click and drag the fill handle, which is a small square at the bottom-right corner of a selected cell. Drag it in any direction, and it’ll fill the adjacent cells based on the pattern recognized.

To customize how the data gets filled, you can access the fill options menu that appears after releasing the mouse.

Also read: Fill Blank Cells with 0 in Excel

Using Autofill in Excel (Examples)

Let’s look at some examples of how to use AutoFill in Excel and how you can save valuable time from this feature.

Using AutoFill to Create a Sequence of a Number Pattern

Sometimes, typing a long series of numbers in a pattern can be challenging. However, with Excel AutoFill, it’s a breeze—easy as pie!

Imagine you want to put numbers in a pattern: 1 for Team A, 2 for Team B, then 3 for Team A again, and 4 for Team B, and so on, up to 20. Instead of typing each number one by one, you can use Excel’s AutoFill feature to fill in the series automatically.

Autofill dataset in Excel

To complete the number pattern using the AutoFill feature, follow the below steps.

  1. Select the cells with numbers. So, I select cells A2 to B3.
Select the dataset
  1. Take your cursor to the bottom-right corner of the selected cells. Then, you’ll see a small cross on your cursor. You can call it the Fill Handle.
Place cursor on fill handle
  1. Drag the Fill Handle down.
Drag Fill Handle down

Now, Excel automatically fills the numbers as per the pattern in the selected cells.

Autofill in Excel dataset completed

Using AutoFill to Create a Series of Numbers that Contain Text

Even if your numbers are mixed with text, you can still use AutoFill.

I want to create a points table with five rounds. In Column A, I want to enter 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and so on.

Dataset to create Series of Numbers that Contain Text

To complete column A using the AutoFill feature, follow the below steps.

  1. Enter the first number with text and select that cell. In this scenario, I have to select Cell A1 which contains “1st”.
select Cell A1
  1. Take your cursor to the bottom-right corner of the selected cell or cells to get the Fill Handle.
Place cursor at bottom-right corner of the selected cell
  1. Drag the Fill Handle down.
drag autofill down

Now, Excel automatically fills the list.

Autofill fills the list

In Excel, even if the words change in a list of numbers, Excel can figure out the right letters for each number. 

Also, if you want to type “Quarter 1,” “Quarter 2,” and so on, Excel can fill in the rest of the pattern correctly for four quarters.

Autofill fills the pattern in second column
Also read: AutoSum in Excel

Using AutoFill to Create a List of Months

AutoFill isn’t just for numbers; it’s handy for creating other lists too. If you want a list of months, AutoFill makes it easy.

Below, I have an Excel table to enter monthly sales, and I want to add months in Column A.

Dataset for months autofill

To add months using the AutoFill feature, follow the below steps.

  1. Enter the first month and select that cell. In this case, the first month is already entered in cell A2 and I can select that cell.
Enter first month and select cell
  1. Take your cursor to the bottom-right corner of the selected cell or cells. Then, you’ll see a small cross on your cursor. That is the Fill Handle.
Place cursor at autofill
  1. Drag the Fill Handle down.
Drag down fill handle

Now, Excel automatically fills the months.

Excel autofills the months

Using AutoFill to Enter the Days of the Week

Just like with months, you can use Excel AutoFill to enter days of the week easily. 

Below I have a table where I want to enter the days of the week in Column A. AutoFill can help with that.

Dataset to AutoFill Days of the Week

To add days using AutoFill, follow the below steps.

  1. Enter a day in the first cell and select that cell. So, I select cell A2.
Select cell with day name cell
  1. Take your cursor to the bottom-right corner of the selected cell or cells to get the Fill Handle.
Place cursor to autofill in Excel
  1. Drag the Fill Handle down.
Drag Fill Handle down

Now, Excel automatically fills the days of the week.

Excel fills days of week

Using AutoFill to Create a List of Dates

You can also use Excel AutoFill to create a list of dates to a pattern.

I want to enter dates starting 24/2/2024 and continue a pattern by adding 2 days to each previous date in column A.

Dataset with dates to autofill

To enter the date using AutoFill, follow the below steps.

  1. Enter the first two dates and select those cells. So, I select cells A2 to A3.
select the cells with dates
  1. Take your cursor to the bottom-right corner of the selected cells to get the Fill Handle.
Place cursor at fill handle
  1. Drag the Fill Handle down.
drag down for autofilling

Now, Excel automatically fills the dates as per the pattern.

dates are autofilled

Using AutoFill to Create a Repeating Series

If you need to make a repeating series, AutoFill can help you do it quickly.

Below, I have a dataset where I have the names in column A and the colors in column B and I want to assign red, blue, and green colors to students according to the name order. 

names in column A

To create the repeating series using AutoFill, follow the below steps.

  1. Enter the values (“Red”, “Blue”, “Green”) just one time. After that, select those cells. So, select cells B2 to B4.
fill colors in cells
  1. Take your cursor to the bottom-right corner of the selected cells to get the Fill Handle.
put cursor at fill handle
  1. Drag the Fill Handle down.
Drag Fill Handle autofill down.

Now, Excel automatically creates the repeating series.

autofill for repeating series

Using AutoFill to Copy Formulas to Adjacent Cells

Autofill works with formulas, too.

Below, I have a data set, where Column A has flavors, Column B has prices, and Column C has quantities, you want to calculate sales in Column D by multiplying the values in Column B with the values in Column C for each row.

dataset with formulas

You’ve already calculated the sales for the Vanilla flavor, and now you want to calculate sales for other flavors using AutoFill.

  1. Select the formula cell.  Co, I select cell D2.
Select cell with formula
  1. Take your cursor to the bottom-right corner of the selected cell to get the Fill Handle.
Place cursor at bottom right part of selected range
  1. Drag the Fill Handle down.
drag down fill handle

Now, Excel automatically applies the formula to the below cells by adjusting cell references.

Autofill fills the fomulas
Also read: What is Absolute Cell Reference in Excel?

Limitations of Autofill in Excel

AutoFill in Excel is a powerful feature, but it does have some limitations:

  • Pattern Recognition: AutoFill works best with clear, recognizable patterns. It may not work correctly with more complex patterns or with data that doesn’t follow a simple incremental sequence.
  • Merged Cells: AutoFill has limitations when it comes to working with merged cells or hidden rows/columns. Merged cells can disrupt the pattern recognition and may prevent AutoFill from working properly.
  • Non-Adjacent Rows or Columns: AutoFill doesn’t work on non-adjacent rows or columns. You need to drag the fill handle through a contiguous range of cells for AutoFill to work.
  • Limited to 120 Rows: Some users have reported that AutoFill might be limited to 120 rows in certain contexts, although this isn’t an officially documented limitation and might be context-specific.
  • Data Type Consistency: AutoFill might not properly extend a series if the data type in the sequence changes, such as mixing text and numbers unpredictably.

Understanding these limitations can help you use AutoFill more effectively and troubleshoot any issues that arise when you’re working with data in Excel.

Also read: Excel Fill Series Not Working

Frequently Asked Questions About Autofill in Excel

Below are some FAQs about using Autofill in Excel:

How to enable AutoFill?

To enable AutoFill in Excel, you do not need to do anything special as it is enabled by default.

Whenever you enter a pattern of data in a cell and then click on its bottom-right corner to drag, Excel will automatically complete the series based on the detected pattern.

Why is Excel AutoFill not working?

If Excel AutoFill is not working, it could be due to several reasons. First, check if you are selecting the cells correctly and dragging the fill handle properly. Secondly, your data may not have a recognizable pattern. Excel might not be able to determine how to continue the series.

Lastly, check your Excel settings to ensure that the AutoFill feature is enabled. Although it is enabled by default, it is possible to turn Autofill off.

How to use AutoFill for numbers?

Using AutoFill for numbers in Excel is simple. Enter a number in a cell, then click and hold the fill handle (the small square in the bottom-right corner of the cell), and drag in the direction you want to fill.

Excel will automatically generate a series of numbers based on the pattern you entered. For example, if you input “2” and “4” in two adjacent cells and then drag the fill handle, Excel will generate a sequence of even numbers.

How does AutoFill differ from Flash Fill?

In Excel, Flash Fill and AutoFill are both time-saving features that help automate the process of entering data, but they serve different purposes and operate in different ways.

AutoFill is a feature designed to quickly populate a series of cells based on a pattern you establish. For example, if you type “January” into a cell and drag the AutoFill handle (the small square at the bottom-right corner of the cell selection), Excel can continue the series with “February,” “March,” and so on. AutoFill can also be used for numerical patterns, dates, days, and custom lists you’ve created.

Flash Fill, on the other hand, is a smart feature that recognizes patterns in your data entry and automatically fills the remaining cells accordingly. It’s particularly useful for splitting or combining data from one column into new columns. For instance, if you have a list of full names and you start typing first names into a new column, Flash Fill can recognize this pattern and complete the column with first names extracted from the full names list. Flash Fill works by analyzing the data and trying to detect a pattern based on the examples you provide. It doesn’t require a pre-established pattern like AutoFill does.

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I am a huge fan of Microsoft Excel and love sharing my knowledge through articles and tutorials. I work as a business analyst and use Microsoft Excel extensively in my daily tasks. My aim is to help you unleash the full potential of Excel and become a data-slaying wizard yourself.