Autofill in Excel: Usages and Key Functions Complete Guide

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Microsoft Excel’s autofill feature is an incredibly useful timesaver that allows you to quickly populate cells with data based on a pattern or series. But if you’re new to Excel, you may be wondering – where is the autofill option located and how can you fully utilize it? This in-depth guide will provide an overview of what autofill is, explain its key functions, and detail steps to access autofill in Excel across Windows and Mac versions. We’ll also cover tips to use autofill more effectively for your worksheets.

What is Autofill and How Does It Work?

The autofill tool automatically fills in cell data by repeating a pattern you establish or continuing a sequential series. This works for numbers, text strings, dates, weekdays, months, years and more.

For example, if you type “1” in cell A1 and “2” in A2, you can select those cells and drag autofill down to automatically populate the column with the sequence 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…Or if you type “Project” in B1, you can autofill down to repeat “Project” in all selected cells.

This saves huge time compared to manual data entry, especially for large datasets and repetitive values. Autofill works by detecting the difference between the cells you select as the pattern initiator and intelligently carrying the sequence forward.

So if you put 1 and 2 in the initial cells, it recognizes the difference of 1 between the numbers, thus adding 1 sequentially in each new cell. For text, it repeats the same value. It even understands more advanced patterns like dates, weekdays, and skip intervals.

Key Functions and Uses of Excel Autofill

Understanding autofill functionality allows you to apply it more effectively. Some of the most common uses for autofill include:

  • Number sequences – Easily generate ascending or descending sequences of numbers. For example, populating 1, 2, 3 or 10, 20, 30 in columns or rows.
  • Date series – Fill in chronological dates, weekdays, months, or years. You can go day-by-day, skip weekends, or increment months.
  • Text strings – Repeat words, phrases, or list items by auto-filling text down cells.
  • Formulas – Copy formulas while automatically adjusting relative or absolute cell references.
  • Flash fill – Utilize smart autofill that detects patterns in adjacent columns and fills data intelligently.
  • Growth trends – Expand data series based on linear, exponential, or logarithmic growth patterns.
  • Custom fill – Specify your own autofill step value, like filling even or odd numbers only.

The key is establishing your initial cell pattern, and then letting autofill take over the repetitive work. This functionality works across many data types and scenarios.

Where is Autofill in Excel

If you’re wondering where to find autofill in the Windows version of Excel, there are a couple of ways to access it:

  • Fill handle – Highlight the cells containing the starter pattern, then hover your mouse over the bottom right corner of the selection until the pointer turns to a thin black cross. Click and drag down or across to autofill.
  • Ribbon – Go to the Home tab > Editing group > Find & Select dropdown > Series to open the Series dialog box. Configure your autofill pattern, increment, and stopping point here.
  • Shortcut – Use the keyboard shortcut CTRL + D after establishing your initial data to autofill down or CTRL + R to autofill to the right.

These options allow you to access autofill for any data type while configuring settings.

Locating Autofill in Excel for Mac

The autofill options are found in the same place in Excel for Mac:

  • Fill handle – Highlight starter cells, then drag the small box in the bottom right corner of the selection down or across.
  • Top menu – Go to Edit > Fill > Series to open the Series dialog box where you can define fill details.
  • Shortcut – Use CMD + D or CMD + R to autofill down or right once the initial pattern is set.

The functionality works the same, just accessed through the Mac interface.

Tips for Using Autofill Successfully

Once you know where to find autofill in Excel, keep these tips in mind for the best experience:

  • Always start by entering at least two or three instances of the pattern you want auto-generated. This establishes the sequence or trend for Excel to follow.
  • Be careful when filling formulas – autofill will change cell references unless you use absolute references like $A$1. Lock references as needed.
  • To fill formatting only, deselect “Fill Formatting Only” in the autofill options to skip filling data.
  • For non-adjacent autofill, multi-select target cells by holding Ctrl before dragging the fill handle.
  • Adjust the autofill increment and ending value as required in the Series dialog box.

When to Use Alternatives Like Flash Fill

Autofill is extremely versatile for populating large sequences quickly. But in some cases, you may want to consider alternatives:

  • For more complex sequences, use predefined Excel number formats under Custom in the Format Cells dialog box.
  • When the pattern requires analyzing adjacent helper columns, use Flash Fill instead.
  • To alternate between sets of values, consider creating a custom list under File > Options.
  • For data that doesn’t have a uniform pattern, use the random generation capabilities in Excel instead.

The key is choosing the right tool for each job. Evaluate your data objectively to determine if autofill or another functionality will produce the desired results.


Mastering Excel’s powerful autofill tool allows you to populate worksheets in seconds versus manual entry. Just be sure to define your intended pattern first, then leverage the autofill options to do the repetitive work for you automatically. Keep this guide’s tips in mind and autofill will become an invaluable time-saver for large datasets and repeat values as you create your worksheets.

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