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How to Do a Picture Lookup in Excel

A lookup is one of the more common things you can do in Excel. Whether you’re using VLOOKUP, a combination of INDEX and MATCH, or the new XLOOKUP, there are no shortage of ways to accomplish it. However, in this post, I’ll go over how you can do a lookup that involves pulling in a picture. It’s a bit more complicated to set up but once you’ve figured it out, it should be a breeze.

Step 1: Create a table of the images you would like to use

I’m going to create a tab for images that has two columns — one for the name of the image, while the other will hold the image itself. I’m going to make the rows wide, with a height of 60 just to make sure the cell can fit the entire image. In this example, I’m using some popular corporate logos:

Table with company images.

Step 2: Setup the named ranges

Next, I’ll create named ranges in column B that match the values in column A. In the example above I don’t have any spaces but if I did, I would replace them with an underscore to make sure there are no gaps. In addition to creating a named range for each individual logo, I will also create a named range that contains all the values in column A. This way, I can use this as a dropdown later on to select which logo I want to select.

I’ll create a named range called ‘Companies’ for these options. When using data validation, I’ll just enter the following as my list options:

Data validation list using the company names as options.

I’ll add this on to another sheet. My selection here will determine which image to pull.

Step 3: Creating another image for the lookup

I also need to create a picture that will pull the desired image. To do this, I can just copy any one of the images I inserted in the first step.

Picture lookup showing the company selected and the logo.

Step 4: Creating a named range for the selection

I’m going to create another named range, this time, I won’t be selecting a cell but I will go through the Formulas tab and select Name Manager where I’ll see all the named ranges I have set up thus far:

Name Manager in Excel.

Click on the New button. And here, I’ll need to use the INDIRECT function to reference the cell that contains the company value that was selected through the dropdown. In my example, that is cell H8. My named range, which I’ll call, ‘CompanySelected’ will look as follows:

Creating a named range in Excel.

Now, for the picture that is acting as your lookup, select it, and set the cell equal to the named range of ‘CompanySelected’ :

Assigning a named range to a picture.

I can adjust the size as large as necessary. And now, when I change my dropdown option, the image will automatically update:


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How to Use VLOOKUP With Multiple Sheets

VLOOKUP is a popular function in Excel because of how powerful and easy it is to use. You can even use it to look up values on different sheets. And in this post, I’ll show you how you can do so dynamically so that you don’t always need to be adjusting your formula.

Why you might want to use multiple sheets in the first place

There are good reasons to use multiple sheets in your workbook. The first is that it makes it easier to organize your data. The second is that it can make your formulas more efficient. For example, running calculations on a tab where you have tens of thousands of rows would not be optimal and if you can split that up into smaller worksheets, you can make your formulas smaller in scope.

In my example, I’ve downloaded historical unemployment numbers by country. And rather than putting that data all into one sheet, I’ve created multiple tabs for countries. Not all of them, but just a few that I want to do lookups on:

Multiple tabs created for different countries.

Each tab is named after the country abbreviation in the data to make it easy to know what’s in each sheet. And inside each sheet is data that is formatted in the same way:

Historical unemployment data for the United States.

Creating the formula

If I just wanted to lookup the value for the United States’ unemployment rate from 1955, my formula would look as follows:

=VLOOKUP(1955,USA!D:E,2,FALSE)

I could replace 1955 with a cell reference. But other than that, this is in essence what the formula in its simplest form would look like. I’m looking up the USA tab as indicated by the ! symbol that comes after the sheet name. You don’t actually need to enter the ! mark. You can just type in the formula and then when you get to the lookup range, jump over to that tab and select your range — Excel will automatically add the exclamation mark for you.

While this formula works, it isn’t versatile. If I wanted to look up a different tab, I would need to change the reference, since it is hardcoded.

Making the formula dynamic

I have created named ranges for the country and year values:

What I want to be able to do is change any one of them and for my lookup formula to extract the correct value. The key to making this work is by including the INDIRECT function. With that, I can reference the specific range I need and use a dynamic tab name. Inside the INDIRECT function, I can concatenate the country value with the range:

INDIRECT(Country&”!D:E”)

But this on its own only specifies a range. I need to include it in the lookup formula for it to work:

=VLOOKUP(Year,INDIRECT(Country&”!D:E”),2,FALSE)

‘Year’ and ‘Country’ are the named ranges that I have used above. The key thing to remember is the exclamation mark that comes afterward and the range. By doing this, now I can change my formula to automatically pull from the correct tab while also looking up the year. It avoids me having to change the formula manually every time I want to use different tabs. It returns the same value as if I were to enter it myself:


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How to Use the New XLOOKUP Function

Forget using VLOOKUP or even INDEX and MATCH, Excel users can now use XLOOKUP!

Knowing how to use VLOOKUP has become almost a basic skill for Excel users. If you’re an intermediate or advanced user, you probably use INDEX & MATCH because of the limitations that are inherent with just using VLOOKUP. Since VLOOKUP can only return values to the right of what the value that you’ve found, it’s a less-than-optimal formula. You can either re-arrange your data, or you can use INDEX & MATCH. It’s a more flexible solution, but it’s also not ideal. After all, you’re now combining multiple Excel functions into one.

Enter: XLOOKUP

XLOOKUP is the solution that Excel users have been looking for…for decades. What the function does is allow you to do what was possible with INDEX & MATCH all in one simple formula.

Let’s go over it with some sample data on the world’s largest cities:

list of the largest cities in the world
Data courtesy of Wikipedia

Doing a regular lookup vs XLOOKUP

Here’s how my formulas would look like if I wanted to return the Country using a value from the City field:

vlookup and index match doing a regular lookup

In the above example, E5 refers to the capital city value. While the INDEX & MATCH combination works, it may not be the easiest for novice users who aren’t comfortable with nesting functions. Here’s how the same calculation would look using XLOOKUP:

xlookup doing a lookup

It’s a much simpler solution. The first argument takes the value you want to look for, followed by the range where you want to search for it, and then the range that you want to extract the corresponding value from. There’s no need to enter a column number the way you do with VLOOKUP, nor is there a need to add another function.

There are optional arguments you can use including how you want to match (see the next section). You can also choose the direction that the lookup goes, in case you don’t want to look in the same order as your data:

xlookup argument to search data

Using wildcards in XLOOKUP

Like with the other functions, you can also incorporate wildcards into XLOOKUP as well. Wildcards work similarly among all three formulas, but the key difference is that XLOOKUP has multiple arguments for its fourth (optional) argument which dictates how you want the data extracted. Entering ‘2’ will tell the function that you want to use a wildcard. Below are the options for the match_mode argument (optional):

  • 0: exact match
  • -1: exact match or next smaller item
  • 1: exact match or next larger item
  • 2: wildcard character match

Here’s a comparison of how you’d get the same result using all three functions using a wildcard:

using wildcards in xlookup vlookup and index match

The logic is the same in the sense that you’ll want to use a wildcard character like * around the term you’re trying to find a match of. In the above example, I used the * around the entire wildcard, and it returned the population for New Delhi in that example.

XLOOKUP here is actually a bit more complicated as with the other functions you didn’t need to specify that you were using a wildcard. Taking out the ‘2’ from the argument would result in XLOOKUP yielding an #N/A error. However, it could be that doing this will make it more efficient.

Finding the closest matches

One of the other options for the matches mentioned above were finding the next smaller or next larger matching items if an exact one wasn’t found. A good example of this is where you’re looking for something like a tax rate where you won’t find every possible income level that someone might enter and you need to ensure that it falls into the correct range.

Here are some sample categories:

sample tax categories and tiers

If I entered an amount of $17,000, it should put me in Tier 3, since that would be the threshold I would have reached under this hierarchy. Here’s an example of how this would be calculated in the three functions:

doing a lookup for tax brackets using xlookup vlookup and index match

All three formulas were able to return the same tier correctly, however, INDEX & MATCH is a bit more cumbersome again due to having multiple functions within it.

The advantage that XLOOKUP has here is that I can select the category that’s either directly below or above the amount I enter, effectively rounding up or down, simply by changing the fourth argument between a ‘1’ (exact or next largest item) to a ‘-1’ (exact or next smallest item).

This is not possible with VLOOKUP, and in order for this to be able to work with INDEX & MATCH, I’d have to change the order from ascending to descending. But what’s impressive is that XLOOKUP is able to find the correct category even if the values are not in any sort of order at all.

Have a look at what happens when I try to completely destroy any sort of hierarchy:

tax brackets sorted into tiers

This is an absolutely dreadful hierarchy that’s not consistent in any way possible. Do the formulas have any chance of getting it right? Here’s how the results looked:

xlookup index and match doing a lookup for next smallest category

Both the INDEX & MATCH as well as the XLOOKUP formulas were looking for the closest matches. INDEX & MATCH returned the lowest tier, which technically was incorrect since $17,000 came in higher than $10,000, which was Tier 2. And XLOOKUP, despite the mess of a hierarchy, was still able to pull out the correct group.

Ultimately, you never want to organize your data in such a horrible way, but this helps demonstrate just how strong XLOOKUP is, to be able to still come out with the correct calculation.

And just for fun, let’s flip the formulas around, this time looking for an exact match or the next largest category:

xlookup index and match doing a lookup for next largest category

There wasn’t a Tier 3 in my incomplete table, but XLOOKUP still found the next largest Tier which was at $25,000 – Tier 5. INDEX & Match found its way into Tier 7.

Creating a dynamic formula

One of the great things about INDEX & MATCH is that you can index an entire database and then dynamically change which column you want to extract from based on a selection and not have to update the range in the formula. For example:

creating a dynamic formula using index match

Why would you want to do this? The beauty of it is that you can change what value you extract based on your selection. Since you’re doing a match, it will look for that field and adjust the column accordingly using the OFFSET function:

You can do this in XLOOKUP as well, and here’s how that formula would compare to index and match:

xlookup index match doing dynamic formulas

The XLOOKUP formula is a bit more complicated as it needs two ranges, and thus, two OFFSET functions are needed. In the INDEX & MATCH combination, only one OFFSET function is needed as it only requires a column number for one of its arguments. Either way, you still need to be familiar with using OFFSET so it’s probably not a dealbreaker if XLOOKUP is a bit longer.

Great, so how do I get XLOOKUP?

There are two things you need to be able to get access to XLOOKUP:

  • Office 365
  • Enrollment in the Office 365 Insiders Program

It’s not an exclusive club or anything, all you have to do is to follow the steps outlined here. By selecting the ‘Insider’ option rather than Monthly, you’ll get more frequent updates and changes. Once you’ve got it set up, then it’s just a matter of waiting for the updates to roll out to you. There’s, unfortunately, no notification, I’d just suggest checking every now and then to see if XLOOKUP shows up in your functions list.

Caveat

One of the things you should remember, however, is that while it may be great to use XLOOKUP, old versions of Excel won’t have access to this flashy new function. And so it’s important to still be familiar with using VLOOKUP and INDEX and MATCH.


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Custom Function That Does Multiple Lookups

MatchThis function
This function works as if you were doing multiple lookup statements in one formula. The example I’m going to use is if you wanted to look at your credit card statement and from the description determine what vendor it is.
For this function to work I need to create a named range of all the values (e.g. possible vendors) I want to cycle through to compare the string (e.g. credit card data) against. The named range needs to be called LookupList. Below you will see the LookupList I created. (For more on named ranges, see this post)
I’ve added a header but that is not necessary. As long as the list is a named range called LookupList. The adjacent column is the value that will be returned if the value in the LookupList is found. You need to ensure this column is also filled in or else the result of the formula will be blank, regardless if there is a match.
When I run the custom function, the function will cycle through the LookupList from top to bottom to see if one of those values is in the cell I am using the formula on and if so, return the related result. For that reason, the LookupList also needs to be in descending order, to avoid a premature match (e.g. finding Store A before the function finds Store ABC)
Column A is an example of data from a credit card or other source that may have various characters before and after what you are looking for. You could use the MID function to extract that data but that will only work if that data is consistently arranged the same way. It might be, but using this function it won’t matter and it will just look if any of the values in the LookupList are contained in the string, regardless any other characters before and after.
Column B is the MatchThis function. And since the LookupList is already defined the only argument is the data that you want to look at, which in this case is column A. In column B2 the formula is simply =matchthis(A2). Because it matches Store A, it returns the value A (from the results column).
Below is the code for this function:
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Function MatchThis(matchcell As Range)
Application.Volatile
Application.Calculate

Dim LookupList As Range
Dim c As Range
‘Identify the range of cells you want to compare against. The lookuplist is what will be compared against and the column to the right of it will be the output
Set LookupList = Range(“LookupList”)
‘Go through each of the cells looking for the criteria in cell c, and if it matches, pull the value from the next column
For Each c In LookupList
If InStr(1, matchcell, c, vbTextCompare) > 0 Then
MatchThis = c.Offset(0, 1)
Exit Function
End If

Next c

End Function
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