A key strength of Tableau is interactivity; the ability to click or hover on marks on a viz and see some response eg another viz being filtered or a detailed list of information being displayed. One key piece of basic functionality that helps in this is the tooltip. Click or hover on a mark on a chart and by default all the information for the fields on the canvas related to that mark will display in a text box.


the default tooltip displayed in Tableau


Tooltip Basics

When building dashboards for wider consumption, it is always good practice to ensure these tooltips are given some love. At the least, that is to check there aren’t any spurious fields displayed that are required for the viz, but not relevant to a reader. 

For example in the image below, a fake axis (MIN(1)) has been used to help display some KPIs. By default the MIN(1) value is listed in the tooltip.

the default tooltip displays values related to all fields on the canvas

Alternatively, it could be that the whole tooltip is superfluous and essentially just repeating the information already displayed - in which case they can be turned off (from the Tooltip shelf uncheck the Show Tooltips box).

the Tooltip can be turned off by unticking the Show tooltips checkbox

However, more often than not, you will want to utilise the tooltip to show the exact values related to the mark along with some extra supplementary information - the “detail on demand”.

In the image below, the viz is displaying Sales by Sub-Category, and coloured by Profit Ratio. The tooltip shows the exact values for both the Sales and Profit Ratio along with the value for Profit too. Some basic formatting has been applied just using the text editor features available in the Edit Tooltip dialog box.

Sales by Category bar chart coloured by Profit Ratio with a basic formatted tooltip showing supplementary information.

The text editor feature allows simple formatting of the font only - the font type, style, size, colour and alignment can all be changed, and can vary. For example, if you choose, fields can be a different colour or style (bold, italic etc) from the rest of the text, but by default, the formatting you apply is always the same regardless of the actual value of the field. There is no functionality within the text editor to define logic against the field and so format differently based on the condition.

Conditional Formatting in Tableau

To apply conditional formatting into a tooltip, you need to create additional calculated fields. A field needs to exist for each outcome of whatever logic/condition you want to apply alternative formatting too.

The best way to explain is to work through some examples.


Colour the Profit Ratio value based on whether it is Positive or Negative

Continuing from the example above, we want to display the value of the Profit Ratio on the tooltip in orange if it is negative and blue if it is positive, to align with the colour range displayed on the viz.

To do this, we create

Profit Ratio +ve
IF [Profit Ratio]>=0 THEN [Profit Ratio] END 

Format this to a % with 1 dp.

We also need

Profit Ratio -ve
IF [Profit Ratio]<0 THEN [Profit Ratio] END

This also needs to be formatted to % with 1dp.


If we pop these fields into a tabular view with our existing Sales, Profit and Profit Ratio fields, we can see that when the Profit Ratio is negative, the Profit Ratio +ve column displays nothing, and when the Profit Ratio is positive, the Profit Ratio -ve column displays nothing. There is never an occasion when both the Profit Ratio +ve and the Profit Ratio -ve fields contain a value.

tabular view displaying what the Profit Ratio +ve and Profit Ratio -ve fields show

We can add both these fields onto the Tooltip shelf of the viz, and edit the tooltip so the Profit Ratio +ve and Profit Ratio -ve fields are displayed directly side by side. Each field can then be coloured based on our requirements.calculated fields which contain the conditional logic are added to the tooltip in Tableau and displayed directly side by side.

As only one of the fields can ever contain a value at one time, then only one Profit Ratio value will display on the tooltip, and it will be coloured according to its value.

a positive Profit Ratio is displayed in blue in the Tooltip


a negative Profit Ratio is displayed in orange in the Tooltip.

Colour a RAG Status Indicator

It’s quite common for businesses to have thresholds defining the health of key values. These thresholds equate to a RAG status against each value.

For example, suppose the Profit Ratio is considered healthy (green) if it is above 15%, a concern (amber) if it is between 5%-15% and an issue (red) if less than 5%.

We might have a calculation as follows


Profit Ratio RAG Status
IF [Profit Ratio] >= 0.15 THEN 'Green'
ELSEIF [Profit Ratio] >=0.05 THEN 'Amber'
ELSE 'Red'

In our tabular view, this displays as below

displaying a Profit Ratio RAG status of Red, Amber or Green.

On the tooltip, rather than display the words Red, Amber, Green, we want to display a coloured indicator. For this we need calculated fields again.


Profit Ratio - Red
IF [Profit Ratio] < 0.05 THEN '◆' END

The ◆ is a unicode character that you can just copy from a web page and paste into the text. This is a useful reference site for finding characters : https://jrgraphix.net/r/Unicode/25A0-25FF

Similarly we can create


Profit Ratio - Amber
IF [Profit Ratio] >= 0.05 AND [Profit Ratio] < 0.15 THEN '▲' END


Profit Ratio - Green
IF [Profit Ratio] >= 0.15 THEN '●' END


All three fields can then be added to the Tooltip shelf of the viz, positioned side by side and coloured accordingly.

positioning RAG status fields side by side on the tooltip

Which results in a tooltip display like below:

the coloured RAG status indicator is displayed on the tooltip

Applying a Number Format to a value which can contain different units of value

In the example below, we are using a parameter to change the measure to be displayed in the Viz. While Sales and Profit both have the same unit of measure ($), Profit Ratio is displayed as a percentage (%), and we can display the values correctly formatted on both the labels and in the tooltip, using the same techniques described above.

A value which can contain data with different units of measure is displayed correctly formatted on the label and tooltip.

To build this type of ‘measure swap’ chart, you need a parameter which lists the different measures you want to display, and a calculated field which determines which measure to actually show based on the parameter.


Display Measure
A string parameter listing the different options available for selection

the parameter dialog box in Tableau displaying the list of options to be selected

Display Value
CASE [Display Measure]
WHEN 'Sales' THEN SUM([Sales])
WHEN 'Profit' THEN SUM([Profit])
WHEN 'Profit Ratio' THEN [Profit Ratio]


The Display Value is then plotted against another dimension (in this case Sub-Category), but the values on the axis and the tooltip change as the parameter is changed. The Display Value can’t be formatted as it can’t be both a monetary value ($) and a percentage (%).
a generic Display Value is plotted in the viz but it’s value can’t be formatted as the unit of measures can change.

To resolve this, we need calculated fields, one per measure to be displayed. Note - we can’t just use the existing fields for Sales, Profit or Profit Ratio as these will always contain values regardless of the option selected from the parameter, and we don’t want all three values to display. So we need


Value - Sales
IF [Display Measure] = 'Sales' THEN SUM([Sales]) END


Format this field to $ with 0 dp.


Value - Profit
IF [Display Measure] = 'Profit' THEN SUM([Profit]) END


Format this field to $ with 0 dp.


Value - Profit Ratio
IF [Display Measure] = 'Profit Ratio' THEN [Profit Ratio] END


Format this to % with 1 dp.


Add all 3 fields to the Label shelf, positioning each field directly adjacent to each other, and then also adjust the Tooltip in a similar way. You can reference the parameter in the tooltip too, so the value is correctly labelled.the tooltip can reference the parameter to label the value displayed correctly



Hopefully these examples give you some ideas of the way you can apply conditional formatting to your tooltips in Tableau, and also show how this can be extended to labels too. 

Depending on your requirements and complexity of your condition, it could mean several additional calculated fields need to be built, so it is always worth considering whether the benefit outweighs the development and potential future maintenance effort. 

A workbook to accompany this blog post containing some of the examples discussed, can be accessed from here.

Donna Coles

Donna Coles

Tableau Visionary ¦ Data Junkie ¦ Run ¦ Zumba ¦ Footie Mum

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