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Format data into string


  • str = sprintf(formatSpec,A1,...,An)
  • [str,errmsg] = sprintf(formatSpec,A1,...,An)



str = sprintf(formatSpec,A1,...,An) formats the data in arrays A1,...,An according to formatSpec in column order, and returns the results to str.

[str,errmsg] = sprintf(formatSpec,A1,...,An) returns an error message as a character vector when the operation is unsuccessful. Otherwise, errmsg is empty.


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Format a floating-point number using %e, %f, and %g specifiers.

A = 1/eps;
str_e = sprintf('%0.5e',A)
str_f = sprintf('%0.5f',A)
str_g = sprintf('%0.5g',A)
str_e =


str_f =


str_g =


Combine literal text with array values to create a character vector.

formatSpec = 'The array is %dx%d.';
A1 = 2;
A2 = 3;
str = sprintf(formatSpec,A1,A2)
str =

The array is 2x3.

Starting in R2016b, you can create string arrays with the string function. If you specify formatSpec as a string instead of a character vector, then the output of sprintf is a string.

Specify formatSpec as a string. Convert data and return the result as a string.

formatSpec = string('The current time is: %d:%d %s');
A1 = 11;
A2 = 20;
A3 = 'a.m.';
str = sprintf(formatSpec,A1,A2,A3)
str = 


    "The current time is: 11:20 a.m."

Convert input string. Input arrays that contain text either can be character vectors or strings.

A1 = 2;
A2 = 35;
A3 = string('p.m.');
str = sprintf(formatSpec,A1,A2,A3)
str = 


    "The current time is: 2:35 p.m."

Explicitly convert double-precision values to integers.

str = sprintf('%d',round(pi))
str =


Specify the minimum width of the printed value.

str = sprintf('%025d',[123456])
str =


The 0 flag in the %025d format specifier requests leading zeros in the output.

Reorder the input values using the n$ position identifier.

A1 = 'X';
A2 = 'Y';
A3 = 'Z';
formatSpec = ' %3$s %2$s %1$s';
str = sprintf(formatSpec,A1,A2,A3)
str =

 Z Y X

C = { 1,   2,   3 ;

str = sprintf(' %d %s',C{:})
str =

 1 AA 2 BB 3 CC

The syntax C{:} creates a comma-separated list of arrays that contain the contents of each cell from C in column order. For example, C{1}==1 and C{2}=='AA'.

Input Arguments

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Format of the output fields, specified using formatting operators. formatSpec also can include ordinary text and special characters.

formatSpec can be a character vector in single quotes, or, starting in R2016b, a string scalar. You can create a string with the string function.

Formatting Operator

A formatting operator starts with a percent sign, %, and ends with a conversion character. The conversion character is required. Optionally, you can specify identifier, flags, field width, precision, and subtype operators between % and the conversion character. (Spaces are invalid between operators and are shown here only for readability).

Conversion Character

This table shows conversion characters to format numeric and character data as text.

Value TypeConversionDetails

Integer, signed

%d or %i

Base 10

Integer, unsigned


Base 10


Base 8 (octal)


Base 16 (hexadecimal), lowercase letters af


Same as %x, uppercase letters AF

Floating-point number


Fixed-point notation (Use a precision operator to specify the number of digits after the decimal point.)


Exponential notation, such as 3.141593e+00 (Use a precision operator to specify the number of digits after the decimal point.)


Same as %e, but uppercase, such as 3.141593E+00 (Use a precision operator to specify the number of digits after the decimal point.)


The more compact of %e or %f, with no trailing zeros (Use a precision operator to specify the number of significant digits.)


The more compact of %E or %f, with no trailing zeros (Use a precision operator to specify the number of significant digits.)

Characters or strings


Single character


Character vector or string array. The type of the output text is the same as the type of formatSpec.

Optional Operators

The optional identifier, flags, field width, precision, and subtype operators further define the format of the output text.

  • Identifier

    Order for processing the function input arguments. Use the syntax n$, where n represents the positions of the other input arguments in the function call.

    Example: ('%3$s %2$s %1$s %2$s','A','B','C') prints input arguments 'A', 'B', 'C' as follows: C B A B.

    Note: If an input argument is an array, you cannot use identifiers to specify particular array elements from that input argument.

  • Flags


    Example: %-5.2f
    Example: %-10s


    Always print a sign character (+ or –) for any numeric value.
    Example: %+5.2f
    Right-justify text.
    Example: %+10s

    ' '

    Insert a space before the value.
    Example: % 5.2f


    Pad to field width with zeros before the value.
    Example: %05.2f


    Modify selected numeric conversions:

    • For %o, %x, or %X, print 0, 0x, or 0X prefix.

    • For %f, %e, or %E, print decimal point even when precision is 0.

    • For %g or %G, do not remove trailing zeros or decimal point.

    Example: %#5.0f

  • Field Width

    Minimum number of characters to print. The field width operator can be a number, or an asterisk (*) to refer to an input argument.

    Example: The input arguments ('%12d',intmax) are equivalent to ('%*d', 12, intmax).

    The function pads to field width with spaces before the value unless otherwise specified by flags.

  • Precision

    For %f, %e, or %E

    Number of digits to the right of the decimal point
    Example: '%.4f' prints pi as '3.1416'

    For %g or %G

    Number of significant digits
    Example: '%.4g' prints pi as ' 3.142'

    The precision operator can be a number, or an asterisk (*) to refer to an argument.

    Example: The input arguments ('%6.4f', pi) are equivalent to ('%*.*f', 6, 4, pi).

      Note:   If you specify a precision operator for floating-point values that exceeds the precision of the input numeric data type, the results might not match the input values to the precision you specified. The result depends on your computer hardware and operating system.

  • Subtypes

    You can use a subtype operator to print a floating-point value as its octal, decimal, or hexadecimal value. The subtype operator immediately precedes the conversion character. This table shows the conversions that can use subtypes.

    Input Value Type

    Subtype and Conversion Character

    Output Value Type

    Floating-point number

    %bx or %bX

    Double-precision hexadecimal, octal, or decimal value
    Example: %bx prints pi as 400921fb54442d18

    %tx or %tX

    Single-precision hexadecimal, octal, or decimal value
    Example: %tx prints pi as 40490fdb

Text Before or After Formatting Operators

formatSpec can also include additional text before a percent sign, %, or after a conversion character. The text can be:

  • Ordinary text to print.

  • Special characters that you cannot enter as ordinary text. This table shows how to represent special characters in formatSpec.

    Special Character


    Single quotation mark


    Percent character








    Form feed


    New line


    Carriage return


    Horizontal tab


    Vertical tab


    Character whose ASCII code is the hexadecimal number, N


    Character whose ASCII code is the octal number, N


Notable Behavior of Conversions with Formatting Operators

  • Numeric conversions print only the real component of complex numbers.

  • If you specify a conversion that does not fit the data, such as a text conversion for a numeric value, MATLAB® overrides the specified conversion, and uses %e.

    Example: '%s' converts pi to 3.141593e+00.

  • If you apply a text conversion (either %c or %s) to integer values, MATLAB converts values that correspond to valid character codes to characters.

    Example: '%s' converts [65 66 67] to ABC.

Data Types: char | string

Numeric, character, or string arrays.

Data Types: single | double | int8 | int16 | int32 | int64 | uint8 | uint16 | uint32 | uint64 | logical | char | string

Output Arguments

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Formatted text, returned as a character vector or a string scalar. The type of output matches the type of formatSpec.

Error message, returned as a character vector, when the operation is unsuccessful. Otherwise, errmsg is empty.

More About

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  • The sprintf function is similar to fprintf, but fprintf prints to a file or to the Command Window.

  • Format specifiers for the reading functions sscanf and fscanf differ from the formats for the writing functions sprintf and fprintf. The reading functions do not support a precision field. The width field specifies a minimum for writing but a maximum for reading.


[1] Kernighan, B. W., and D. M. Ritchie, The C Programming Language, Second Edition, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1988.

[2] ANSI specification X3.159-1989: "Programming Language C," ANSI, 1430 Broadway, New York, NY 10018.

Introduced before R2006a

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