Article updated on April 20, 2018


Charts in Microsoft Excel lets you visualize, analyze and explain data.

Charting in Excel is very easy and you will be amazed how quickly you can produce a clear visual representation of your data.

This article explains the different elements that exist in the most popular Excel charts.

The links to the right allow you to quickly move to a section in this article.

Check out the 'Chart Basics' category for more tips and tricks.

Chart area

The chart area contains all components. If you choose to format the chart area you can change things like border, shadow, background color etc.

For example, the picture above shows you a black line around the chart area and a shadow applied to the chart.

To format the chart area simply right click on the chart and then click on "Format Chart Area".

The "Format Chart Area" pane has three different tabs, see picture below.

  • Fill and Line
  • Effects
  • Size and properties

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Fill and Line

The "Fill & Line" tab has two settings, Fill and border. Click on the arrows to expand all settings.

The "Fill" settings allow you to change the background color, gradient or use a background picture.

The "Border" settings let you change the border size, color, line properties etc.

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Effects

The Effects tab allows you to apply and customize shadows, glow, soft edges and a 3d-effect to your chart.

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Size & properties

The size and properties tab lets you change the chart size and if the chart should move and size with cells.

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Chart title

The chart title should be a short, concise and easy to understand.

How to add a chart title

Follow these steps to add a chart title to your chart.

  1. Click on the chart that you want to add a chart title to.
  2. Click on tab "Design" on the ribbon.
  3. Click "Add Chart Elements" button.
  4. Click on "Chart title".
  5. Click on "Above Chart".

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How to delete the chart title

Click on the chart title with left mouse button.

The chart now shows that the chart title selected.

Press Delete key on your keyboard.

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How to customize the chart title

You can easily change the font, font size and color of the chart title.

  1. Select chart title.
  2. Go to tab "Home" on the ribbon.
  3. Click on "Font text" to change the font.
  4. Click on "Font size" to change the font size.
  5. Click on letter A to pick a font color.

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Plot area

The plot area refers to the location of the chart that shows the actual data represented by lines, bars, columns, dots etc.

The dots around the chart are sizing handles that allow you to resize the plot area inside the chart area.

You can customize the plot area in different ways, for example:

  • A border around the chart area.
  • Use a shadow to highlight the chart.

The picture below shows a shadow and border applied to the plot area.

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Axis title

The x-axis and y-axis titles are easy to format and customize.

Axis title font properties

To change the font, font size, font color etc, simply select the axis title you want to change.

  1. Select axis title.
  2. Go to tab "Home" on the ribbon.
  3. Click on "Font text" to change the font.
  4. Click on "Font size" to change the font size.
  5. Click on letter A to choose a font color.

Axis title settings

There are more things you can use to build a better-looking chart.

Simply right-click on the axis title.

Click on "Format Axis Title...". The Format Axis settings show up probably on the right side of your screen.

Here you have three tabs, Fill and Line, Effects, Size & Properties. The picture above displays the Size & Properties tab, here you change the text alignment and direction/angle.

The Fill & line tab lets you change the background to a color, picture or gradient. It also allows you to apply a border around the title.

The Effects tab contains settings that allow you to apply a border, glow, soft edges or a 3d-effect to the selected axis title.

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Axis values

The axis values are also easy to customize.

Axis values font properties

To change the font, font size, font color etc, simply select the axis values you want to change.

  1. Select axis values.
  2. Go to tab "Home" on the ribbon.
  3. Click on "Font text" to change the font.
  4. Click on "Font size" to change the font size.
  5. Click on letter A to choose a font color.

Axis values settings

Simply double-click on axis values to open the settings pane, it usually displays to the right side of your screen.

Four different tabs show up, the Axis Options tab is displayed in the picture below.

The axis options on tab "Axis Options" allow you to change

  • The axis type
    • Automaticall select based on data
    • Text axis
    • Date axis
  • Where the vertical axis (y-axis) crosses the x-axis.
  • Where to position axis values, on tick marks or between tick marks.

The "Effects" tab lets you add

  • Values shadows.
  • Glow.
  • Soft Edges.
  • 3d-effects.

The "Size & Properties" tab lets you change

  • Text alignment.
  • Text direction.
  • Text angle.

The "Fill & Line" tab allows you to change

  • Axis line color
  • Axis line thickness
  • Axis line properties
  • Axis values background color
  • Axis values background picture
  • Axis values background gradient

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Chart series

To change how a line/bar/column look like in a chart simply double-click with left mouse button on the chart element.

You can also right-click on the chart element and then click on "Format Data Series...".

This opens the "Format Data Series" window usually to the right in the Excel window.

Here you can change how the series will look like, colors, line thickness, effects but also if you want to plot the series on the primary or the secondary axis.

This allows you to do some interesting stuff with charts:

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Legend

To change the font, font size, font color etc, simply select the legend.

  1. Select legend.
  2. Go to tab "Home" on the ribbon.
  3. Click on "Font text" to change the font.
  4. Click on "Font size" to change the font size.
  5. Click on letter A to choose a font color.

Double click on legend with the left mouse button to open "Format Legend" settings.

Here you can choose where you want to position the legend. You also have the option to select the legend. Now click and hold with left mouse button and then drag the legend to the position you want.

The usual effects like shadows, glow, soft and 3-d are also available for you if you click the "Effects" tab button.

More important, in my opinion, is the "Fill and Line" tab where you can customize the background color, picture and gradient or apply a border around the legend.

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Tick marks

Tick marks indicate where the axis values are on the plot area. I have made the tick marks black and thicker in the picture above.

There are two tick mark sizes and three different tick marks. The picture above shows the tick mark cross.

The pictures below show the tick marks inside and outside.

How to add tick marks

Double click on axis line or axis values.

Click on tab "Axis Options.

Expand "Tick Mark" settings by clicking on the arrow next to "Tick Marks", displayed in the picture above.

Click on the drop down list and select the type of tick marks you want to use.

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Customize tick marks

Double click on axis line or values to open the settings.

Click on tab "Fill & Line", demonstrated in the picture above.

Expand the "Line" settings by clicking on the arrow next to "Line", also shown in the image above.

Here you can change the tick marks color and other tick mark settings.

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Final words

There is a really quick way to add chart elements, simply select the chart.

Click the "plus" sign and all chart elements show up. Select or deselect the elements you want.

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