Author: Oscar Cronquist Article last updated on February 12, 2021

 

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 below allow you to quickly move to a section in this article.

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

1. How to customize the 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 the picture below.

  • Fill and Line
  • Effects
  • Size and properties

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1.1 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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1.2 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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1.3 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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2. How to customize the chart title

I recommend a chart title that is short and easy to understand.

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2.1 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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2.2 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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2.3 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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3. Plot area

The plot area refers to the location of the chart that displays the actual data represented by lines, bars, columns, dots etc. You can easily customize this area, both in size and appearance.

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3.1 Plot area size

To change the plot area size simply click on it until it is selected, you know it is selected when you see dots around the plot area. The dots around the chart are sizing handles that allow you to resize the plot area inside the chart area.

Click and hold with left mouse button on one of these dots, then drag with mouse to change the size of the plot area, however, you can't make it larger than the chart area.

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3.2 Customize the plot area

To display the plot area settings simply double-click with left mouse button on the plot area to open the settings pane.

Click on the arrow next to "Fill" to expand and see all settings. "No fill" makes the plot area transparent.
"Solid fill" allows you to use a specific color as a background color, the image to the right shows a black plot area. There is also an option to change the transparency.

"Gradient fill" lets you create a background gradient, there are a plethora of options if you select this.

"Picture or texture fill" lets you pick a background image on your hard drive or online, you can also use a clipart picture.

"Pattern fill" lets you pick a pattern.

The "Automatic" option lets you pick a color if you are not happy with the default one.

The border settings allows you to specify a border around the plot area. The "Solid line" gives you plenty of options to customize the line, color, transparency, width etc.

A "Gradient line" lets you specify many options like type, direction, angle, color, position, etc.

The "Automatic" setting is more or less like the "Solid line" setting.

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4. Axis titles

The x-axis and y-axis titles are just as easy to format and customize as the other chart elements.

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4.1 How to add axis titles to a chart

  1. Select the chart.
  2. Go to tab "Design" on the ribbon.
  3. Click "Add Chart Element" button to display the menu.
  4. Click on "Axis Titles".
  5. Click on "Primary Horizontal" or "Primary Vertical".

You can also click the "plus" sign next to the chart to see available chart elements.

Click "checkbox" "Axis Titles" to display them on the chart.

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4.2 Axis title font properties

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

  1. Select an 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.

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4.3 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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4.4 Axis values

Excel lets you customize one of the chart axes and their corresponding values combined, for example, you can't only customize the axis line and apply a different formatting to the corresponding axis values.

The axes values are located next to the axes lines, the x-axis values are next to the horizontal axis line and the y-axis values are next to the vertical axis line.

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4.5 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.

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4.6 Axis settings

Simply double-click on axis values to open the settings pane.

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

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

  • The axis type
    • Automatically select based on data
    • Text axis
    • Date axis
  • Where the vertical axis (y-axis) crosses the x-axis.
  • Where to position axis, on tick marks or between tick marks.
  • Tick marks
    • Interval between marks
    • Major type (corresponds to major gridlines)
      • None
      • Inside
      • Outside
      • Cross
    • Minor type (corresponds to minor gridlines)
      • None
      • Inside
      • Outside
      • Cross

The "Effects" tab lets you add and customize:

  • 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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4.7 Copy and paste formatting

If you need to apply the same formatting to both the horizontal and vertical axis values you can't select both while pressing the CTRL key, you have to select one of them and apply the formatting.

Then repeat the steps with the other axis values or you can select the formatted axis values and press the "Format Painter" button located on tab "Home" on the ribbon. Now click on the other axis values to apply the same formatting.

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5. Chart series

To change the looks of a data series simply double-click with left mouse button on the data series. If you want to only select a data point in the data series simply click again on the data point.

You know if you have the data series or a single data point selected based on the "selection markers". The top image shows selection markers around all data points for the yellow data series, the image below shows a single data point selected.

You can also right-click on the chart element and then click on "Format Data Series...", see the top image. This opens the "Format Data Series" settings pane usually on the right side of the Excel window, see image below.

There are three tabs, Fill & Line, Effects and Series options.

The "Fill & Line" tab lets you change the looks of the line and markers.

You can change the thickness, color, line type, transparency etc.

The Effects tab lets you apply a shadow, glow, soft edges and 3D-Format to a data series.

Click on an arrow to expand the settings for that particular item.

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6. Chart legend - change font, font size, and font color

You can easily customize the font, font size, font color etc of the chart 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.

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6.1 How to change the position of the chart legend

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

Here you can choose where you want to position the legend relative to the plot area.

  • Top
  • Bottom
  • Left
  • Right
  • Top right

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6.2 Position chart legend manually

position legend manually

You also have the option to move the legend manually. Click and hold with the left mouse button on the legend and then drag the legend to the position you want.

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6.3 Chart legend settings - Fill, border, shadow, glow, and soft edges

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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6.4 How to remove the legend

  1. Select the legend.
  2. Click "Delete" button on your keyboard.

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6.5 How to show the legend

  1. Select the chart.
  2. Click "plus" sign next to the chart.
  3. Click on checkbox "Legend" to show the legend.

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7. Tick marks


The image above shows tick mars in a line chart, there are two types of tick marks, major and minor tick marks. The chart above shows only major tick marks and the chart below displays both major and minor tick marks on both the x-axis and y-axis.

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7.1 How to add chart axis tick marks

  1. Right click on an axis.
  2. Click on "Format Axis..."
  3. Click on "Axis Options" button.
  4. Expand "Tick Marks".
  5. Change "Major Type" to Inside.

You have three options, tick marks inside, outside or cross. Above picture displays inside tick marks.

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7.2 Axis line tick marks interval

  1. Right click on an axis.
  2. Click on "Format Axis..."
  3. Click on "Axis Options" button.
  4. Expand "Tick Marks".
  5. Change the Interval between marks.

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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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