How to Create a Column Chart in Excel

Assorted papers on a table showing different graphs.
Present your data in style with Excel column charts.

 Getty Images/mediaphotos

Creating a column chart is a great way to represent data from an Excel spreadsheet graphically. Column charts are useful for comparing different values of data across a few categories. Here's how to create an easy column chart in Excel.

The steps in this tutorial use the formatting and layout options available in Excel versions 2019, 2016, and 2013. These differ from those found in early versions of the program. Use the following links to find column chart tutorials for other versions of Excel.

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Creating a Basic Excel Column Chart

Entering Data for the Excel Column Chart

Entering Data For Your Chart

Entering the needed data into your spreadsheet is the first step in creating a chart. Begin by setting up a spreadsheet with your data, making sure to create a column for each category. In the above example, our categories are Chocolate, Lemon, and Oatmeal.

If you don't have data at hand to use with this tutorial, follow along using the data shown in this tutorial's included images.

Creating the Basic Column Chart

The steps below create a basic, unformatted column chart that displays your data, a basic legend, and a default chart title.

  1. Highlight the range of cells that contain your data.
  2. Select Insert.
  3. In the Charts box, select Insert Column Chart to open a list of available chart types
  4. Hover over a chart type to read a description of the chart
  5. In the 2-D Column section of the list, choose Clustered Column to add this basic chart to the worksheet.
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Give Your Column Chart a Title

Adding the Title to the Excel Column Chart

Replace the Basic Chart Title

  1. Select the default chart title. A box appears around the words Chart Title.
  2. Select the chart title a second time to put Excel in edit mode; this places the cursor inside the title box.
  3. Delete the default text using the Backspace key on the keyboard.
  4. Enter your intended title into the box.

If you want your chart title to be two separate lines, press Enter to progress from the first line to the second.

Selecting Different Parts of the Chart

There are many different parts to a chart in Excel —such as the plot area that contains the column chart representing the selected data series, the legend, and the chart title. All of these parts are considered separate objects, and each can be formatted separately. You tell Excel which part of the chart you want to format by selecting it.

If you make a mistake, quickly correct it using Excel's undo feature. After you remove the error, select the right part of the chart and try again.

The most common mistake people make is selecting the plot area in the center of the chart instead of the entire thing. The easiest way to select the whole chart is to select a blank area at the top left or right corner.

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Changing Your Excel Chart's Style

The Chart Tool Tabs on the Ribbon in Excel

The Chart Tools Tabs

When you create a chart in Excel or select an existing one, two additional tabs are added to the ribbon as shown in the image above. These Chart Tools tabs — Design and Format — contain formatting and layout options specifically for charts. These Chart Tools will be used in the following steps to format the column chart.

Changing the Chart Style

Chart styles are preset combinations of formatting options that can quickly format a chart with a variety of colors, line styles, and artistic effects.

  1. Select the chart background to select the entire chart.
  2. Select Design.
  3. Choose Style 3 in the Chart Styles section.
  4. After you make the changes, the columns in the chart have short, white, horizontal lines running through them. Also, the legend moves to the top of the chart beneath the title.

Changing Column Colors

  1. Select the chart background to select the entire chart, if necessary.
  2. Select Design > Change Colors to open a list of color choices.
  3. Hover over each row of colors to see the option name. You'll also see a preview of your color choice on the chart.
  4. Choose Color 3. It is the third choice in the Colorful section of the list.
  5. After you make the selection, the column colors for each series change to orange, yellow, and green. The white lines are still present in each column.

Changing the Chart's Background Color

This step adjusts the background of the chart to light gray using the Shape Fill option located on the Format tab.

  1. Select the chart background to select the entire chart and to display the Chart Tool tabs.
  2. Select Format.
  3. Select the down arrow next to Shape Fill to open the Fill Colors panel.
  4. Choose Gray -50%, Accent 3, Lighter 40% from the Theme Colors section of the panel to change the chart's background color to light gray.
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Customize Your Chart's Text

Changing Colors in an Excel Column Chart

Changing the Graph's Text Color

Now that the background is gray, the default black text isn't too visible. To improve the contrast between the two, change the color of the text in the chart. Use the Text Fill option, located on the Format tab, to make the text stand out from the background.

  1. Select the chart background to select the entire chart.
  2. Select Format.
  3. Select the down arrow next to Text Fill to open the Text Colors list.
  4. Choose Green, Accent 6, Darker 25% from the Theme Colors section of the list.
  5. These steps change the text in the title, axes, and legend to green.

Changing the Font Type, Size, and Emphasis

Changing the text size and font can make it easier to read the legend, axes names, and values in the chart. Bold formatting can also be added to the text to make it stand out even more against the background.

The size of a font is measured in points — often shortened to pt. Text that measures 72 pt. is equal to one inch (2.5 cm).

Changing the Chart's Title Text

  1. Select the chart's title.
  2. Select Home.
  3. In the Font section, select the down arrow next to Font to open the list of available fonts.
  4. Scroll to find and choose the font Leelawadee in the list to change the title to this font.
  5. In the Font Size box, set the title font size to 16 pt.
  6. Select Bold (the letter B) to add bold formatting to the title.

Changing the Legend and Axes Text

  1. Select the X-axis (horizontal) labels in the chart.
  2. Using the steps listed above for changing the title text, set these axis labels to 10 pt, Leelawadee, and bold.
  3. Select the Y-axis (vertical) labels in the chart to select the currency amounts on the left-hand side of the chart.
  4. Using the steps for changing the title text, set these axis labels to 10 pt, Leelawadee, and bold.
  5. Select the chart's legend.
  6. Using the steps for changing the title text, set the legend text to 10 pt, Leelawadee, and bold.

All text in the chart is now dark green and in the Leelawadee font.

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Adding Gridlines to Your Column Chart

Adding and Formatting the X Axis Line in the Excel Column Chart

The horizontal gridlines that displayed in the default column chart are not part of the new design from the previous step. The following directions will add the gridlines back into the plot area of the chart.

In the absence of data labels that show the actual value of each column, gridlines make it easier to read the column values from the values listed on the Y (vertical) axis.

  1. Select one of the plot areas of the chart.
  2. Select Design.
  3. Select Add Chart Element to open the drop-down menu.
  4. In the drop-down menu, select Gridlines > Primary Horizontal Major to add faint, white, gridlines to the plot area of the chart.

Formatting Changes Using the Formatting Task Pane

In Excel, when activated, the Formatting Task Pane appears on the right-hand side of the Excel screen as shown in the image above. The heading and options in the pane change depending upon the area of the chart that is selected.

Changing the Gridlines' Color

This step changes the color of the gridlines from white to orange to make them more visible against the gray background of the plot area of the chart.

  1. In the graph, select the gridline running through the middle of the graph. All the gridlines are highlighted (blue and white dots at the end of each gridline).
  2. Select Format.
  3. Select Format Selection to open the Formatting Task Pane. Format Major Gridlines appears at the top of the pane.
  4. In the pane, set the line type to Solid line.
  5. Set the gridline color to Orange, Accent 2, and Darker 25%.
  6. All of the gridlines in the plot area will change to dark orange.

Formatting the X-Axis Line

The X-axis line is present above the X-axis labels, but, like the gridlines, it is difficult to see because of the gray background of the chart. These directions change the axis color and line thickness to match that of the formatted gridlines.

  1. Select the X-axis labels to highlight the X-axis line.
  2. In the Formatting Task Pane, as shown in the image above, set the line type to Solid line.
  3. Set the axis line color to Orange, Accent 2, and Darker 25%.
  4. Set the axis line width to 0.75 pt.
  5. The X-axis line now matches the chart's gridlines

After following the steps in this tutorial, your column chart should now match the example displayed on at the top of this page.