How to Create a Column Chart in Excel

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Creating a column chart is a great way to graphically represent data from an Excel spreadsheet. 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.

Note: Instructions in this article apply to Excel 2019, 2016, 2013, 2010; Excel for Office 365, and Excel for Mac.

Create a Basic Excel Column 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.

A screenshot showing data used to create a column chart in Excel

In the above example, the columns contain categories for Chocolate, Lemon, and Oatmeal cookies.

If you want to follow along with this tutorial, open a blank worksheet and enter the data shown in the image above.

The steps below create a basic column chart. This is a plain, unformatted 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 group, select the Insert Column or Bar Chart to open a list of available chart types.
  4. Hover over a chart type to read a description of the chart and see a preview of how the chart will look with your data.
  5. In the 2-D Column section of the list, choose Clustered Column to add this basic chart to the worksheet.
A screenshot showing a column chart in Excel using the default style

Not sure what type of chart will look best with your data? Highlight the data and select Insert > Recommended Charts to see a list of suggestions.

Replace the Basic Chart Title

The chart may not have all the information you need to make it meaningful. Start by changing the chart title to something more descriptive.

Here's how to replace the 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.
  4. Enter a new title.
A screenshot showing how to add a title to an Excel Column Chart

To create a chart title that is on two separate lines, press Enter to go from the first line to the second.

Select Different Parts of the Chart

There are many different parts to a chart in Excel. The plot area of a chart contains the selected data series, the legend, and the chart title. All of these parts are considered separate objects and each is 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 mistake, select the right part of the chart and try again.

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

Change the Chart Style

When a chart is created in Excel, or whenever an existing chart is selected, two additional tabs are added to the ribbon as shown in the image below. These Chart Tools tabs, Design and Format, contain formatting and layout options specifically for charts.

A screenshot showing the design and formatting tools in Excel

These Chart Tools will be used in the following steps to format the column chart.

Change the Chart Design

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 group.
  4. After the changes are made, 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.
A screenshot showing how to change the chart style in Excel

Change Column Colors

If you want to use different column colors for your chart, change the colors.

  1. Select the chart background to select the entire chart, if necessary.
  2. Select Design.
  3. Select the Change Colors to open a list of color choices.
  4. Hover over each row of colors to see the option name. You'll also see a preview of your color choice in the chart.
  5. Choose Colorful Palette 3. It is the third choice in the Colorful section of the list.
  6. 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.
A screenshot showing how to change colors of the bars in a column chart in Excel

Change the Chart's Background Color

To make your chart stand out on the page, change the color of the background.

  1. Select the chart background to select the entire chart and to display the Chart Tool tabs.
  2. Select Format.
  3. Select Shape Fill to display a list of color choices.
  4. Choose Light Gray, Background 2 from the Theme Colors section of the panel to change the chart's background color to light gray.
A screenshot showing how to change the background color of a column chart in Excel

Change the Chart Text Color

Now that the background is gray, the default black text isn't very visible. To improve the contrast between the two, change the color of the text in the chart.

  1. Select the chart background to select the entire chart.
  2. Select Format.
  3. Select the Text Fill down arrow to open the Text Colors list.
  4. Choose Green, Accent 6, Darker 50% from the Theme Colors section of the list.
  5. This changes the text in the title, axes, and legend to green.
A screenshot showing how to change the text color of a column chart in Excel

Change 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 and is often shortened to pt. 72 pt text is equal to one inch (2.5 cm) in size.

Change the Look of the Title Text in a Chart

You may want to use a different font or font size for the title of your column chart.

  1. Select the chart title.
  2. Select Home.
  3. In the Font section, select the Font down arrow to open the list of available fonts.
  4. Scroll to find and choose Arial Black to change the title font.
  5. In the Font Size box, set the title font size to 16 pt.
  6. Select Bold to add bold formatting to the title.
A screenshot showing how to change the look of the title text of a chart in Excel

Change the Legend and Axes Text

Other text areas in the chart can be formatted to fit your style. Change the labels and the legend by changing the font style and size.

  1. Select the X-axis (horizontal) label in the chart. A box surrounds the Oatmeal, Lemon, and Chocolate label.
  2. Use the steps above to change the title text. Set the axis label to 10 pt, Arial, and Bold.
  3. Select the Y-axis (vertical) label in the chart to select the currency amounts on the left side of the chart.
  4. Use the steps above to change the title text. Set the axis label to 10 pt, Arial, and Bold.
  5. Select the chart legend.
  6. Use the steps above to change the title text. Set the legend text to 10 pt, Arial, and Bold.
A screenshot showing how to change the axis and legend text for a column chart in Excel

Add Gridlines to Your Column 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. When you want to make your chart easier to read, add gridlines to the plot area of the chart.

  1. Select the chart.
  2. Select Design.
  3. Select Add Chart Element to open a drop-down menu.
  4. Select Gridlines > Primary Horizontal Major to add faint, thin gridlines to the plot area of the chart.
A screenshot showing how to add gridlines to a column chart in Excel

Change the Color of the Gridlines

You may want to change the color of the gridlines to make the lines more visible against the gray background of the plot area of the chart.

  1. In the graph, select a gridline. All the gridlines are highlighted and show blue and white dots at the end of each gridline.
  2. Select Format.
  3. Select Format Selection to open the Format task pane. Format Major Gridlines appears at the top of the pane.
  4. Select Solid line.
  5. Select Color and change the color to Orange, Accent 2.
A screenshot showing how to change the color of the gridlines of a chart in Excel

Format the X-Axis Line

There's an X-axis line above the X-axis labels but, like the gridlines, it's difficult to see because of the gray background of the chart. Change the axis color and line thickness to match that of the formatted gridlines.

  1. Select the X-axis label to highlight the X-axis line. Format Axis appear at the top of the Format task pane.
  2. Set the line type to Solid line.
  3. Set the axis line color to Orange, Accent 2.
  4. Set the axis line width to 2 pt.
  5. Close the Format task pane when you're finished.
A screenshot showing the formatted column chart in Excel

Move the Chart to a Separate Sheet

Moving a chart to a separate sheet makes it easier to print the chart and it can also relieve congestion in a large worksheet full of data.

  1. Select the chart background to select the entire chart.
  2. Select Design.
  3. Select Move Chart to open the Move Chart dialog box.
  4. Select New sheet and type a descriptive title for the new sheet.
  5. Select OK to close the dialog box. The chart is now located on a separate worksheet and the new name is visible on the sheet tab.
A screenshot showing how to move a chart to a new worksheet in Excel