How to Make and Format a Column Chart in Excel

Image of a person reviewing the formatting of a column chart

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Column charts are used to compare data in a visual format. Add text formatting and change the chart colors to make your information stand out.

The steps in this tutorial use the formatting and layout options available in Excel 2016, 2013, 2010, 2007, and Excel for Mac.

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How to Make a Column Chart in Excel

A screenshot showing how to create a basic chart in Excel

Follow these steps to create a basic column chart in Excel:

  1. Highlight the data to be included in the chart. Include row and column headings but not the title for the data table.
  2. Select the Insert tab.
  3. In the Charts group, select Insert Column or Bar Chart to open the drop-down list of available chart types.
  4. Hover your mouse pointer over a chart type to read a description of the chart.
  5. Choose the desired chart.

A plain, unformatted chart is added to the current worksheet. The chart displays the selected data series, a legend, and axes values.

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Create a Basic Column Chart in Excel

Data used to create an Excel column chart

The first step in creating a chart is to enter the chart data. The second step is to highlight the data used to create the chart. When selecting the data, the row and column headings are included in the selection, but the title at the top of the data table is not. The title must be added to the chart manually.

If you don't have data at hand to use with this tutorial, use the data shown in the image above.

Enter and Select the Chart Data

To enter and select the data to be included in the chart:

  1. Enter the data into the correct worksheet cells
  2. Highlight the range of cells that include the data you want to appear in the chart. In the tutorial example, highlight cells A2 to D5. This is the range of data that is represented by the column chart.

Create the Basic Column Chart

  1. Select Insert.
  2. In the Charts group, select Insert Column or Bar Chart to open the drop-down list of available chart types.
  3. Hover your mouse pointer over a chart type to read a description of the chart.
  4. In the 2-D Column section of the list, select a chart. To follow along with this tutorial, select 2-D Clustered Column to add this basic chart to the worksheet.
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Undo Mistakes

There are many different parts to a chart in Excel. Inside an Excel chart, you'll find the plot area that contains the column chart. Inside the chart, you'll see 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 select the part of the chart you want to format by clicking on it with the mouse pointer. If the results aren't what you expected, make sure the right part of the chart is selected before applying the formatting.

The most common mistake is clicking on the plot area in the center of the chart when the intention is to select the entire chart. The easiest way to select the entire chart is to select the top left or the top right corner away from the chart title.

If you make a mistake, correct it with Excel's undo feature to remove the mistake. After you've removed the mistake, select the correct part of the chart and try again.

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Delete Gridlines from the Plot Area

A screenshot showing how to remove gridlines from a chart in Excel

Your chart may include gridlines that run horizontally across the plot area. These gridlines make it easier to read the values for specific points of data, especially in charts that contain a lot of data.

Since there are only three series of data in this chart, the data points are relatively easy to read. The gridlines are unnecessary.

To remove the gridlines from a chart:

  1. Select a gridline. This highlights all the gridlines and small blue circles appear at the end of each gridline.
  2. Select the large green plus (+) that is located on the right side of the chart.
  3. Uncheck Gridlines.
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Find the Chart Tools Tabs

A screenshot showing the Chart Tools tabs in Excel

When a chart is created in Excel, or whenever an existing chart is selected, two additional tabs are added to the ribbon.

These Chart Tools tabs, Design and Format, contain formatting and layout options specifically for charts. These options will be used in the following steps to add a title to the column chart and to change the chart colors.

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Change the Chart Text

A screenshot showing how to change the location of the chart title in Excel

Add and Edit the Chart Title

  1. In the chart, select the Chart Title box and type a title.
  2. Select the green plus (+) sign on the right side of the chart.
  3. Select the arrow next to Chart Title.
  4. Select the desired placement of your title. Or for further formatting options, select More Options.

In Excel 2010 and 2007, basic charts do not include chart titles. These must be added separately. Select Layout > Chart Title to add a chart title.

Change the Font Type

Changing the font type used by default for all the text in the chart improves the appearance of the chart. It also makes it easier to read the legend and axes names and values.

These changes are made using options located in the font section of the Home tab.

Change the Chart Title Text

  1. Select Chart Title.
  2. Select the Home tab.
  3. In the font section of the ribbon, select Font to open the drop-down list of available fonts.
  4. Scroll to find and select the font you want to use. The title text changes to the selected font.

To change the Legend and Axis text, select the text box for Legend or Axis and repeat these steps.

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Change Column Colors

A screenshot showing how to change the color of chart elements in Excel

You can change the appearance of the data columns by changing colors, adding a gradient, and adding an outline to each column. Use the Shape Fill and Shape Outline options, located on the Format tab, make these changes.

Change a Column Color

  1. Select a column in the chart to select all its matching columns.
  2. Select Format.
  3. Select Shape Fill to open the Fill Colors drop-down panel.
  4. Choose a color.

Add a Gradient

  1. Select a column.
  2. Select Format > Shape Fill to open the Fill Colors drop-down menu.
  3. Hover the mouse pointer over Gradient to open the Gradient panel.
  4. Hover over a gradient to see how it will look in your chart.
  5. Choose a gradient.

Add a Column Outline

  1. Select a column.
  2. Select Format > Shape Outline to open the Shape Outline drop-down menu.
  3. Choose the color you want to use as the outline for each column.
  4. Select Format > Shape Outline.
  5. Hover over Weight to open a list of options.
  6. Choose a thickness.
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Move the Chart to a Separate Sheet

A screenshot showing how to move a chart to a new worksheet in Excel

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's background to select the entire chart.
  2. Select the Design tab.
  3. Select Move Chart to open the Move Chart dialog box.
  4. Select the New sheet option and give the sheet a name.
  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.