An area chart is a graphic representation of data by highlighting the areas between the axes and the plot lines. Being a variation of the line chart, the area chart places more emphasis on the “gap” between the data and the axis, and is commonly used to compare two or more data groups.
Area Chart Basics
An area chart mainly consists of 5 sections:
- Plot Area: This is where the graphic representation of data takes place.
- Chart Title: The title of the chart.
- Vertical Axis: The axis containing the categories of the data, also known as the y-axis. The data series can be grouped like in the sample chart above.
- Horizontal Axis: The axis that representing the measured values, also known the as x-axis.
- Legend: The legend lists the data groups and can help distinguish the data series from each other.
There are 3 commonly used types of area charts:
- Clustered: The areas for data series are clustered into the vertical axis. This type is best used for comparing each data field side-by-side. However, this representation can pose a problem where the highest data point can potentially block others.
- Stacked: Data points are placed cumulatively for each category, meaning that the top area represents the total of data below. The stacked area charts are great for highlighting the changes between categories. Note that it can be difficult to compare the relative placement of data points in this layout.
- 100% Stacked: You can choose a 100% stacked area chart to see relative percentage of multiple series. Similar to the stacked type, the data fields are placed on top of each other, but the top area is set to 100% of the total. This option is good for compare the contribution of each component, but doesn’t show actual values.
Creating an Area Chart in Excel
Most Excel versions feature area chart support by default. To create an area chart, begin by selecting your data. Including the data labels in your selection will allow Excel to automatically recognize those fields and use them in the chart layout.
Go to the INSERT tab in the Ribbon and click on the Area Chart icon to see the area chart types. Click on the desired chart to insert. In this example, we’re going to be using Stacked Area.
Clicking the icon inserts the default version of the chart. Let’s now continue with customization options.
Customize an Area Chart in Excel
Most chart elements can be edited easily through different means. There are a few different methods you can use.
Double-clicking on any item will pop up the side panel where you can find specific options for the selected item. Once the side panel is open, you can just click on another element to switch over, instead of double-clicking.
The side panel contains element specific options, as well as generic settings like color and effects.
Right-Click (Context) Menu
Right-clicking an element will display the contextual menu, where you can modify basic element styling like colors, or you can activate the side panel for more options. To display the side panel, choose the option that starts with Format. For example, this option is labeled as Format Data Series… in the following image.
In Excel 2013 and newer, charts also support shortcuts. You can add/remove elements, apply predefined styles and color sets and filter values very quickly.
With shortcuts, you can also see the effects of options on the fly before applying them. In the following image, the mouse is on the Data Labels item and the labels are visible on the chart.
Ribbon (Chart Tools)
Whenever you activate a special object, Excel adds a new tab(s) to the Ribbon. You can see these chart specific tabs under CHART TOOLS. There are 2 tabs: DESIGN and FORMAT. While the DESIGN tab contains options to add elements, apply styles, modify data and modify the chart itself, the FORMAT tab provides more generic options that are common with other objects.
Preset Layouts and Styles
Preset layouts are always a good place to start for detailing your chart. You can find styling options from the DESIGN tab under CHART TOOLS or by using the brush icon on Chart Shortcuts. Here are some examples:
Applying a Quick Layout:
Update Chart Style:
Changing chart type
You can change the type of your chart any time from the Change Chart Type dialog. Although you can change your chart to any other chart type, in this example we’re going to focus on Area chart variations.
To change the chart type, click on the Change Chart Type items in Right-Click (Context) Menu or DESIGN tab.
In the Change Chart Type dialog, you can see the options for all chart types with their previews. Select your preferred type to continue.
B y default, Excel assumes that vertical labels of your data are the categories, and the horizontal ones are the data series. If your data is reversed, click Switch Row/Column button in the DESIGN tab, when your chart is selected.
Move a chart to another worksheet
By default, charts are created inside the same worksheet as the selected data. If you need to move your chart into another worksheet, use the Move Chart dialog. Begin by clicking the Mover Chart icon under the DESIGN tab or from the right-click menu of the chart itself. Please keep in mind you need to right-click in an empty place in chart area to see this option.
In the Move Chart menu you have 2 options:
- New sheet: Select this option and enter a name to create a new sheet under the specified name and move your chart there.
- Object in: Select this option and select the name of an existing sheet from the dropdown input to move your chart to that sheet.