Bar charts display data with the use of horizontally placed rectangular bars. Each bar represents a category and they are drawn with proportional length to the represented values.

Bar Chart 01

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Bar Chart Basics


A bar chart has 5 main sections:

  • Plot Area: This is the place where the graphic representation takes place.
  • Chart Title: The title of the chart.
  • Vertical Axis: The axis that includes the categories of the data, also known as the y-axis. The data series can be catalogued into groups as in the sample chart.
  • Horizontal Axis: The axis that represents the measured values, also known as the x-axis.
  • Legend: The legend is an indicator that helps you to distinguish data series between each other.


There are 3 types of bar charts:

  • Clustered: Each bar for the data series is clustered into the vertical axis. This is best for comparing each individual value side-by-side.
  • Stacked: Data series rectangles are stacked to create a single bar for each category. The length of the bar is equal to the combined values of the categories. Stacked bar charts are suitable for highlighting changes between categories. However; it’s difficult to distinguish the relative size of the rectangles from each other.
  • 100% Stacked: You can choose a 100% stacked bar chart to see the relative percentage of multiple series. All bars are set to 100% length. This type is good for comparing the components of a category. However; it doesn’t indicates actual values.

Insert a Bar Chart in Excel

Start with selecting your data in Excel. Include the data label in you selection for it to be recognized automatically by Excel.

Activate the INSERT tab in the Ribbon and click on the Bar Chart icon to see the bar chart types. Click on the chart type you want to insert. In this example, we are using Clustered Bar.

Clicking the icon inserts the default version of the chart. Now, let’s take a look at customization options.

Bar Chart 06

Customize a Bar Chart in Excel

You can edit most elements of the chart. Let’s take a look at them:


Double-clicking on any item pops up the side panel, which provides options for the selected element. Please keep in mind that, once the side panel is open, you don’t need to double-click again, selecting another element is enough.

Side panel includes element specific options, as well as generic ones like coloring and effects.

Right-Click (Context) Menu

Right-clicking an element displays the context menu. You can modify basic styling properties, like colors, and activate the side panel for more options. To display the side panel, choose the options that start with the Format string. For example; Format Data Series… in the following image.

Chart Shortcut (Plus Button)

With Excel 2013, charts also support shortcuts. You can add/remove elements, apply predefined styles and color sets and filter values with a few clicks.

You can see the effects of your changes before even applying them. For example; in the following image, the mouse is on Data Labels and labels are visible on the chart.

Ribbon (Chart Tools)

Whenever you activate a special object, Excel adds new tabs 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 shared with most of other chart objects.

Customizing Tips

Preset Layouts and Styles

Try preset layouts or styles to improve visualization of your chart. You can find styling options in the DESIGN tab under CHART TOOLS or using the brush icon from the Chart Shortcuts. Here are some examples:

Applying a Quick Layout:

Bar Chart 11

Changing colors:

Update Chart Style:

Changing chart type

You can change the type of your chart any time from th Change Chart Type dialog. Although you can change your chart to any other chart type, this example focuses on bar chart variations.

To change the type of your chart, click on Change Chart Type items in Right-Click (Context) Menu or DESIGN tab.

In the Change Chart Type dialog, you can see options for all chart types with the preview of your chart. You can find Stacked and 100% Stacked types, as well as their 3D counterparts. Select your preferred type to continue.

Switch Row/Bar

Excel assumes vertical labels are categories and horizontal labels are data series by default. If your data is flipped, you do not need to update your whole data set for your charts. Click Switch Row/Column button in DESIGN tab when your chart is selected.

Move a chart to another worksheet

By default, charts are created in a worksheet where the selected data is placed in. If you need to move your chart into a new or existing sheet, you can use the Move Chart dialog. To open the Move Chart dialog, you can click its icon in the DESIGN tab or from the right-click menu for the chart itself. Please keep in mind that you need to right-click an empty place in the chart area to see this option and will not see this option if you right-click on an element.

In the Move Chart dialog you have 2 options:

  • New sheet: Select this option and type in a name to create a new sheet and place your chart there.
  • Object in: Select this option and select an existing sheet from the dropdown to move your chart to that sheet.