A combination chart (also known as a combo chart) is a graphic representation of multiple data sets demonstrated with the use of different types of charts. This combination of charts is especially useful for visualizing different data sets side-by-side. For example, values at a percentage scale (i.e. conversion rate of 1.2%) cannot be shown efficiently if a set of values contain more than 1 or 2 digits (i.e. revenue $150,000) with traditional charts. A combination chart can visualize both values in a single chart area by using a secondary axis. In this article, we’re going to show you how to add a secondary axis in Excel.
Combination Chart Basics
A combo chart mainly consists of 6 sections.
- Plot Area: This is where the visual representation takes place.
- Chart Title: The title of the chart. Giving your chart a descriptive name will help your users easily understand the visualization.
- Horizontal Axis: The axis that contains the categories of the data, also known as the x-axis. The data series can be used as groups, as shown in the sample chart above. Note: If one of the datasets is plotted on a bar chart, the horizontal axis shows the values instead of the categories.
- Primary Vertical Axis: The vertical axis on the left that represents the measured values, also known as the primary y-axis. Note: If one of the datasets is plotted on a bar chart, the vertical axis shows the categories instead of the values.
- Secondary Vertical Axis: The vertical axis on the right that represents the measured values of the secondary datasets, also known as the secondary y-axis. Note: This is an optional feature, however a secondary axis is commonly used in combo charts.
- Legend: The legend is an indicator that helps distinguish the data series.
Feature several possible combinations, combo charts can come in various types. In this example, we’re going to be using 3 variations.
- Clustered columns and lines: In the example above for this version, the percentage values are shown as columns that are bound to secondary y-axis, whereas the line represents whole numbers on the primary y-axis.
- Clustered, area and line: The second variation in the example above represents each of the three items on a different chart type. We typically recommend not using more than 2 types of charts to avoid congestion.
- Bar and Radar: The third combination from the example above shows how two irrelevant chart types can result in visualization that is hard to read.
You can download our sample workbook here.
Insert a Combination Chart in Excel
Please note that the steps we are going to be covering in this example are for Excel 2013 and newer versions. Combo Chart was added to Excel as a chart type with the 2013 version, but you can create combo charts in Excel 2010 too. To do this, right-click the dataset you want to change in the plot area, and click on the Change Chart Type option. Then, you can select the additional chart types. We are going to be taking a closer look at how to use the right-click menu and Change Chart Type options in later sections of this article.
Begin by selecting your data in Excel. If you include data labels in your selection, Excel will automatically assign them to each column and generate the chart.
Go to the INSERT tab in the Ribbon and click on the Combo Chart icon to see the pie chart types, then select Create Custom Combo Chart…
The Insert Chart dialog will show you a preview of the available chart types. In out example, we set line chart for the dataset that contains whole numbers, Capture Rate. For the remaining datasets, which have a percentage values, we selected clustered column and assigned them to the secondary axis to distinguish between the whole numbers and percentage values.
Click OK to insert the chart. Now, let’s take a look at some customization options.
You can customize pretty much every chart element and there are a few ways you can do this. Let’s look at each method.
Double-clicking on any item in the chart area pops up the side panel where you can find options for the selected element. Please keep in mind that you don’t need to double click another element to edit it once the side panel is open, the side menu will switch to the element. The side panel contains element specific options, as well as other generic options like coloring 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.
Chart Shortcut (Plus Button)
In Excel 2013 and newer versions, 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. Below 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. Select one of the the dataset (series) on the chart, and click on Change Chart Type in the Right-Click (Context) Menu, or from the DESIGN tab. Alternatively, you can change the chart types for all datasets by right-clicking on an empty chart area.
The Change Chart Type menu contains the same options as the Insert Chart dialog. Here, you can update chart types for each field. For example, we can change clustered columns in the secondary y-axis to stacked columns.
By 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.
This feature may not always be meaningful in combo charts as the data fields can have different range of values – switching (transposing) will put these values under the same scale.
For example, if rows and columns in our example are switched, the percentages will look very small next to whole numbers.
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 Move 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.