Adding symbols or icons into charts can help add to the visual representation, and make it easier to understand the data. In this article, we are going to show you how to use symbols on charts in Excel.

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Adding symbols to Excel

Let’s see how you can add a symbol into your worksheets in Excel. Note that copying and pasting from an external sources is always a valid option. On the other hand, more often than not there is a way to do this from inside most Office products.

You need to open the Symbol dialog to see entire options and add what you need.

  1. Start by selecting a cell you want to insert a symbol
  2. Activate the Insert tab
  3. Click on the Symbol icon in the section Symbols

From this dialog, you can choose the symbol you want and insert it into the active cell by using the Insert button. For example, arrow symbols can be helpful for visualizing the trend.

You can find arrows under the Arrows subset. Do not forget the investigate different fonts, especially symbol-based ones, like Webdings or Wingdings. Here are 2 examples:

Arial – Arrows:


How to use symbols on charts in Excel - Wingdings

Beware while using symbol-based fonts like Webdings. They do not contain Latin letters also they may conflict with numbers. Prefer them if you only want the symbols in your charts.

We will continue with using the Arial arrows in our How to use symbols on charts in Excel article.

Implementing symbols on our data

To use a symbol on charts, we need to add into the chart data somehow. There are couple of ways to achieve this. You can add the symbols right away without any dynamic behavior. However, if your symbols indicate the numbers, this is not a good idea. You want them to be dynamic, thus they can display the correct symbol when the numbers change.

For a dynamic structure, you can either use number formatting, or formulas. The IF function can be enough in most cases if you only have 2 symbols. For more symbols, VLOOKUP will work better.

In this guide, we will mainly be looking at the number formatting method. Excel allows creating your own number formatting beyond adding decimal points or changing currency symbols. You can inject a strings or symbols into the formatting and make Excel display them based on the cell value. A good example is using an up-arrow (↑) for positive numbers, and a down-arrow (↓) for negatives.

Let’s see how you can add symbols into number formatting.

  1. Select the cells of values you want to modify. We added a column that shows the total of each row.
  2. Press Ctrl + 1 to open the Format Cells dialog
  3. Activate the Number tab
  4. Select Custom from the Category box
  5. Add or type in your number formatting into Type. The following example separates positive and negative numbers with a semicolon (;). Also, note that negative numbers do not contain a minus sign (-).
  6. Click OK button to apply the formatting.
    How to use symbols on charts in Excel - Number Formatting

This is the result:

If you like the number formatting, you make it fancier by adding colors or another symbol for zero values as well. Learn more from Number Formatting in Excel – All You Need to Know

Using symbols on charts

Finally, it’s time to use symbols on charts. Although, you can set data ranges manually after creating a chart, this method will probably be easier to follow.

We added a total column at the left of the label column. This structure makes Excel evaluate the total column as part of labels. Thus, we can see both the totals and symbols along with the labels.

To add a chart;

  1. Select the data range
  2. Activate Insert tab in the ribbon
  3. Click the icons of the chart you want. We preferred a clustered column chart for this post.

That’s it!