Basic Formatting options to dress up your charts

Notice that in excel 2013, when you click on the chart, relevant formatting options are automatically shown in the right panel. In previous versions (& also in excel 2013), the same can be accessed through right clicking on the elements and selecting format options from the right click menu.

Chart formatting option

One great way of formatting a chart is to choose a pre-loaded Chart style. MS Excel provides some really good & professional looking chart styles, to explore the same, click on a chart & then click on the Design tab in the main menu as shown below.

Using the built-in chart styles


Some of the better & common use designs are shown below:

In-built chart styles for quick formatting of charts

Apart from the in-built designs, it is important to know all the key settings to change certain formatting elements as per your specific requirements. Data Labels, Series, Axis Markers, Chart area are some of the key elements that may require some formatting before you impress the world with your chart.

We explain them one by one:

Data Labels: Toggle on the data labels if not already visible.

The various tabs on the data label format options are shown in the figure below, also the key features that you are likely to use very often are highlighted.

Data Label formatting options various panes

As you can see, giving your data labels a fill, border, shadow/glow/soft edges, changing the direction of text(useful when you have many points to show with long data labels), changing position etc are all very easy and a few clicks away. In previous versions of excel, all these options can be accessed by right clicking on any one of the data label(to select data labels) & selecting format data labels option.

Text options allows us to select text color for the label text, orientation, text decoration (shadow/reflection) kind of options.


Series Options: Various series option are described below. The main settings that you will require to access frequently are likely to be changing column fill color/border and the overlap (applicable when more than one series is plotted on the chart) and series gap settings. These settings along with their impact is depicted below:

Column Chart Series Formatting options

Axis Options: While most of the options are standard and can be explored easily. We are just highlighting three more often used formatting requirements:

1. Giving an outward arrow shape to axis lines: Relevant options are find under the line section as shown below.

Axis line formatting with arrow


2.       Rotation of axis labels

This is usually required if you have a lot of axis labels (data points). By rotating the labels, we make sure that more & more labels are accommodated in the given space.

This option is available under ‘Size & Properties’ tab of the formatting pane as shown below:

Axis Label rotation

You may also select Horizontal vs Vertical selection from the dropdown menu.


3.       Changing the crossing point of horizontal & vertical axis:

This option allows us to change the intersection point of horizontal & vertical axis.

Chart axis intersection

While you may find limited use of this option in case of column chart, but for certain other charts (bar/scatter etc), this option can be quite handy. This will be explained in the relevant tutorials later.

Other options: Chart area & Plot area provides one important formatting option to insert a pattern/image as the background. To apply this on chart area, click outside plot area but within chart boundaries (to select chart area), on formatting pane select ‘Picture or texture fill’ -> Click on File -> Select an appropriate image ->Insert

Adjust the transparency to make sure that picture doesn’t overpower your chart & its readability.

Inserting Image and patterns as chart background

We are not covering all the possible formatting options in this tutorial, the idea was to give a flavor of all key formatting options available in excel. If you enjoyed this tutorial, please download the practice/tutorial sheet to test & improve your own formatting skills.