Replace boring bars and columns in your Excel charts with images

Columns and Bars in charts are pretty common, but can look rather dull. You can spruce up your charts, however, by replacing the columns or bars with images. For example, here's a column chart that displays calories consumed in a month:

A plain Excel column chart

All rather standard. Now here's the same information but with images in place of the columns:

An Excel chart with columns replaced with images

The second chart looks far more lively! So, how is it done?

First, create the following simple spreadsheet:

A simple Excel spreadsheet

Select the data from cell A1 to B6.

With the data selected, click on the Insert ribbon at the top of Excel. From the Insert ribbon, locate the Charts panel and the Column or Bar chart item:

The Charts panel on the Excel ribbon

From the dropdown list, select the first 2-D column chart:

The 2-D column chart selected on the charts menu

You will then have a plain column chart like the one at the top of this page.

Select any of the columns in your new chart so that you see the round sizing handles on each column:

The columns in a chart selected

With the columns selected, right-click to see the following menu:

The Format Data Series menu

From the menu, select Format Data Series. This will bring up a side panel on the right in modern versions of Excel. This one:

The Format Data Series side panel in Excel

Make sure the paint bucket is selected, which is the first of the three icons above, Fill & Line. Expand the Fill item to see the following options:

The Fill options in the Format Data Series panel

One of the Fill options is Picture or texture fill. Select this options and the menu will change to this:

Picture or texture fill options

There is now an item with the heading Insert picture from. Under this heading are three buttons: File, Clipboard, and Online. If you're connected to the internet, click the Online button. You'll then see the following screen:

The Insert Picture dialogue box

The search engine Excel uses is Microsoft Bing. Type something in the box and press the enter key on your keyboard to do a search. We've typed MacDonald's fries:

Searching for an image to insert

Scroll down to see more images. Once you've found a picture you like, select it. You'll see a check mark in the upper left corner of the image:

An image selected for insertion

However, there is a problem with the image we have selected. If you look closely at the top and bottom of the image, you'll see there's some white space. If we inserted it like this, the image wouldn't align properly with the values in the chart. Take a look at the chart below:

Inserted image not aligning with chart values

Ignore the fact that the images are too narrow, as we'll fix this soon. Instead, focus on the 0 line at the bottom. The images are not touching it; they start closer to the 10, 000 line than they do the 0 line. And the top of the image for January is supposed to be at the 68, 000 mark, but it barely gets of the 60, 000 line. This is because of the white space. In the image below, we've clicked on the images to select them:

White space causing misaligned chart columns

With the columns selected, you can see the white space more clearly.

To fix this, you need an image that goes right to the top and bottom. What we did is to do a Bing search using Internet Explorer. We then saved an image to our own computer. The image was then opened up in Photoshop and cropped. If you don't have Photoshop, you can use a free Image Editing package to do your cropping. For example, open up your image in Microsoft Paint, which you can do a search for in Windows 7 to 10.

Once you have opened the image in Paint, click the Select button on the Ribbon at the top.

Now make a selection around the image:

Microsoft Paint showing an image selected

Here, we've made a selection as close to the image as possible. Then click the Crop button:

The Crop button in Microsoft Paint

Once you click Crop, the white space should vanish:

A cropped image in Paint

Click File Save As, to save your cropped picture to your own computer. Save it as a PNG file or GIF.

The Save options in Microsoft Paint

Now go back to Excel, and click the File button under Insert picture from:

The File button to insert a picture in Excel

Clicking the File button allows you to search your own computer for a picture. Navigate to where you saved your cropped image and click Insert:

The Insert Picture dialogue box

When you are returned to Excel, your chart should look like this:

A cropped image used as the columns in an Excel chart

Notice how the columns now go right down to the 0 line. At the top, the January image is nicely aligned with the 68, 000 value.

However, the image is too squashed. To remedy that, with your columns selected, click on the Series Options icon in the Format Data Series panel on the right:

The Series Options icon on the Format Data Series panel

Move the Gap Width slider to the left:

The Gap Width slider

A value of 45% works well for this image. The chart would then look like this:

The final Excel chart

And that's it - images as columns in your charts. Play around with the various options on the Format Series Data sidebar. See what you can come up with to impress everyone!

In the next section, we'll move on to Formulas in excel.