Format an Excel Chart

In the previous lesson, you saw how to use the Layout panels to change the layout of the chart itself. The Format panels allow you to create some great looking charts with just a few mouse clicks.

 

Click on your chart to select it, and then click the Format menu at the top of the Excel Ribbon. You should see this long menu, split in two here (In newer versions of Excel, you may also have an Insert Shapes area):

Left side of the Format Panels

Right side of the Format Panels

Using the various Format Panels on the Excel Ribbon, we'll format our chart from this:

Our Current Excel 2007 Chart

To this:

What our chart will look like

OK, it may look a bit gaudy! But at least it's lively. You can create a chart like this quite easily:

  • First, click on your chart to highlight it
  • Click the Format menu on the Excel Ribbon
  • Locate the Shape Styles panel:

Shape Styles

Click the down arrow on the right of the panel to see the available styles (there might not be so many styles in Excel 2013, so you my have to select a different colour):

Available Chart Styles

When you move your mouse over a style, your chart will change automatically. But you won't be able to see the full effect until you click away from the chart. We went for Style 28, the one that's highlighted in the image above. You get the rounded corners, the drop shadow and the colour fill.

 

Create your own Chart Style in Excel

You can create all that yourself, though. If you want to create your own style, try the following:

Fill your chart with a colour by clicking the down arrow on Shape Fill on the Shape Styles panel:

Shape Fill

Colour Options

Select a colour from the list. Or click "More Fill Colors". Once your chart has a colour, you can liven it up a bit.

Still on the same menu, click on Gradient. The sub menu appears:

Gradient Options

We went for one of the Dark Variations.

Next, you can spruce up the text on your chart. Locate the WordArt Styles panel:

WordArt Styles

Click the Text Fill button to see the available colours:

Text Fill

Once you have the chart background and text formatted the way you want it, you can add some rounded corners, and a bit of drop shadow. You can apply both of those from the Format Chart Area dialogue box. Here's how.

To bring up the Format Chart Area dialogue box, click the Format Selection button on the Current Selection panel:

Format Selection

You'll then see the following dialogue box appea (If you're using Excel 2013 and 2016, you'll see a panel appear on the right of your screen instead of a dialogue box):

Format Chart Area

To get rounded corners, click on Line in Excel 2007. You'll then see the following options:

Rounded Corners

In Excel 2010, you'll have a Border Styles menu on the left. Click that to see the Rounded Corners option. For Excel 2013 and 2016, click the Border category to exapand it. The Rounded Corners options is at the bottom:

Chart rouned corners in Exel 2013

Put a tick in the box for Rounded Corners.

To get a Shadow for your chart, click the Shadow option on the left of your dialogue box. The options will change to these:

Add a Shadow to a Chart

For Excel 2013 and 2016 users, click the Hexagon symbol at the top, just to the right of the paint bucket:

Adding shadows to a chart in Excel 2013

Click the Presets button to see a list of pre-made shadows:

Shadow Presets

Select the one you like. Then click Close on the dialogue box. Your chart will then have rounded corners and a drop shadow.

Our Finished 2D Bar Chart

OK, you should now a very smart chart. Playing around with the various options on the Format Chart Area dialogue box can really bring an Excel chart to life!

 

Next up, we'll have a go at pie charts: