Create and Format a Line Graph in Excel in 5 Steps

01
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How to Make and Format a Line Graph in Excel

Excel Line Graph
Excel Line Graph. Ted French

Making a Line Graph - The Short Version

The steps to adding a basic line graph or line chart to an Excel worksheet are:

  1. Highlight the data to be included in the graph - include row and column headings but not the title for the data table;
  2. Click on the Insert tab of the ribbon;
  3. In the Charts box of the ribbon, click on the Insert Line Chart icon to open the drop-down list of available chart/graph types;
  4. Hover your mouse pointer over a chart type to read a description of the chart/graph;
  5. Click on the desired graph.

A plain, unformatted graph - one that displays only the lines representing the selected series of data, a default chart title, a legend, and axes values - will be added to the current worksheet.

Version Differences

The steps in this tutorial use the formatting and layout options available in Excel 2013. These differ from those found in early versions of the program. Use the following links for line graph tutorials for other versions of Excel.

A Note on Excel's Theme Colors

Excel, like all of Microsoft Office programs, uses themes to set the look of its documents.

The theme used for this tutorial is the default Office theme.

If you use another theme while following this tutorial, the colors listed in the tutorial steps may not be available in the theme you are using. If not, just choose colors to your liking as substitutes and carry on.

 

02
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Making a Line Graph - The Long Version

Entering the Data
Entering the Data. Ted French

Entering and Selecting the Tutorial Data

Note: If you do not have data at hand to use with this tutorial, the steps in this tutorial make use of the data shown in the image above.

Entering the other data is always the first step in creating a graph - no matter what type of graph or chart is being created.

The second step is highlighting the data to be used in creating the graph. The data selected usually includes column titles and the row headings, which are used as labels in the chart.

  1. Enter the data shown in the image above into the correct worksheet cells
  2. Once entered, highlight the range of cells from A2 to C6

When selecting the data, the row and column headings are included in the selection, but the title at the top of the data table is not. The title must be added to the graph manually.

Creating the Basic Line Graph

The following steps will create a basic line graph - a plain, unformatted graph - that displays the selected data series and axes.

After that, as mentioned, the tutorial covers how to use some of the more common formatting features, which, if followed, will alter the basic graph to match the line graph shown in the first slide of this tutorial.

  1. Click on the Insert tab of the ribbon
  2. In the Charts box of the ribbon menu, click on the Insert Line Chart icon to open the drop-down list of available graph/chart types
  3. Hover your mouse pointer over a graph type to read a description of the graph
  4. Click on the first 2-d line graph type in the list to select it
  5. A basic line graph is created and placed on your worksheet as shown in the image on the next slide below.
03
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Formatting the Basic Line Graph

The basic Line Graph
The basic Line Graph. Ted French

Adding the Chart Title

Edit the default Chart Title by clicking on it twice - but don't double click

  1. Click once on the default chart title to select it - a box should appear around the words Chart Title
  2. Click a second time to put Excel in edit mode, which places the cursor inside the title box
  3. Delete the default text using the Delete/Backspace keys on the keyboard
  4. Enter the chart title - Average Precipitation (mm) - into the title box

Clicking on the Wrong Part of the Chart

There are many different parts to a chart in Excel - such as the chart title and labels, the plot area that contains the lines representing the selected data, the horizontal and vertical axes, and the horizontal gridlines.

All of these parts are considered separate objects by the program, and, as such, each can be formatted separately. You tell Excel which part of the graph you want to format by clicking on it with the mouse pointer to select it.

During this tutorial, if your results do not resemble those listed, it is quite likely that you did not have the right part of the chart selected when you applied the formatting option.

The most commonly made mistake is clicking on the plot area in the center of the graph when the intention is to select the entire graph.

The easiest way to select the entire graph is to click in the top left or right corner away from the chart title.

If a mistake is made, it can be quickly corrected using Excel's undo feature to undo the mistake. Following that, click on the right part of the chart and try again.

04
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Changing the Graph's Colors

Formatting the Line Graph
Formatting the Line Graph. Ted French

The Chart Tools Tabs

When a chart/graph is created in Excel, or whenever an existing graph is selected by clicking on it, two additional tabs are added to the ribbon as shown in the image above.

These Chart Tools tabs - design and format - contain formatting and layout options specifically for charts, and they will be used in the following steps to change the background and text color of the graph.

Changing the Graph's Background Color

For this particular graph, formatting the background is a two-step process because a gradient is added to show slight changes in color horizontally across the graph.

  1. Click on the background to select the entire graph
  2. Click on the Format tab of the ribbon
  3. Click on the Shape Fill option, identified in the image above, to open the Fill Colors drop down panel
  4. Choose Black, Text 1, Lighter 35% from the Theme Colors section of the list
  5. Click on the Shape Fill option a second time to open the Colors drop down menu
  6. Hover the mouse pointer over the Gradient option near the bottom of the list to open the Gradient panel
  7. In the Dark Variations section of the panel, click on the Linear left option to add a gradient that gets progressively darker from left to right across the graph

Changing the Text Color

Now that the background is black, the default black text is no longer visible. This next section changes the color of all text in the graph to white

  1. Click on the background to select the entire graph
  2. Click on the Format tab of the ribbon if necessary
  3. Click on the Text Fill option to open the Text Colors drop down list
  4. Choose White, Background 1 from the Theme Colors section of the list
  5. All the text in the title, x and y axes, and legend should change to white
05
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Changing the Line Colors

The Formatting Task Pane
The Formatting Task Pane. Ted French

Formatting Task Pane

The last two steps of the tutorial make use of the formatting task pane, which contains most of the formatting options available for charts.

In Excel 2013, when activated, the pane appears on the right-hand side of the Excel screen as shown in the image above. The heading and options appearing in the pane change depending upon the area of the chart that is selected.

Changing the Line Color for Acapulco

  1. In the graph, click once on the orange line for Acapulco to select it - small highlights should appear along the length of the line
  2. Click on the Format tab of the ribbon if necessary
  3. On the far left side of the ribbon, click on the Format Selection option to open the Formatting Task pane
  4. Since the line for Acapulco was previously selected, the title in the pane should read Format Data Series
  5. In the pane, click on the Fill icon (the paint can) to open the Line options list
  6. In the list of options, click on the Fill icon next to the label Color to open the Line Colors drop down list
  7. Choose Green, Accent 6, Lighter 40% from the Theme Colors section of the list - the line for Acapulco should change to a light green color

Changing Amsterdam

  1. In the graph, click once on the blue line for Amsterdam to select it
  2. In the Formatting Task pane, the color of the current Fill displayed beneath the icon should change from green to blue showing that the pane is now displaying options for Amsterdam
  3. Click on the Fill icon to open the Line Colors drop down list
  4. Choose Blue, Accent 1, Lighter 40% from the Theme Colors section of the list - the line for Amsterdam should change to a light blue color

Fading Out the Gridlines

The last formatting change to be made is to adjust the gridlines that run horizontally across the graph.

The basic line graph includes these gridlines to make it easier to read the values for specific points on the data lines.

They do not, however, need to be quite so prominently displayed. One easy way to tone them down is to adjust their transparency using the Formatting Task pane.

By default, their transparency level is 0%, but by increasing that, the gridlines will fade into the background where they belong.

  1. Click on the Format Selection option on the Format tab of the ribbon if necessary to open the Formatting Task pane
  2. In the graph, click once on the 150 mm gridline running through the middle of the graph - all the gridlines should be highlighted (blue dots at the end of each gridline)
  3. In the pane, as indicated in the image above, change the transparency level to 75% - the gridlines on the graph should fade significantly

If you have followed all the steps in this tutorial, your line graph should now match the example displayed on on the first slide.

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Your Citation
French, Ted. "Create and Format a Line Graph in Excel in 5 Steps." ThoughtCo, May. 5, 2017, thoughtco.com/create-a-line-graph-in-excel-3123563. French, Ted. (2017, May 5). Create and Format a Line Graph in Excel in 5 Steps. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/create-a-line-graph-in-excel-3123563 French, Ted. "Create and Format a Line Graph in Excel in 5 Steps." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/create-a-line-graph-in-excel-3123563 (accessed January 23, 2018).