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For Seniors: How to Format an Excel Chart

You can format nearly every aspect of a Microsoft Excel chart. You can change the color of every data series, for example, and change the font and size of each text item. You can adjust the rotation of a 3-D chart, move the legend to different positions, add or remove the chart title and various types of labels, and much more.

The easiest way to change the look of a chart is to apply a chart style to it. Chart styles are located on the Design tab. With the chart selected, open the Chart Style gallery and select one of the style presets.

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The chart style colors come from the color theme that you applied to the workbook. To choose a different color theme, choose either Page Layout→Themes→Themes or Page Layout→Themes→Colors.

The Layout tab provides controls for many of the individual elements of a chart, such as the Chart Title, Axis Titles, Legend, and so on. Click one of those buttons and then make a selection as to how (or if) you want that element to appear.

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If the Layout tab isn’t available, make sure you’ve selected the chart.

Each element of the chart is also selectable for formatting. For example, you can click the legend and then apply formatting to only that.

Sometimes selecting a tiny element of a chart — and telling what you selected — is difficult so Excel offers some assistance. On the Format tab, the leftmost group is called Current Selection. It has a drop-down list from which you can select a chart element, as an alternative to clicking a chart element to select it.

After you select a chart element, use the tools on the Format tab to apply formatting:

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  • Use any of the controls here to apply a color, border, special effect, or other formatting option to it. For example, a Shape Styles gallery provides shapes and formatting presets, and a WordArt Styles gallery provides presets for various types of text formatting.

  • Choose Format→Current Selection→Format Selection to open a dialog box for formatting that element.

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Alternatively, you can right-click the selected element and choose the format command from the menu that appears. The exact name of the command varies. For example, when a data series is selected and right-clicked, the command is Format Data Series.

When you open the Format dialog box for a particular element (select the element and then choose Format→Current Selection→Format Selection), the choices depend on the type of element. A list of categories appears at the left. Click a category to display its options and then make your selections.

The dialog boxes used for chart formatting are nonmodal, which means two things:

  • Any changes you make in these dialog boxes take effect immediately.

  • The dialog box can remain open while you work on other parts of the worksheet.

This setup is different from most other dialog boxes in Windows programs, where you can’t do anything else until you close them and where the changes don’t take effect until you click OK or Apply.

You can create some interesting effects by rotating 3-D charts. To experiment with a chart’s rotation, choose Layout→Background→3-D Rotation.

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