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What is a Line Chart?

A line graph in Excel shows trends over time using connected data points. It’s perfect for displaying changes and trends in your data.

Here’s a line graph example:

When to Use a Line Graph

  • Best For: Showing data trends over time and comparing multiple data series in one chart.
  • Not Ideal For: Unrelated categories or data that doesn’t follow a sequence.

Different Types of Line Charts in Excel

  • Line Chart: A basic line chart connecting data points.
  • Stacked Line: Shows how parts of a whole change over time. Lines are cumulative, so each data series is added to the previous one, and lines never cross.
  • 100% Stacked Line: Similar to a stacked line chart, but the y-axis shows percentages. The top line represents a total of 100%, making it ideal for visualizing part-to-whole contributions over time.
  • Line with Markers: Adds visual markers at each data point for better visibility.
  • Stacked Line with Markers: Combines stacked lines with markers for each data point.
  • 100% Stacked Line with Markers: Combines 100% stacked lines with markers.
  • 3-D Line Chart: A three-dimensional variation of the basic line chart for added visual effect.

How to Make a Line Graph in Excel

Step 1: Select Your Data

Ensure Two Columns:

You need at least two columns to create a line graph.

  • The first column will be on the X-axis (usually labels like dates or categories).
  • The second column will be on the Y-axis (the values you want to track).

Choose Your Data:

  • Click any cell within your data range.
  • Or, to plot only a specific section, highlight that range and include the column headers.

Step 2: Insert Line Chart

  • Go to the “Insert” tab.
  • Click “Insert Line or Area Chart” and pick your style. For this example, we are using a simple 2-D line chart.

Your line chart is now ready. But you can customize it to make it more captivating with some simple tweaks.

Line Graph in Excel with Multiple Lines

Let’s add another line to our graph. In this example, we’ll add the data for “Sales” from column C.

Add Another Data Series:

  • Right-click on the chart and select “Select Data”.
  • Click “Add” to add another data series.
  • For the series name, click the header in cell C2.
  • For the series values, select the data range C3:C14
  • Click on OK.

Your chart now includes multiple lines, making it easy to compare data over time.

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How to Customize and Format Line Charts

Default charts in Excel can be greatly improved with various additional components. Here’s how to customize and format your line graph:

Add a Chart Title

  • If there is no existing title, click the “+” icon next to the chart and check the box for “Chart Title.”
  • Click on the chart title area.
  • Type your new title or edit the existing one.

Customize Axis Lines and Axis Options

Customize the axis lines and options in your line chart. This can improve its readability and make key data points stand out.

Format Axis Lines

  • Right-click on the axis.
  • Select “Format Axis.”
  • Adjust the line style and color in the Format Axis pane.

Adjusting Axis Options

  • Set Axis Bounds: Excel sets automatic bounds. Adjust the minimum and maximum bounds to focus on specific data ranges.
  • Set Axis Units: Excel sets automatic units for major and minor intervals. Customize these to control label spacing for better readability.

Format Gridlines

Customizing gridlines in your Excel line graph can improve its clarity and visual appeal.

💡 Use light colors and thin lines to avoid distracting from the data. Increase transparency to keep the focus on your data points.

How to Format Gridlines

  • Select Gridlines: Double-click on any gridline. Blue dots will appear, indicating they are selected.
  • Format: In the Fill & Line tab, adjust the line style, width, and color to match your chart’s design.

Adding Transparency

  • Set the transparency level between 50% and 70% to make the gridlines less obtrusive.

Adjust Line Graph Markers

Change Marker Style

  • Right-click on the data series.
  • Select “Format Data Series.”
  • Switch to the Fill & Line tab.
  • Click “Marker” and expand “Marker Options”.

Select Marker Type

  • In the Marker Options, select the “Built-in” radio button.
  • Choose the desired marker type in the “Type” box.

Adjust Marker Size

  • In the Marker Options, use the “Size” box to make markers larger or smaller.

Change Marker Fill and Border Colors

  • Expand the “Fill” and “Border” options to change the fill and border color of the markers.

Adding a Legend

A legend helps identify what each line in your chart represents, making it easier for viewers to understand your data. Here’s how to add them:

  • Select chart: Click on the chart to select it.
  • Add legend: Click the “+” icon next to the chart and check “Legend.”
  • Position legend: Click the arrow next to “Legend” and choose a position (e.g., Right, Top, Bottom, Left).

Make Legends Dynamic

The Excel default legends might not always be the best. You can make the legends dynamic for better clarity and adaptability. They update automatically based on your data changes.

Check out this detailed article to learn how.

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Change Line Colors

Changing line colors in your Excel chart can enhance its visual appeal and make it easier to differentiate between data series. Excel’s default colors might not always be the best choice. Customizing line colors can improve readability and the overall look of your line chart. Here’s how:

Select Line:

  • Double-click on the line you want to re-color.

Modify Line Color:

  • On the Format Data Series pane, switch to the Fill & Line tab.
  • Click on the Color drop-down and choose a new color for the line.
  • For specific color codes, click “More Colors…” and pick any RGB color you want or enter the Hex code.

Additional Line Formatting:

  • On this pane, you can also change the line width, transparency, dash type, and more.
  • For example, to use a dashed line, click the Dash type drop-down box and choose the pattern you want.

Smooth Lines and Rounded Corners

Using smoothed lines can make your data trends look better and easier to interpret, especially with fluctuating data. Adding smooth lines and rounded corners gives your chart a modern, polished look.

Make Lines Smoother

  • Right-click on the data series.
  • Select “Format Data Series.”
  • Check the “Smoothed Line” option at the bottom of the pane.

Add Rounded Corners to Chart Area

  • Click on the chart area (not on any of the lines).
  • In the Format Chart Area pane, check the box for “Rounded Corners.”

Here you can review the result.

Using a Chart Trendline

Adding a trend line to your line chart can help you visualize the overall direction or pattern in your data. This is useful for identifying trends, making predictions, and analyzing data patterns. Here’s how:

  • Click on the chart to select it.
  • Click the “+” icon next to the chart.
  • Check “Trendline” to add a trend line. Excel will add a linear trendline by default.
  • To change the type, click the arrow next to “Trendline” and select a specific type (e.g., Linear, Exponential, Moving Average) based on your data and analysis needs.

Formatting Trend Lines

  • Right-click on the trend line.
  • Select “Format Trendline” from the context menu.
  • In the Format Trendline pane, you can change the line color, style, and thickness.
  • You can also choose options like “Display Equation on chart” to show the trendline’s mathematical equation.
  • Display R-squared Value: Check the box for “Display R-squared value on chart” to see how well your data fits the trendline.

For more information on R-squared values, check out our detailed article here.

Types of Trend Lines

  • Linear Trendline: Suitable for most cases to show a straight-line trend.
  • Exponential Trendline: Best for data that increases or decreases rapidly. For example, predicting population growth.
  • Moving Average Trendline: Useful for smoothing out fluctuations to show a clearer trend over time. For example, analyzing sales data over several years.

Trend lines can provide valuable insights by highlighting the long-term direction of your data, smoothing out short-term fluctuations, and making it easier to understand underlying trends.

Highlighting Max and Min Values

Highlighting the highest and lowest points in your Excel line chart makes your data clearer and more engaging. This simple addition can quickly show key trends and insights, improving the overall impact of your chart.

Learn how to highlight these crucial data points. Check out our detailed guide on highlighting max and min values in Excel line charts. This step-by-step tutorial will help you make your charts more informative and visually appealing.

Download the Workbook

Enhance your learning experience by downloading our chart template. Practice the techniques discussed in real-time and master line charts in Excel with hands-on examples. Download the workbook here and start applying what you’ve learned directly in Excel.

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Leila Gharani

I'm a 6x Microsoft MVP with over 15 years of experience implementing and professionals on Management Information Systems of different sizes and nature.

My background is Masters in Economics, Economist, Consultant, Oracle HFM Accounting Systems Expert, SAP BW Project Manager. My passion is teaching, experimenting and sharing. I am also addicted to learning and enjoy taking online courses on a variety of topics.