Change chart axes

Charts typically have two axes (axis: A line bordering the chart plot area used as a frame of reference for measurement. The y axis is usually the vertical axis and contains data. The x-axis is usually the horizontal axis and contains categories.) that are used to measure and categorize data: a vertical value (y) axis, and a horizontal category (x) axis.

Example of category and value axes on a chart

Callout 1 Value (y) axis

Callout 2 Category (x) axis

Not all chart types display axes the same way. For example, xy (scatter) charts show values on both the category (x) axis and the value (y) axis, while line charts show values on only the value (y) axis. This difference is an important factor in deciding which chart type you want to use. Because the scale of the line chart's category axis can't be changed as much as the scale of the value axis that's used in the xy (scatter) chart, you might consider using an xy (scatter) chart instead of a line chart if you need to change the scaling of that axis or display it as a logarithmic scale.

3-D charts have a third axis, the depth (z) axis, so that data can be plotted along the depth of a chart. Pie and doughnut charts do not have any axes.

If your chart has axes, you can modify them so that they display the details that you want. For example, to make a chart easier to understand, you can add axis titles, tick marks, and tick-mark labels. You can also change the alignment of text and format the numbers that are displayed on axes. And if needed, you can add a secondary axis, change the scaling of a value (y) axis, or determine where the axes should cross.

What do you want to do?

Display or hide axes

Add titles to axes

Adjust the tick marks and tick-mark labels on axes

Change the appearance of text and numbers on axes

Reverse the order in which categories, values, or data series are plotted on axes

Add secondary axes

Make changes to the scales of value axes

Change where axes cross each other

Display or hide axes

  1. Click the chart sheet (chart sheet: A sheet in a workbook that contains only a chart. A chart sheet is beneficial when you want to view a chart or a PivotChart report separately from worksheet data or a PivotTable report.) or embedded chart (embedded chart: A chart that is placed on a worksheet rather than on a separate chart sheet. Embedded charts are beneficial when you want to view or print a chart or a PivotChart report with its source data or other information in a worksheet.) in which you want to display or hide axes.
  2. On the Chart menu, click Chart Options.
  3. On the Axes tab, select or clear the check boxes for the axes that you want to display or hide.

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Add titles to axes

To make a chart easier to understand, you can add a title to the chart axes. You can also link these titles by creating a reference to corresponding text in worksheet cells. Linked titles are automatically updated in the chart when changes are made on the worksheet.

Add an axis title

  1. Click the chart sheet (chart sheet: A sheet in a workbook that contains only a chart. A chart sheet is beneficial when you want to view a chart or a PivotChart report separately from worksheet data or a PivotTable report.) or embedded chart (embedded chart: A chart that is placed on a worksheet rather than on a separate chart sheet. Embedded charts are beneficial when you want to view or print a chart or a PivotChart report with its source data or other information in a worksheet.) to which you want to add a title (titles in charts: Descriptive text that is automatically aligned to an axis or centered at the top of a chart.).
  2. On the Chart menu, click Chart Options.
  3. On the Titles tab, click in the box for each axis title that you want to add, and then type an appropriate title.

For example, if you want to add a title to the category (x) axis, click in the Category (X) axis box.

 Tip   You can insert a line break in an axis title on the chart. Click the axis title, click in the text where you want to insert the line break, and then press ENTER.

Link an axis title to a worksheet cell

  1. On a chart sheet (chart sheet: A sheet in a workbook that contains only a chart. A chart sheet is beneficial when you want to view a chart or a PivotChart report separately from worksheet data or a PivotTable report.) or in an embedded chart (embedded chart: A chart that is placed on a worksheet rather than on a separate chart sheet. Embedded charts are beneficial when you want to view or print a chart or a PivotChart report with its source data or other information in a worksheet.), click the axis title that you want to link.
  2. In the formula bar (formula bar: A bar at the top of the Excel window that you use to enter or edit values or formulas in cells or charts. Displays the constant value or formula stored in the active cell.), type an equal sign (=).
  3. Select the worksheet cell that contains the data or text that you want shown in your chart.

 Tip   You can also type the reference to the worksheet cell. Include the sheet name, followed by an exclamation point, for example, Sheet1!F2

  1. Press ENTER.

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Adjust the tick marks and labels on axes

When you create a chart, tick marks and labels (tick marks and tick-mark labels: Tick marks are small lines of measurement, similar to divisions on a ruler, that intersect an axis. Tick-mark labels identify the categories, values, or series in the chart.) are displayed by default on axes. You can adjust the way that they are displayed, change their alignment and spacing, change the number of categories between labels or tick marks, or change the text of the labels.

Chart with major and minor tick marks and labels on the value axis

Callout 1 Major and minor tick marks and labels on value (y) axis

Callout 2 Major tick marks and labels on category (x) axis

Change the display of tick marks and labels

  1. On a chart sheet (chart sheet: A sheet in a workbook that contains only a chart. A chart sheet is beneficial when you want to view a chart or a PivotChart report separately from worksheet data or a PivotTable report.) or in an embedded chart (embedded chart: A chart that is placed on a worksheet rather than on a separate chart sheet. Embedded charts are beneficial when you want to view or print a chart or a PivotChart report with its source data or other information in a worksheet.), click the axis that has the tick marks that you want to adjust.
  2. On the Format menu, click Selected Axis.
  3. On the Patterns tab, under Major tick mark type, Minor tick mark type, and Tick mark labels, select the options that you want.

 Tip   You can hide tick marks or tick-mark labels by clicking None.

Change the number of categories between labels or tick marks

To eliminate clutter in a chart, you can display fewer labels or tick marks on the category (x) axis by specifying the intervals at which you want categories to be labeled, or by specifying the number of categories that you want to display between tick marks.

Category axis where every other category is labeled

  1. On a chart sheet (chart sheet: A sheet in a workbook that contains only a chart. A chart sheet is beneficial when you want to view a chart or a PivotChart report separately from worksheet data or a PivotTable report.) or in an embedded chart (embedded chart: A chart that is placed on a worksheet rather than on a separate chart sheet. Embedded charts are beneficial when you want to view or print a chart or a PivotChart report with its source data or other information in a worksheet.), click the category axis (axis: A line bordering the chart plot area used as a frame of reference for measurement. The y axis is usually the vertical axis and contains data. The x-axis is usually the horizontal axis and contains categories.) that has the labels and tick marks that you want to change.
  2. On the Format menu, click Selected Axis.
  3. On the Scale tab, do one or both of the following:
    • To specify the intervals at which you want categories on the category (x) axis to be labeled, in the Number of categories between tick-mark labels box, type 1 to label every category, type 2 to label every other category, type 3 to label every third category, and so on.
    • To specify the number of categories that you want between each pair of tick marks on the category (x) axis, in the Number of categories between tick marks box, type the number that you want.

 Note   When you have more than one line of category axis labels, you cannot change the number of categories between tick-mark labels or the number of categories between tick marks.

Change the alignment and spacing of labels

You can change the alignment of tick-mark labels on both category (x) and value (y) axes. When you have multiple-level category labels (multiple-level category labels: Category labels in a chart that, based on worksheet data, are automatically displayed on more than one line in a hierarchy. For example, the heading Produce might appear above a row with headings Tofu, Apples, and Pears.) in your chart, you can change the alignment of all but the first level of labels. You can also change the amount of space between levels of labels on the category (x) axis.

Example of multiple-level category labels

  1. On a chart sheet (chart sheet: A sheet in a workbook that contains only a chart. A chart sheet is beneficial when you want to view a chart or a PivotChart report separately from worksheet data or a PivotTable report.) or in an embedded chart (embedded chart: A chart that is placed on a worksheet rather than on a separate chart sheet. Embedded charts are beneficial when you want to view or print a chart or a PivotChart report with its source data or other information in a worksheet.), click the axis that has the tick-mark labels that you want to align differently.
  2. On the Format menu, click Selected Axis.
  3. On the Alignment tab, click the position that you want in the Orientation box, or specify the angle that you want in the Degrees box.
  4. To change the spacing between the levels on a category (x) axis, select or type a value between 0 and 1000 in the Offset box. The higher the value, the more space between each level and the next level.

 Note   This option is not available for value (y) axes.

Change category labels on the worksheet

  1. On the worksheet, click the cell that contains the name of the label that you want to change.
  2. Type the new name, and then press ENTER.

Change category labels on the chart

  1. Click the chart sheet (chart sheet: A sheet in a workbook that contains only a chart. A chart sheet is beneficial when you want to view a chart or a PivotChart report separately from worksheet data or a PivotTable report.) or the embedded chart (embedded chart: A chart that is placed on a worksheet rather than on a separate chart sheet. Embedded charts are beneficial when you want to view or print a chart or a PivotChart report with its source data or other information in a worksheet.).
  2. On the Chart menu, click Source Data.
  3. On the Series tab, in the Category axis labels box, specify the worksheet range that you want to use as category axis labels, or type the labels that you want to use, separated by commas, for example, Division A, Division B, Division C

 Note   If you type the label text in the Category axis labels box, the category axis text is no longer linked to a worksheet cell.

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Change the appearance of text and numbers on axes

You can align the text in axis titles (titles in charts: Descriptive text that is automatically aligned to an axis or centered at the top of a chart.), rotate it to better fit your chart, and format it as needed. You can also change the format of numbers, for example, to display a number as a percentage.

Example of text rotated on an axis

Align or rotate axis titles

  1. On a chart sheet (chart sheet: A sheet in a workbook that contains only a chart. A chart sheet is beneficial when you want to view a chart or a PivotChart report separately from worksheet data or a PivotTable report.) or in an embedded chart (embedded chart: A chart that is placed on a worksheet rather than on a separate chart sheet. Embedded charts are beneficial when you want to view or print a chart or a PivotChart report with its source data or other information in a worksheet.), click the axis title that you want to align.
  2. On the Format menu, click Selected Axis Title.
  3. On the Alignment tab, click the position that you want in the Orientation box, or specify the angle you want in the Degrees box.

 Note   If you don't see the Alignment tab, click Cancel, click outside of the text that you want to format, and then repeat the process.

 Tip   To quickly change the horizontal alignment of selected axis titles, click Align Left Button image, Center Button image, or Align Right Button image on the Formatting toolbar.

Format axis titles

  1. On a chart sheet (chart sheet: A sheet in a workbook that contains only a chart. A chart sheet is beneficial when you want to view a chart or a PivotChart report separately from worksheet data or a PivotTable report.) or in an embedded chart (embedded chart: A chart that is placed on a worksheet rather than on a separate chart sheet. Embedded charts are beneficial when you want to view or print a chart or a PivotChart report with its source data or other information in a worksheet.), click the axis title that you want to format.
  2. On the Format menu, click Selected Chart Title or Selected Axis Title.
  3. On the Font tab, select the options that you want.

Format numbers on an axis

  1. On a chart sheet (chart sheet: A sheet in a workbook that contains only a chart. A chart sheet is beneficial when you want to view a chart or a PivotChart report separately from worksheet data or a PivotTable report.) or in an embedded chart (embedded chart: A chart that is placed on a worksheet rather than on a separate chart sheet. Embedded charts are beneficial when you want to view or print a chart or a PivotChart report with its source data or other information in a worksheet.), double-click the axis that displays the numbers that you want to format.
  2. On the Number tab, in the Category box, select the number format that you want.
  3. To keep numbers linked to the worksheet cells, select the Linked to source check box.

 Tip   You can also use this method to format numbers in data labels (data label: A label that provides additional information about a data marker, which represents a single data point or value that originates from a worksheet cell.) or trendline labels (trendline label: Optional text for a trendline, including either the regression equation or the R-squared value, or both. A trendline label can be formatted and moved; it cannot be sized.) on a chart by double-clicking them, and then following step 2 and step 3 from this procedure.

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Reverse the order in which categories, values, or data series are plotted on axes

You can reverse the plotting order of categories or values for most charts, as well as of data series (data series: Related data points that are plotted in a chart. Each data series in a chart has a unique color or pattern and is represented in the chart legend. You can plot one or more data series in a chart. Pie charts have only one data series.) for 3-D charts with a third axis. You cannot reverse the plotting order of values in a radar chart.

  1. On a chart sheet (chart sheet: A sheet in a workbook that contains only a chart. A chart sheet is beneficial when you want to view a chart or a PivotChart report separately from worksheet data or a PivotTable report.) or in an embedded chart (embedded chart: A chart that is placed on a worksheet rather than on a separate chart sheet. Embedded charts are beneficial when you want to view or print a chart or a PivotChart report with its source data or other information in a worksheet.), click the axis for the categories, values, or data series whose plotting order you want to change.
  2. On the Format menu, click Selected Axis.
  3. On the Scale tab, do one of the following:
    • For categories, select the Categories in reverse order check box.
    • For values, select the Values in reverse order check box.
    • For series in 3-D charts, select the Series in reverse order check box.

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Add secondary axes

When the values in a 2-D chart vary widely from data series (data series: Related data points that are plotted in a chart. Each data series in a chart has a unique color or pattern and is represented in the chart legend. You can plot one or more data series in a chart. Pie charts have only one data series.) to data series, or when you have mixed types of data (such as price and volume), you can plot one or more data series on a secondary value (y) axis. The scale of the secondary axis reflects the values for the associated data series.

  1. On a chart sheet (chart sheet: A sheet in a workbook that contains only a chart. A chart sheet is beneficial when you want to view a chart or a PivotChart report separately from worksheet data or a PivotTable report.) or in an embedded chart (embedded chart: A chart that is placed on a worksheet rather than on a separate chart sheet. Embedded charts are beneficial when you want to view or print a chart or a PivotChart report with its source data or other information in a worksheet.), click the data series that you want to plot along a secondary value (y) axis.
  2. On the Format menu, click Selected Data Series.
  3. On the Axis tab, click Secondary axis.

 Tip   After you add a secondary value (y) axis to a chart, you can also add a secondary category (x) axis, which may be useful in an xy (scatter) chart. Select a chart that displays the secondary value (y) axis, and then click Chart Options on the Chart menu. On the Axes tab, select the Category (X) axis check box.

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Make changes to the scales of value axes

  1. On a chart sheet (chart sheet: A sheet in a workbook that contains only a chart. A chart sheet is beneficial when you want to view a chart or a PivotChart report separately from worksheet data or a PivotTable report.) or in an embedded chart (embedded chart: A chart that is placed on a worksheet rather than on a separate chart sheet. Embedded charts are beneficial when you want to view or print a chart or a PivotChart report with its source data or other information in a worksheet.), click the value (y) axis that you want to change.
  2. On the Format menu, click Selected Axis.
  3. On the Scale tab, do one of the following:
    • To change the number at which the value (y) axis starts and ends, type a different number in the Minimum box or the Maximum box.
    • To change the interval of tick marks and gridlines, type a different number in the Major unit box or Minor unit box.
    • To change the units displayed on the value (y) axis, click the units that you want or type a numeric value in the Display units list.

To show a label that describes the units expressed, select the Show display units label on chart check box.

 Tip   If your chart values consist of large numbers, you can make the axis text shorter and more readable by changing the display unit of the axis. For example, if the chart values range from 1,000,000 to 50,000,000, you can display the numbers as 1 to 50 on the axis and show a label that indicates that the units express millions.

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Change where axes cross each other

  1. On a chart sheet (chart sheet: A sheet in a workbook that contains only a chart. A chart sheet is beneficial when you want to view a chart or a PivotChart report separately from worksheet data or a PivotTable report.) or in an embedded chart (embedded chart: A chart that is placed on a worksheet rather than on a separate chart sheet. Embedded charts are beneficial when you want to view or print a chart or a PivotChart report with its source data or other information in a worksheet.), click the category (x) axis or the value (y) axis.
  2. On the Format menu, click Selected Axis.
  3. Click the Scale tab.
  4. If you selected the category (x) axis, do one of the following:

 Note   If the Value (Y) axis crosses between categories box is selected, data points are plotted between tick marks (tick marks and tick-mark labels: Tick marks are small lines of measurement, similar to divisions on a ruler, that intersect an axis. Tick-mark labels identify the categories, values, or series in the chart.); if this box is cleared, points are plotted at the tick-mark positions.

  • To specify that the value (y) axis cross the category (x) axis after the last category on the x-axis, select the Value (Y) axis crosses at maximum category box.

 Note   This option overrides the Value (Y) axis crosses at category number value.

  1. If you selected the value (y) axis, do one of the following:
    • To specify the number where you want the category (x) axis to cross the value (y) axis, type the number in the Category X crosses at box.
    • To specify that the category (x) axis to cross the value (y) axis at the highest value, select the Category (X) axis crosses at maximum value check box.

 Note   This option overrides the Category X crosses at value.

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Applies to:
Excel 2003