Creating a Surface chart

Applies to
Microsoft Office Excel 2003
Microsoft Excel 2002

A Surface chart shows a three dimensional surface that connects a set of data points (data points: Individual values plotted in a chart and represented by bars, columns, lines, pie or doughnut slices, dots, and various other shapes called data markers. Data markers of the same color constitute a data series.). A Surface chart is useful when you want to find optimum combinations between two sets of data. Like a topographic map, the colors and patterns in a Surface chart indicate areas that contain the same range of values. Unlike other chart types, colors in a surface chart are not used to distinguish each 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.). Instead, colors are used to distinguish the values.

It's important to organize the data in your worksheet in a similar fashion as the data shown in the following picture. Note that the temperatures are entered as column headings, and the seconds are entered as row headings.

Worksheet data for a surface chart

When you use this data to create a Surface chart, it will be plotted as follows:

Picture of a Surface chart

Callout 3 The data in the center of the worksheet (tensile strength) will be plotted along the value axis (value axis: A chart axis that displays scaled numerical values.) (z-axis).

Surface chart types

A Surface chart can be displayed in different ways by selecting the following chart sub-types:

  • 3-D Surface    This chart shows a 3-D view of the data, which could be imagined as a rubber sheet stretched over a 3-D Column chart. It is typically used to show relationships between large amounts of data that may otherwise be difficult to see.
  • Wireframe 3-D Surface    A variation of the 3-D Surface chart that appears in black and white. Without color in the surface, a wireframe chart shows only the lines.
  • Contour    A Contour chart provides a 2-D view of the Surface chart from above, similar to a 2-D topographic map. The lines in a Contour chart connect interpolated points of equal value.
  • Wireframe Contour    A variation of the Contour chart that appears in black and white. Without color in the surface, a wireframe chart shows only the lines.

Create a Surface chart

  1. Select the data you want to display in a Surface or Contour chart.
  2. On the Insert menu, click Chart.
  3. In the Chart type box, click Surface.
  4. Under Chart sub-type, click the type you want to use.

For a quick preview of the chart you are creating, click Press and Hold to View Sample.

  1. Click Next, and continue with steps 2 through 4 of the Chart Wizard.

For help on any of the steps, click the question mark (?) on the Chart Wizard title bar.

Changing the format of a Surface chart

Because the colors in a Surface chart are based on the values rather than the data series, you cannot select them in the chart itself. You can, however, select the corresponding color keys in the chart's legend, and then make the formatting changes you want in the Format Legend Key dialog box. Using this dialog box, you can:

  • Change the colors and patterns used in the chart.
  • Reorder the data series.
  • Change the depth of the chart.
  • Apply 3-D shading.

For example, changing the colors and depth of the previous chart can make a Surface chart much easier to read, as shown in the following picture.

Picture of a formatted surface chart

Format a Surface chart

  1. On the Surface chart, make sure the legend is displayed.


To display the legend, click Chart Options on the Chart menu, and then select the Show legend check box on the Legend tab.

 Note   When you change the location of the legend under Placement, the plot area automatically adjusts to accommodate the new location.

  1. In the legend, click the key for which you want to change the format.
  2. On the Format menu, click Selected Legend Key.
  3. On the Patterns tab, make the color, border, or fill effect changes you want.
  4. Repeat step 2-4 for each level you want to format.
  5. To change the order of the data series in the chart, click the Series Order tab, click a series name in the Series order box, and then click the Move Up or Move Down buttons.
  6. To change the depth of the Surface chart, click the Options tab, and then type a value between 20 and 2000 in the Chart depth box.

 Note   By default, the depth of the Surface chart is set to 100.

  1. To add a 3-D shading effect to the Surface chart, on the Options tab, select the 3-D shading check box.


  • You can see the effects of your changes in the preview box on the Series Order tab or the Options tab.
  • The number of colors shown in a Surface chart is dependent on the scale settings of the value axis. Changes you make to a Surface chart may affect the size of the chart and those scale settings, showing more or fewer colors.
Applies to:
Excel 2003