Formatting Areas

Formatting Areas

Excel 2007 provides a rich set of options for formatting the background areas of your charts-including the plot area, the chart area, and the walls and floors of three-dimensional charts. You can also apply these formatting options to legends, to the background areas of titles and data labels, and to certain kinds of chart markers-including columns, bars, pyramids, cones, cylinders, areas, bubbles, pie slices, and doughnut bites.

To format a chart element's area, right-click the object on your chart, and click the associated Format command. (If you don't see the Format command, select the object in the Chart Objects list, and click Format Selection.) The area-formatting options for a selected chart item appear when you select Fill in the item's formatting dialog box. Figure shows the Fill options for the Format Chart Area dialog box. As with line formatting, the default option for area formatting is Automatic, which means "let Excel decide."

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Figure: Click Fill in the Format Chart Area dialog box to apply solid colors, gradients, pictures, and textures to background areas of your charts.

Using Transparency to Create a Minimal Chart Display on the Worksheet

As shown in Figure, the chart area is filled with solid white. This is the default for a new chart displayed on a white worksheet. Note that it is not the same as having no fill; a chart area with no fill is transparent, allowing the underlying worksheet gridlines to shine through.

Making the chart area transparent can be useful at times. If you want to create a worksheet display that minimizes the chart apparatus and simply shows a small graphic to support a set of numbers, using the No Fill option is good way to get there. Eliminate the border around the chart area (see "Formatting Lines and Borders" on page 635), get rid of any chart elements you don't want (the title, legend, or whatever), and assign the No Fill option to your chart and plot areas. Figure shows an example of a chart reduced to basics in this way.

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Figure: Less is sometimes more. Applying No Fill to this chart's chart area eliminates distraction.

Filling an Area with a Color Gradient

A color gradient is a smooth progression of color tones from one part of an area to another-for example, a transition from bright red at the top of a column marker to black at the bottom. Color gradients can give your chart areas a classy, professional appearance. Of course, depending on how you use them, color gradients can also distract. If you're creating charts that are intended to convince or impress others, it's probably a good idea to exercise a bit of restraint in using gradients. On the other hand, if flamboyance is your style, Excel gives you plenty of ways to express yourself.

Figure shows the Fill category of the Format Chart Area dialog box, with the Gradient Fill option selected. The options presented here (which are far more extensive than those of Excel 2003) can be a little bewildering at first. Fortunately, the Excel 2007 Live Preview capability lets you see the effect of a setting on your chart before you leave the dialog box. Experiment on a large region of a chart, such as the plot area of a chart you've moved to a chart sheet, and you'll quickly get an idea of what's possible.

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Figure: The Excel 2007 Gradient Fill options let you select colors, angles, directions, transparency, and more.

A good way to begin your exploration is to open the Preset Colors drop-down list, as shown on the next page:

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The Preset Colors gallery offers two dozen attractive color gradients. In the gallery, they're all of the same type and direction (moving in a linear fashion from top to bottom), but you can apply other type and direction options to them. Choose one, then choose one of the Direction options, and then open the Direction drop-down list, and you'll see another gallery that looks like this (for the Radial direction):

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You don't have to stick with the 24 Preset Colors options, of course. With the Gradient Stops, Color, Stop Position, and Transparency controls, you can create any kind of gradient that suits you. Gradient stops are boundaries between colors. You can have as many stops and colors as you want. The Stop Position slider determines where the stop occurs. And if you want, you can add a degree of transparency to any or all sections of your gradient.

Filling an Area with a Texture or Picture

If you don't care for solids or gradients, why not fill your background areas or data markers with textures or pictures? You can use images in a wide variety of supported formats, paste in an item from your clip art library (or from Microsoft Office Online), or use one of the 24 texture images supplied by Excel. The latter evoke familiar materials, such as oak, marble, and cloth. For example, Figure shows a fish-fossil texture applied to a chart's plot area, with a clip art image applied to the column markers.

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Figure: We've applied a fish-fossil texture to the plot area of this chart and a clip art image to the column markers.

To apply a texture or picture, click Picture Or Texture Fill in the format dialog box for the chart element you have selected. Open the Texture drop-down list to choose from the texture gallery, or click the File, Clipboard, or ClipArt buttons to apply a picture. Excel stretches pictures to fit unless you also select the Tile Picture As Texture check box. If you're using a bitmapped image, the stretching is likely to produce distortion, unless the size of the picture is exactly that of the area you're formatting. To avoid distortion, you can shrink the image by moving it away from the left, right, top, and bottom borders of the area-in other words, by setting margins. To do that, set nonzero values in the various Offset text boxes.

If you choose to tile the picture, you get a different set of scaling and offset options. You can also create some interesting mirror effects by experimenting with the Mirror Type drop-down list.


If you try to drag an image file from Microsoft Windows Explorer onto a chart element, Windows changes your pointer to a plus sign, which generally signifies you're about to perform a drag-and-drop copy. Unfortunately, dragging and dropping has no effect in this context.

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