Move and Align Chart Titles, Labels, Legends with the Arrow Keys
The free Chart Alignment Add-in for Excel allows you to quickly align the objects within a chart. The chart titles, labels, and legends can be moved using the arrow keys on the keyboard or with the alignment buttons in the add-in window.
When chart objects/elements (titles, labels, legends) are added to a chart they are positioned in a default location. For example, the chart title is centered over the top of the chart by default. If you want to put the title in the top left corner of the chart, it can only be moved by left-clicking and holding with the mouse, then dragging and dropping to the desired location.
There is no built-in way to move the chart title with the arrow keys, or align it to other positions within the chart (top-left corner for example). The entire chart can be moved with the arrow keys, but the elements inside the chart cannot.
Starting in Excel 2013 the chart objects (titles, labels, legends, etc.) are referred to as chart elements, so I will refer to them as elements throughout this article.
The Chart Alignment Add-in is a free tool (download below) that allows you to align the chart elements using the arrow keys on the keyboard or alignment buttons on the add-in window. This makes it very easy to quickly nudge and align the chart objects in your chart to improve the look of the chart from the default settings.
Feature #1: Arrow Keys
The arrow keys on the keyboard can be used to nudge any of the chart elements in any direction. There is an increment setting that allows you to move the chart element a specific number of points each time an arrow key is pressed. Any of the chart elements (chart titles, axis titles, data labels, plot area, and legend) can me moved using the arrow keys.
Feature #2: Alignment Buttons
The add-in window contains a set of alignment buttons that align the chart elements to the border of the chart when pressed. For example, if you want to align the chart title to the top left corner of the chart, simply select the chart title then press the top-left arrow button on the add-in window.
The margin setting allows you to set the margin to a specific number of points that will offset the chart element from the chart border. Please see the video for more details.
Why Move the Chart Titles and Labels?
The goal of any chart is to clearly communicate a story about your data. The reader should be able to understand the message you are trying to convey within a few seconds of looking at the chart. There is a lot of great information about this topic and I will post some links at the bottom for further reading.
The default settings for Excel charts don’t always apply to some of these theories of reducing chart junk and keeping it simple. This requires you to modify the chart layout, especially the chart elements. The Chart Alignment add-in helps make this process faster and gives your charts a more standardized and professional look. For example, every single chart you produce in the future can have a chart title that is offset 5 points from the top-left corner of the chart border. This will save you time and take out some of the guess work with arranging the elements.
The add-in is compatible with Excel 2007, 2010, and 2013 for Windows.
After you have installed the add-in, the Align Objects button will appear on the right side of the Format tab in the Chart Tools design tab of the ribbon. This is a contextual tab and will only appear when you have a chart selected.
Clicking on the Align Objects button will open the add-in window. The window contains two main features: Move Objects with Arrow Keys and Alignment Buttons.
Feature #1: Move Objects with Arrow Keys
To move the elements inside the chart with the arrow keys:
- Select the element in the chart you want to move (title, data labels, legend, plot area).
- On the add-in window press the “Move Selected Object with Arrow Keys” button. This is a toggle button and you want to press it down to turn on the arrow keys.
- Press any of the arrow keys on the keyboard to move the chart element.
Note: The add-in window must be active for the arrow keys to work. When you select a different element in the chart, you must then click on the add-in window to activate it, then use the arrow keys.
When all the data labels in a series are selected you can use the arrow keys to move all the labels at the same time. Please see the video for further details on this.
The Increment amount allows you to set a specific number of points to move the element with the arrow key is pressed. The greater the number, the more distance the element will move when the arrow key is pressed. The “Move Selected Object with Arrow Keys” must be toggled off to change the increment.
Feature #2: Alignment Buttons
The alignment buttons move the selected chart element to a specific location along the charts inner border.
To use the alignment buttons:
- Select an element inside the chart (title, legend, plot area).
- Press one of the alignment buttons to move the selected element to the desired location.
The Margin amount allows you to set an amount to offset the element from the border.
Note: In Excel 2007 the center alignment buttons do not place the element in the exact center of the chart. This is a limitation of the 2007 VBA object model, and I’m working on an alternate solution.
Please click the link below and the add-in file will be sent to you immediately.
Compatible with Excel 2007, 2010, 2013 for Windows. The zip file contains the add-in file (EC_Chart_Alignment.xlam) and installation guide (Installing an Excel Add-in.pdf)
Update Instructions: If you have already installed the add-in and want to install an updated version:
- Close Excel.
- Open the folder location where you originally placed the add-in file (EC_Chart_Alignment.xlam).
- Replace the existing add-in file with the new one.
- Open Excel.
Please leave a comment below with any questions, issues, and ideas for improvement.
This add-in will be updated with feature requests. Please subscribe to the free email newsletter to stay updated.
- Align Objects button now appears on the Format tab of the PivotChart Tools Design Ribbon and works with PivotCharts.
- Alignment buttons work when multiple labels are selected.
- Arrow keys and alignment buttons now work with shapes placed inside the chart.
- Fixed error: Now works on multiple labels when one or more labels have been deleted from the group.
30 Chants for Better Excel Charts – Mynda Tracey at MyOnlineTrainingHub shares 30 great tips for creating better charts to help communicate your story effectively.
9 Steps to Simpler Chart Formatting and Charting Dos and Don’ts – Jon Peltier at Peltier Tech is the absolute legend when it comes to Excel charts. If you have a question about creating a chart, he probably has an article that answers it.
5 simple rules for making awesome column charts – Chandoo at Chandoo.org explains how to improve your column charts and has lots of other great articles on chart formatting.
quick tip: left uppermost align title text – This is a great short article from Cole Nussbaumer at Storytelling with Data that explains why your chart titles should be aligned in the top left corner of the chart. Definitely an inspiration for this add-in.
Training Course – If you are looking for a full length training course on charts, I highly recommend the dashboard course from My Online Training Hub. I have taken this course and it really helped me improve my charting skills. Checkout my video review of the course to learn more about it.
Have you read a great article about charts recently? Share the link in the comments section below.
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