Bottom line: Learn how to use Chart Templates in Excel to quickly apply formatting and settings to new and existing charts. Includes instructional videos.
Skill level: Beginner
Cleanup the Chart Junk
The default chart formatting in Excel typically includes a lot of extra elements that aren't always needed for our charts. A nicely formatted chart should include only the minimal amount of elements (legend, axis, labels, gridlines, etc.). This makes the chart easier to read, and allows the data to tell the story.
Entire books have been written on the principles of data visualization, so I won't go into a lot of detail here. The main idea is that we should use a minimalist approach to creating and designing charts (graphs). All the extra formatting is typically referred to as chart junk because it clutters up the chart and distracts the reader.
To learn more about this topic checkout the books by Edward Tufte and Stephen Few (Amazon links). My good friend Mynda Treacy from MyOnlineTrainingHub also covers these principles in her Dashboards Course.
Chart Templates to the Rescue
Even if you don't follow these principles, it's likely that the default chart formatting doesn't match your needs. After inserting a chart on a sheet, we typically take additional steps to format it.
This can be time consuming. My typical process to cleanup a Bar PivotChart includes a minimum of 7 steps and a total of 18+ mouse/key presses.
- Hide All Field Buttons
- Delete the Legend
- Delete the Axis Labels
- Delete the Gridlines
- Add Data Labels
- Reduce Gap Width
- Categories in reverse order
That's a lot of extra work and time!
Fortunately, we can automate this process with Chart Templates. We can save all the formatting options and settings to a Chart Template, and then apply the template to any new or existing chart.
If you'd like to learn how to create that pivot table and chart, checkout my free videos series on pivot tables and dashboards for Excel.
How to Create a Chart Template
To create a Chart Template:
- Insert a chart and change the formatting to prepare it for presentation.
- Right-click the chart and choose “Save as Template…”.
- The Save Chart Template window will open. Name the Chart Template File.
- Click Save.
The Chart Template will now be available in the Chart Template Gallery on the Insert/Change Chart Window.
How to Apply Chart Templates
Now that you have created a Chart Template, you can apply to it any new or existing chart.
To apply the Chart Template to a new chart:
- Click a Chart button on the Insert tab of the ribbon to open the Insert Chart window.
- Click the Templates tab on the left sidebar.
- You will see a gallery of your Chart Templates. Select the one you want to use to create the chart.
- Press OK.
- A new chart will be inserted on the sheet and all of the Template's formatting options will be applied.
To apply the Chart Template to an existing chart:
- Right-click the existing chart and choose “Change Chart Type…”.
- The Change Chart Type window will open. Click the Templates tab on the left sidebar.
- Select the Chart Template you want to apply.
- Press OK.
- The chart type and formatting will be applied to the existing chart.
How to Manage Chart Templates
The Chart Templates are saved as crtx (chart template) files to your computer. They are typically saved in the following location on your computer.
You can get to this location from the Chart Template Gallery by clicking the “Manage Templates…” button in the bottom left corner of the Insert/Change Chart Window.
That opens Windows Explorer and navigates to the Chart Templates folder. From here you can add or delete chart template files.
If you downloaded a crtx (chart template) file or received one from a co-worker, you can copy the file into this folder. It will then appear next time you open the Template Gallery.
Download the Chart Template
You can download the Chart Template I use for Bar PivotCharts below.
PivotChart Bar.crtx (7.8 KB)
Chart Templates for Each Chart Type
It's important to note that the Chart Template also includes the chart type (bar, column, line, pie, etc.). So you will need to create a Chart Template for each chart type you use frequently. You might have separate templates for bar, column, line, combo charts, etc.
You might also want to create templates for different projects or reports you work on periodically. Any time you modify a chart and are happy with the results, right-click and “Save as Template…” This will make it easier to quickly apply all those settings in the future.
Sharing Chart Templates for Consistency
Another benefit of Chart Templates is that you can create consistent looking charts throughout your department/team/organization. Once you create a Chart Template, you can send the crtx file to everyone and have them use it on all their charts. This will ensure every chart uses the same colors, fonts, formatting, etc.
The video above contains instructions on how to import a Chart Template file. You can share this with your team when you send them a template file.
What do you use Chart Templates for?
Chart Templates definitely save us time by allowing us to create our own default formats. We might have to take a few extra steps to format the chart, depending on the project, but the template gives us a good starting point to work with. They also help create consistency within your organization.
How do you use Chart Templates? Please leave a comment below with any questions or suggestions. Thank you! 🙂