Use custom markers to create a more compelling Excel chart

Some Excel charts use markers and you might be surprised to learn how easy it is to customize those markers to make your chart more compelling.

There are many ways to enhance a chart's default setting, but using custom markers is one of the easiest. You can use clip art or shapes. You can even go to the trouble to create your own graphic. If you can copy it to the Clipboard you can (probably) use it as a marker. The following Excel chart is informative, in a boring sort of way, so let's add a bit of visual interest by customizing the markers for a series.

First, let's use clip art for a marker, as follows:

  1. Click the Insert tab and click Clip Art in the Illustrations group.
  2. Enter a Search For topic and click Go.
  3. Click the appropriate icon in the Clip Art task pane. You can insert the clip art right into a blank sheet for temporary storage.
  4. Most likely, you'll need to resize the file. I recommend that you use a corner handle when reducing the size to maintain ratio.
  5. Select the object and press [Ctrl]+C to copy it to the Clipboard.
  6. Next, select the chart sheet and then click the line for which you want to substitute markers.
  7. With the line selected, press [Ctrl]+V and Excel will replace the default markers with the clip art.

It's hard to imagine anything easier! You can use the same basic technique to substitute markers with an object. Simply insert the shape into a sheet (temporarily) and then copy it to the Clipboard. Next, paste the shape into the appropriate series. For instance, the smiley face in the next chart is a shape, not clip art. (You'll find shapes in the Illustrations group on the Insert tab.) You don't have to change all the markers in a series—you can replace just one marker. Just select that marker, instead of the entire line. To select a single marker, click the marker twice, slowly. Don't double-click as that will open a dialog box. The first click will select the entire series. The second click will deselect all the points (markers) but the clicked one. With the single point selected, press [Ctrl]+V to paste the graphic.

As you can see, this is a surprisingly easy process. When replacing Excel's benign markers, perhaps the hard part is choosing the actual marker. My best advice is to respect the information and your audience and remember your chart's purpose. Gold stars and smiley faces aren't bad. In fact, in the right circumstances, they can be fun and effective, but they'd be a bit out of place in most business applications.

By Susan Harkins

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.