How to Make a Line Graph in Excel: Explained Step-by-Step

Written by co-founder Kasper Langmann, Microsoft Office Specialist.

The line graph is one of the simplest graphs you can make in Excel. But that doesn’t mean it’s not one of the best.

The most effective visuals are often the simplest—and line charts (another name for the same graph) are some of the easiest to understand.

There’s just a line. That’s it.

The simplicity of the line graph is its greatest strength. Don’t forget that.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Let’s take a look at why you should use a line chart, how to prepare your data for it, and how to make it in Excel!

*This tutorial is for Excel 2019 for Windows. Got a different version? No problem, you can still follow the exact same steps.

Why use a line graph?

Of all the visuals in Excel, why choose a line chart? Plenty of other charts show the same information, so why not use them?

Here are a few significant advantages of line graphs:

1. They show things over time very well.

Bar charts and column charts can show things over time, but it’s not intuitively clear that the categories represent different temporal slices. On a line graph, people will see this very quickly.

There are other good uses for line charts, but showing a value over time is one of the best.

2. They make it easy to see multiple sets of data.

Clustered and stacked charts let you show a lot of data in a small space, but they can be difficult to read. Using different-colored lines in a line graph is much clearer.

You can even show interactions between values with this chart, which is great for complicated datasets.

3. It’s easy to read.

Line charts are simple. In fact, in their most basic form, they only contain one thing: a line. You’re going to be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t understand the information you present in a line chart.

Almost everyone is very familiar with these graphs, and that’s a big advantage over more complicated options.

4. Additional information is easy to see.

Error bars, data labels, trend lines, and other useful statistical notations are very clear on line graphs. They can be represented on other types of charts, but it’s easy for them to become obscured.

Line charts solve that problem by leaving a lot of white space for you to work with.

Now that you know why line charts are so useful, let’s take a look at creating them in Excel!

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

However, there are a few cases in which you might not want to use a line graph.

For example, they’re not very good at showing proportions. A stacked column chart or a pie chart would be better there.

And while they’re good at showing change over time, a timeline might be better represented by a Gantt chart.

Get your FREE exercise file

If you’d like to follow along and practice making line charts, you can download the free exercise file to follow along.

Use the same data we’re using here to practice your skills!

cloud-download

BONUS: Download the Line Graph Exercise File to go along with this post.

Formatting data for line charts

Formatting your data for use in a line graph is very simple.

Put each category and the associated value on one line:

line-chart-data

We’ve put each value in a different column. You could also put them in separate rows instead. Both work equally well.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

You can also use multiple data points for each category.

For example, we’ve added projected sales along with actual sales here:

line-chart-multiple-data

You can include as many different lines in a line chart as you want, but we recommend keeping it to a handful at most.

More than that makes your graph much harder to read.

That’s all there is to it! Your data is probably organized like this already, so let’s move on.

How to make a line chart

Once your data is properly formatted, you can create your chart. It only takes a few clicks.

First, highlight the data you want in the graph:

highlighted-line-data

Then, open the Insert tab in the Ribbon. In the Charts group, click the Insert Line or Area Chart Button:

insert-line-chart

If you forget which button to click, just hover over the options. Excel will tell you which one is which.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

From the resulting menu, click the 2D line button:

insert-2d-line

When you click that, your line graph will appear!

line-chart

Editing line graphs

Excel’s default colors and design for line charts are nice, but there’s a lot of customization you can do to make it look better.

The easiest way to do this is with chart styles.

Open the Design tab in the Ribbon, and you’ll see a number of available styles. Mouse over them to see a preview:

line-chart-styles

Clicking any of these styles will immediately format your chart. Different styles include a variety of chart elements.

You can also add individual elements in the Add Chart Element menu:

add-chart-element

In the image above, we’ve selected standard error bars.

line-chart-error-bars

Excel automatically calculates the standard error (or whatever is necessary for your chosen element) and inserts it into the graph.

Keep in mind that you can also remove elements through this menu, as well.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Data tables, grid lines, trend lines, axis labels, and more can be found in this menu. It should be your first stop when editing a line graph.

The Quick Layout menu gives you a fast way to add and remove elements. Select one of the templates from the menu and you’ll get a specific combination of elements:

quick-layout-line

You can also quickly change the color palette with the Change Colors menu. Select any color combination and your line chart will get a quick makeover:

change-colors-line

One of the most common things you’ll want to do on your line graph is add markers.

Markers are the symbols (often circles) at each point on your line. Here’s a set of circular markers:

circular-markers

To add or edit the markers on your line, right-click the line in your chart and select Format Data Series:

format-data-series

A panel will appear on the right side of the screen.

Click the paint can, then click “Marker.”

format-marker

Open the Marker Options group, and select Built-in. Then select the type and size.

marker-options

That’s a lot of steps, but once you do it a couple times, it becomes easy.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Note that you can also select Line with Markers when you’re creating the graph to get the markers in from the beginning.

If you didn’t select all the data you want, or you added data to your set, you can adjust the data included in your graph. Click Select Data in the Ribbon.

select-data-button-line

The resulting window will let you type or click-and-drag to select the data that should be included in your graph.

select-data-line

You can also use this window to switch the rows and columns of your graph.

But there’s a button right in the Ribbon that does that for you, too:

switch-row-line

You can also use the Move Chart button to move your chart to an existing sheet or create a new one for it:

move-line-chart

This is especially useful, because most of the time you won’t want your graph right on top of your data.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

There are more design options in the Format tab, too. We won’t go over them here, because they’re self-explanatory.

If you want to change colors or fonts, head to this tab and look around.

Creating multi-line charts

Making graphs with multiple lines is just as easy as creating single-line graphs.

Organize your data so that each category has all the corresponding values in the same row or column:

line-chart-multiple-data

Then highlight your data and click the 2D Line button.

multi-line-graph

From here, you can use all the same editing techniques to customize your multi-line chart.

An efficient way to present data

A line graph might not seem like much—it’s only a line, after all. But it can be a very powerful tool for presenting data!

Few charts are are simple as the line chart, but it can show a lot of data in a small space.

And because almost everyone is very familiar with this type of visual, you won’t have to explain how it works.

It’s easy to underestimate the humble line graph, but give credit where it’s due!

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto