8 ways to make beautiful financial charts and graphs in Excel

Edouard Ouaknine
Former Communication & Adoption Specialist
September 15, 2021

Badly displayed Excel data will lose both impact and meaning. It’s vital to present your data clearly to make it more convincing. Here are 8 easy ways to make your financial charts simple, beautiful and effective. 

TL;DR

  • Remove unnecessary elements that clutter the chart and make it harder to understand. For example, eliminate unnecessary axes.

  • Distribute bars evenly by making them wider and reducing the spacing between them. Additionally, remove background lines that can be distracting.

  • Avoid excessive styling and 3D effects. Stick to a color scheme that aligns with your brand. Clean your financial charts by avoiding excessive markers and background lines. Finally, maintain consistency in your design choices.

Tip #1: Always pick the right chart type

Before you start tweaking design elements, you need to make sure that your data is displayed in the optimal format. Bar, pie, and line charts all convey your data differently, so choose the one that best suits the story you want to tell. Always order your graph in descending or chronological order so it is simple, clear and easy to understand.

Tip #2: Remove unnecessary axes

In the ‘before’ chart below, we use a bar chart for absolute numbers such as net sales and a line to display percentages, for example gross margin. There are two different y-axes, one for the absolute amounts and the other for the percentage. In the ‘after’ chart, you can see that it becomes much clearer when data labels are displayed on the series itself, instead of using both axes. It is easier to understand and there is more space to display the chart itself.

Tip #3: Distribute bars evenly

Excel uses thin bars with wide spacing by default, but the opposite actually works better as it makes it easier to visually compare data. The bars should be wider and the distance between the bars narrower.

How to fix gap width in Excel:
  1. Right click on Series
  2. Choose Format Data Series
  3. Click on Gap Width – you want less white space but enough to differentiate between blocks

Aim to differentiate between a period and a series. Do this by minimizing white space in the blocks and between bars, and by making the bars wider.

Tip #4: Remove background lines

As you can see below, there is a massive difference between the ‘before’ and ‘after’ Waterfall charts due to slight changes in design.


Graphs should allow you to roughly compare data within a set. No one is looking at your graph to see incremental differences between data points – they want to see general, overarching trends.


To help people focus on those trends, remove the lines in the background of your chart. These lines can be distracting, so removing them will help people focus on the most important parts of your chart.

With UpSlide’s Charts feature it takes just one click to create a Waterfall chart with your branding colors and design. The Charts button automates all the steps you would normally take to build a Waterfall chart in Excel.

> Discover how to link your Excel charts and graphs to PowerPoint

BONUS: Format your financial charts, tables and graphs with a single click

For 78% of finance professionals, it is a prerequisite for deliverables to comply with their graphic charter, according to a study lead by CSA and UpSlide.

It can be very time consuming to apply the right style, the right colors and the right font to each one of your Excel charts.

That is why we developed a tool to instantly apply your graphic charter to tables and charts on Excel with a single click: Smart Format.

The Smart Format tool has been key in empowering teams to create brand-compliant reports, quickly and easily.rnrn Before UpSlide, we’d have to painstakingly update graphs and tables to comply with our brand guidelines. With UpSlide, we can apply our brand formatting to any graph or table with a single click. I love it!

Jennifer Bailey

Operations Manager, Valuation & Advisory Services

Do you want to find out more about UpSlide’s features and how we help you save time on Microsoft Office?

Edouard Ouaknine
Edouard was a Senior Communication & Adoption Specialist at UpSlide from 2019 to 2022. He is currently a Content Marketing Associate at Crédit Mutuel Asset Management.

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