Present your data in a surface chart

A surface chart shows a three-dimensional surface that connects a set of data points. A surface chart is useful when you want to find optimum combinations between two sets of data. As in a topographic map, the colors and patterns in a surface chart indicate areas that contain the same range of values. Unlike other chart types, a surface chart does not use colors to distinguish the data series — colors are used to distinguish the values instead. To enhance a surface chart, you can change the colors and use transparency to display color bands that are obscured in the back of the chart.

Data that is arranged in columns or rows on a worksheet can be plotted in a surface chart. A surface chart is useful when you want to find optimum combinations between two sets of data. To create a surface chart, both categories and data series should contain numeric values.

Surface charts include the following chart subtypes:

• 3-D surface    3-D surface charts show trends in values across two dimensions in a continuous curve. Color bands in a surface chart do not represent the data series; they represent the distinction between the values. This chart shows a 3-D view of the data, which can be imagined as a rubber sheet stretched over a 3-D column chart. It is typically used to show relationships between large amounts of data that may otherwise be difficult to see.

• Wireframe 3-D surface    When displayed without color on the surface, a 3-D surface chart is called a wireframe 3-D surface chart. This chart shows only the lines. A 3-D surface chart that is displayed without color bands on any surface is called a wireframe 3-D surface chart. This chart shows only the lines.

Note: A wireframe 3-D surface chart is not easy to read, but this chart type is useful for faster plotting of large data sets.

• Contour    Contour charts are surface charts viewed from above, similar to 2-D topographic maps. In a contour chart, color bands represent specific ranges of values. The lines in a contour chart connect interpolated points of equal value.

• Wireframe contour    Wireframe contour charts are also surface charts viewed from above. Without color bands on the surface, a wireframe chart shows only the lines.

Note: Wireframe contour charts are not easy to read. You may want to use a 3-D surface chart instead.

Create a surface chart

So, how did we create this surface chart? The following procedure will help you create a surface chart with similar results. For this chart, we used the example worksheet data. You can copy this data to your worksheet, or you can use your own data.

1. Copy the example worksheet data into a blank worksheet, or open the worksheet that contains the data that you want to plot in a surface chart.

How to copy the example worksheet data

1. Create a blank workbook or worksheet.

2. Select the example in the Help topic.

Note: Do not select the row or column headers.

Selecting an example from Help
3. Press CTRL+C.

4. In the worksheet, select cell A1, and press CTRL+V.

 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
 A B C D E F 10 20 30 40 50 0.1 15 65 105 65 15 0.2 35 105 170 105 35 0.3 55 135 215 135 55 0.4 75 155 240 155 75 0.5 80 190 245 190 80 0.6 75 155 240 155 75 0.7 55 135 215 135 55 0.8 35 105 170 105 35 0.9 15 65 105 65 15
1. Select the data that you want to plot in the surface chart.

Note: It is best not to include row or column headings in the selection. If you select the headings with your data, the chart may produce different results.

2. On the Insert tab, in the Charts group, click Other Charts.

3. Under Surface, click 3-D Surface.

4. Click the chart area of the chart.

This displays the Chart Tools, adding the Design, Layout, and Format tabs.

5. On the Design tab, in the Chart Styles group, click the chart style that you want to use.

Tip: For our surface chart, we used Style 34.

6. To move the legend, do the following:

1. On the chart, right-click the legend, and then click Format Legend on the shortcut menu.

2. Under Legend Position, click the position that you want.

Tip: For our surface chart, we used Top.

7. To change the size of the chart, on the Format tab, in the Size group, select the shape size that you want in the Shape Height and Shape Width boxes, and then press ENTER.

Tip: For our surface chart, we used 6.5 for the shape height and 6.0 for the shape width.

8. To add, format, and position a chart title in the chart, click the chart area, and then do the following:

1. On the Layout tab, in the Labels group, click Chart Title, and then click Above Chart.

2. In the chart, click the chart title, and then type the text that you want.

Tip: For our surface chart, we typed Tensile Strength Measurements.

3. To reduce the size of the chart title, right-click the title, and then enter the size that you want in the Size box on the shortcut menu.

Tip: For our surface chart, we used 14.

9. To add axis titles, first click the chart area of the chart. Then, on the Layout tab, in the Labels group, click Axis Titles, and then do the following:

1. To add a title to the horizontal axis, click Primary Horizontal Axis Title, and then click the option that you want.

Tip: For our surface chart, we used Title Below Axis.

2. To add a title to the vertical axis, click Primary Vertical Axis Title, and then click the option that you want.

Tip: For our surface chart, we used Rotated Title.

3. To add a title to the depth axis, click Depth Axis Title, and then click the option that you want.

Tip: For our surface chart, we used Horizontal Title.

4. Click each axis title, type the text that you want, and then press ENTER.

Tip: For our surface chart, we typed Seconds for the horizontal axis, Tensile strength for the vertical axis, and Temperature for the depth axis.

10. If you want to use theme colors that are different from the default theme that is applied to your workbook, do the following:

1. On the Page Layout tab, in the Themes group, click Themes.

2. Under Built-in, click the theme that you want to use.

Tip: For our surface chart, we used the Office theme.

Change the colors in an existing surface chart

Because the colors in a surface chart are based on the values instead of the data series, you cannot select the colors in the chart itself. However, you can select the corresponding color keys in the legend of a surface chart to make the formatting changes that you want. In Microsoft Office Excel 2007, you can even use transparency to show data that is obscured in the back of a surface chart.

1. If a legend is not displayed, do the following:

1. Click the chart area of the chart.

This displays the Chart Tools, adding the Design, Layout, and Format tabs.

2. On the Layout tab, in the Labels group, click Legend, and then click the legend position that you want.

2. In the legend, click the legend key for which you want to change the format.

3. On the Layout tab, in the Current Selection group, click Format Selection.

4. In the Format Band dialog box, click any formatting category, and then select the formatting options that you want.

Tip: If you want to use transparency, click Solid Fill, Gradient Fill, or Picture or texture fill, select any color, picture, or texture options, and then move the Transparency slider to the percentage of transparency that you want. You can also enter a percentage in the Transparency box.

5. Repeat steps 2-4 for each level you want to format.

Save a chart as a template

If you want to create another chart like the one that you just created, you can save the chart as a template that you can use as the basis for other similar charts.

1. Click the chart that you want to save as a template.

2. On the Design tab, in the Type group, click Save as Template.

3. In the File name box, type a name for the template.

Tip: Unless you specify a different folder, the template file (.crtx) will be saved in the Charts folder, and the template becomes available under Templates in both the Insert Chart dialog box (Insert tab, Charts group, Dialog Box Launcher ) and the Change Chart Type dialog box (Design tab, Type group, Change Chart Type).

For more information about how to apply a chart template, see Reuse a favorite chart by using a chart template.

Note: A chart template contains chart formatting and stores the colors that are in use when you save the chart as a template. When you use a chart template to create a chart in another workbook, the new chart uses the colors of the chart template — not the colors of the document theme that is currently applied to the workbook. To use the document theme colors instead of the chart template colors, right-click the chart area, and then click Reset to Match Style on the shortcut menu.

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