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Axes in PowerPoint Charts

Author: Geetesh Bajaj

Product/Version: All PowerPoint Versions
OS: Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows XP / Vista / 7 / 8

Date Created: January 7th 2013
Last Updated: January 7th 2013


Excerpt/Capsule: Learn about the various chart axes in PowerPoint.






The axis is the measuring scale that is typically placed towards the left and bottom of your chart. Normally, the axis on the left is called the Primary Vertical Axis and the axis placed at the bottom is called the Primary Horizontal Axis. Two more axes can be placed for most chart types -- these would be the Secondary Vertical Axis towards the right side of the chart's Plot Area, and the Secondary Horizontal Axis above the chart. In common everyday usage, both the Horizontal axes may be called the X axes, and the Vertical axes may be called the Y axes.

Additionally, the Horizontal axes in some chart types, such as Column charts are also called Category axes -- also the Vertical axes in some chart types, such as Column charts are called Value axes. In other chart types, notably Bar charts – the Horizontal axes are typically the Values axes, and the Vertical axes becomes the Category axes. In addition to X and Y axes, some chart types such as 3D charts can also have a Z Axis -- known within the PowerPoint interface as a Depth Axis. Commonly this may sometimes be called the Series axes.

Look at Figure 1, where you have a typical Column chart -- you will see that there are only two axes available for this chart. There's one each of the horizontal and vertical axes.

X and Y axes in a Column chart
Figure 1: X and Y axes in a Column chart

Note: Axes are available in most chart types -- however Pie and Doughnut charts have no axes.

To confirm, select your chart and access the Chart Tools Layout tab of the Ribbon (Mac versions of PowerPoint call this the Chart Layout tab). Here click the Axes button to bring up a menu -- note that two axes are displayed within this menu (see Figure 2).

Axes menu displaying only two axes
Figure 2: Axes menu displaying only two axes

Now, look at Figure 3 where we have an extra Y (Secondary Vertical) axis towards the right side of the chart's Plot Area.

Extra Y (Secondary Vertical) axis added
Figure 3: Extra Y (Secondary Vertical) axis added

Sure enough -- now click the Axes button of the Chart Tools Layout tab -- you will see four axes displayed on this menu, as shown in Figure 4.

Axes menu displaying four axes
Figure 4: Axes menu displaying four axes

Note that both the Horizontal and Vertical axes always show up in pairs within the Axes menu -- you will see both of the Secondary Axes even if you have just one visible on your chart.

Next, look at this 3D Column chart in Figure 5 that has a third axis in addition to the two Primary axes -- this third axis is not a Secondary axis but a Depth Axis (also known as Z Axis). Depth axes typically add a third dimension in 3D charts.

Depth Axis in a 3D Column chart
Figure 5: Depth Axis in a 3D Column chart

Again, when you click the Axes button of the Chart Tools Layout tab (as explained earlier) -- you will see three axes displayed on this menu (the Depth Axis is now shown).

Depth Axis within Axes menu
Figure 6: Depth Axis within Axes menu

Now that we have explored the different axis types available for PowerPoint charts, let us look at various parts of axes -- which are explained below as marked in Figure 7.

Main parts of X and Y axes
Figure 7: Main parts of X and Y axes

The main parts of X and Y axes are:

  1. Axis Title: Most axes do not display their titles -- but you can add a title and also change its location. By default, the name of your axis title may show up as Axis Title, as shown in Figure 7, above. Just select the text box for the axis title, and type something else to replace the text to something more descriptive and suitable.

  2. Axis Labels: These are Labels for various Categories on the Horizontal (Category axis). On the Vertical (Values) axis, the labels are the values -- these are typically numbers or percentage values.

  3. Major Tick Marks: Major tick marks are the indications on an axis that show up between categories on the Horizontal axis, and besides Major Unit values on the Vertical axis.

  4. Major Unit: This is the value interval in the Vertical axis -- in our example chart shown in Figure 7, above -- the Major Unit is set to 1. For tutorials on how to change the Major Unit for charts in PowerPoint, refer to our Charts: Change Major Unit of Y Axis page.

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