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Stay away from 3D Charts

Learn why 3D charts may not be the best way to show your data.

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Product/Version: Microsoft PowerPoint (all versions)

In the days of PowerPoint 2003 and older versions, you just had to insert a chart to end up with a 3D chart! Yes, that's true – Figure 1 shows the default column chart you inserted in those versions. To say that this chart looks horrible is an understatement.

Default chart in PowerPoint 2003 and older versions
Figure 1: Default chart in PowerPoint 2003 and older versions

Comparatively, the default column chart you add in newer versions of PowerPoint is so much more cleaner, as shown in Figure 2, below.

Default chart in newer PowerPoint versions
Figure 2: Default chart in newer PowerPoint versions

Of course, changing the defaults does not mean that you will not encounter any 3D charts since even in newer versions, it is fairly easy to change a chart from 2D to 3D. There are plenty of 3D charts to be seen even today. Even now, there are people who love 3D charts just because it might make them look like a pro. Well, that's the big mistake - 3D charts don't make you look like a pro.

Let's look at an analogy to understand this better. Do you need 3D text jumping out from your business card for every alphabet? Then you are right - you do not need 3D charts at all.

There are exceptions though - especially if your data needs a 3rd Z axis - but most charts do not need a Z axis. Thus stay away from 3D charts - your viewers will thank you.

Another reason why you cannot use 3D charts is because some data can become invisible. Look at the non-3D chart you see in Figure 3, below and notice that the column representing Grapes for 2011 (highlighted in red within Figure 3) is fairly shorter than other columns in the same chart. Yet you can see the column.

A shorter column in a non-3D chart
Figure 3: A shorter column in a non-3D chart

And now look at the same data used for a 3D chart in Figure 4, below. Yes, the same column is existent here but since the column itself is shorter, you can no longer see it at all!

3D charts can hide some columns!
Figure 4: 3D charts can hide some columns!

This is just another reason to stay away from 3D charts.


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