Making Regular Charts from Pivot Tables

Sometimes it’s desirable to make a regular chart from a pivot table, but Excel makes it difficult. If your active cell is in a pivot table, inserting a chart automatically inserts a pivot chart. Defining a source data range that intersects a pivot table automatically converts the chart into a pivot table. And once a chart becomes a pivot chart, it cannot be converted back into a regular chart.

In a moment I’ll show how to make a regular chart from a pivot table’s data. But first let’s review some of the strengths and weaknesses of pivot charts.

Pivot charts have some advantages over regular charts:

  • Pivot charts are dynamic
  • Pivot charts are interactive
  • Pivot charts can be pivoted

However, the same infrastructure that conveys these advantages also results in some shortcomings:

  • Some chart types (XY) are not available to pivot charts
  • The date scale axis is not available in pivot charts
  • All data from the pivot table must be included in the pivot chart
  • Data from outside the pivot table cannot be included in the pivot chart
  • Pivot chart formatting options are limited (alleviated to some extent in Excel 2007)
  • Pivot chart formatting may be lost when the pivot table is changed

When pivot charts were first introduced in Excel 2000, I was excited by the possibilities, yet discouraged by their limitations. I rarely used pivot charts because I felt the limitations far outweighed their capabilities. The formatting capabilities in Excel 2007 are much less constricting than in Excel 2003, so I am more likely to use pivot charts in 2007. While I strongly dislike working with Excel 2007 charts, Excel 2007 pivot charts are greatly improved. The restrictions on pivot chart data sources are still limiting.

Microsoft hosts a number of decent Pivot Table examples. I will use one of them for this tutorial. Go to the Microsoft example 25 easy PivotTable reports, which has a link to Excel 2002 Sample: PivotTable Reports. From this page you can download a self-extracting executable named Reports.exe, which contains four workbooks. The top few records of the Source Data worksheet of the SampleSalespersonReports.xls workbook looks like this:

Pivot Table Source Data

To create a pivot table in Excel 2003, select one cell within this data range, and choose Pivot Table and Pivot Chart Report from the Data menu. To keep things uncomplicated, place the pivot table onto a new worksheet. Drag the Order Date field to the rows area, the Country field to the Columns area, and the Order Amount field to the Data area. Group the Order Date field by month and year as described in Grouping by Date in a Pivot Table.

In 2007, select a cell in the data range, and choose PivotTable from the Insert ribbon tab. By default, manipulation of the fields is done in a Pivot Table Field List pane, not in the worksheet. You can override this setting if you’re willing to trade the new pivot capabilities introduced in 2007 for the convenient but apparently old-fashioned on-sheet button manipulation. In the PivotTable Field List, check the boxes in front of the fields you want in the pivot table, then drag them to the appropriate areas at the bottom of the pane. It’s basically the same as in 2003, just within the task pane.

The resulting pivot table looks like this:

Pivot Chart by Date and by Country

To make a pivot chart, select any part of the pivot table and insert a chart. Excel 2007 places the pivot chart on the active worksheet.

In Excel 2003 and earlier, by default the pivot table is created on its own chart sheet. This is rather inconvenient, since I always move the pivot chart to the same worksheet as the pivot table anyway. To avoid this sheet switching, I select a blank cell that isn’t touching the pivot table, and insert a chart without specifying any data. I then select the blank chart, invoke the Source Data command, and click in the pivot table, which instantly turns the chart into a pivot chart associated permanently with this pivot table.

Pivot Chart by Date and by Country

The pivot chart is linked to the pivot table, so any changes to the pivot table are reflected in the chart. In Excel 2003, the same dragging around of field buttons to pivot the table can also be accomplished in the chart, and the pivot table keeps up. A regular chart is not dynamic in this way. You could write VBA procedures that detect a pivot table change and adjust the chart’s series data accordingly, but that’s probably beyond the scope of any blog post.

However, a pivot chart doesn’t let you add data from outside the pivot table, or exclude data from the pivot table (though you could format a series to make it invisible).

In Excel 2003, you cannot change the size of the plot area or the position of the legend, chart title, or axis titles (other than deleting them). You can remove the pivot field buttons (Pivot Table toolbar > PivotChart dropdown > Hide PivotChart Field Buttons) to gain a little space, but you still can’t move or resize the chart elements.

Pivot Chart by Date and by Country without Pivot Field Buttons

Excel 2007 doesn’t have the Field Buttons cluttering up the chart. Instead there is a floating PivotChart Filter Pane that, together with the PivotTable Field List, serves the same function less intrusively. Excel 2007 also allows you to move or resize the individual chart elements. But the other inflexible features of pivot charts remain.

Pivot Chart by Date and by Country in Excel 2007

So you decide you need a regular chart to regain your formatting and source data flexibility.

Making a regular chart is actually easier than you think, as long as you are careful about setting the chart series data. You cannot set the overall source data range for the chart. You have to start with a blank chart, and add your data one series at a time.

Here is the protocol for creating a regular chart similar to the pivot chart above, using the pivot table’s data.

  1. Select a blank cell which is not touching the pivot table.
  2. Insert a chart. In Excel 2003, go to Insert menu > Chart, and select a chart type and subtype in step 1 of the Chart Wizard, and click Finish. In Excel 2007, simply select a chart type from the Insert tab, then choose the desired subtype.
  3. Right click the chart, choose Source Data or Select Data. In Excel 2003, click on the Series tab.
  4. Click the Add button to add a new series.
  5. Click in the Series Name box, and then select the cell with the series name (e.g., the country label UK).
  6. Click in the Values, Y Values, or Series Values box, then select the range containing the Y values (the Order Amount data under the UK label(.
  7. In Excel 2003, click in the Category (X) Axis Labels or X Values box, then select the range containing the category labels; In Excel 2007, click Edit under Horizontal (Category) Axis Labels, then select the range containing these labels. In both cases, this is the two-column range between the Years and Order Date field buttons at the top and the Grand Total label at the bottom.
  8. Repeat steps 4 through 7 as required for all series, including data inside and outside the pivot table.

Regular Chart by Date and by Country

If I have other data for a country not included in the pivot table, I can simply add it to a regular chart per the protocol above. A pivot chart allows no outside data.

Regular Chart by Date and by Country

If I want an XY chart, I can create a regular XY chart using the protocol above. A pivot chart cannot use the XY chart type, nor can it use a date-scale axis in a line chart.

Regular XY Chart comparing Countries


A follow-up post uses a regular chart, showing how to Create and Update a Chart Using Only Part of a Pivot Table’s Data.


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  1. Jon,

    I originally sent this last month, but I had some email issues and I don’t know whether you replied. Apologies if I’m redundant.

    Here’s my question: Is it possible to add vertical lines to a column chart when the Y-axis is already in use?

    I currently have a chart with three revenue lines plotted as clustered vertical columns on the Y-axis and the total revenue plotted as a tall, fat column on the X-axis (that makes it look like the individual revenue columns are inside the total revenue column). The data is quarterly and spans several years. What I would like to do is add vertical lines that represent start/end of full fiscal years. So that’s a vertical line after every 4th data series/quarter (except the final series which may or may not end on the 4th quarter at the time the chart is run since it is a dynamic chart).

    Am I asking the impossible?

    Happy New Year!


  2. Hi,

    I often make regular charts from pivot tables. I have a formula in my pivot table, and when it pulls blank cells for the formula, it appears as 0. I used the NA() text and now the table cells are blank where they should be. BUT they still plot as 0 on the line chart. How can I fix this?



  3. Leslie –

    The pivot table shows blank, so now might be the time to go to the source data dialog, click on hidden and empty cells, and choose the gap option for empty cells.

  4. Thanks, Jon. But that isn’t working. I wonder if it’s because my formula is within the pivot table? It works if the formula is in a cell.

  5. Leslie –

    Aren’t the “blank” cells in the pivot table really blank?

  6. What I have is a pivot table that displays Field1. Then I inserted a Calculated Field = IF (ISBLANK(Field1), NA(), Field1+Field2/6). I guess my problem isn’t really with the chart so much as it is with the pivot table formula – when Field1 is blank, the calculated field = 0. Thanks!

  7. where is the Create a chart??

  8. Anonymous –

    In Excel 2003 and earlier, go to Insert menu > Chart, and select a chart type and subtype in step 1 of the Chart Wizard, and click Finish. In Excel 2007 and 2010, simply select a chart type from the Insert tab, then choose the desired subtype.

  9. thank you for your help & support. nice tips

  10. Another quick way is to copy and paste your pivot table as values. Add any additional data you need to the right of pivot table data you just pasted. Select the data and create the chart and format as you would like. Then go back and paste in the pivot table over the data you copied as text. It will keep the chart you originally created and allow you to use the pivot table to change the values within the chart. It isn’t pretty, but it worked for me.

  11. Hi Jon, I basically am trying to get my graph to ignore any NA entries. Not sure why they don’t have an easy way to do it.. So is my below formula that I was able to get my reference cell to show NA instead of 0. But really I just need a 2010 excel graph to either ignore a 0 or ignore an NA.

    =IF(‘Entry Sheet’!AC15<1,NA(),'Entry Sheet'!AC15)

  12. Tyler –
    Yes, it’s a problem, as I describe in Mind the Gap – Charting Empty Cells.

  13. instead of 1000000 lines on pivot charts, i would have prefered the line “if you want a regular chart from a pivot, you have to create all series by hand” under this headline.

  14. Excel 2013 won’t allow the work around of making a regular xy chart and then adding data from the pivot table to the chart as a series. Anytime I select any cells in the pivot table as my chart data, I get the frustrating “you can’t make xy charts from pivot tables” error message. (Can anyone explain to me why this functionality was taken away in 2007?!) But, Shelley Bokelman’s earlier post DID work. 1) Copy and paste your pivot table as values, 2) create a regular chart from the pasted values section, 3) Paste the pivot table over the data you copied as text.

    Thanks Shelley and John for a lot of great tricks for Excel.

  15. Lucy –
    You could never make a pivot chart of XY type.
    If you select a blank cell that isn’t part of or touching a pivot table and insert an XY chart, a blank chart is selected. Go to Select Data on the ribbon or right-click menu, click on Add to add a series, and select the individual X and Y ranges. Click OK and your XY chart is using data from the pivot table.

  16. OK, Excel is very finicky! If I follow Jon’s instructions exactly, then it does work. I first tried to insert the blank chart, then “Select Data”, as Jon said, and then, instead of clicking “Add” and then selecting the range in the pivot table as my data, I clicked on the “Chart data range:” box and selected the pivot table data as my data. It seems to do the same thing but my way does NOT work and I get the bad error. Apparently it is very important to add a new series using the Add button and not the Chart data range: box. As they say in 2nd grade, “Follow the teacher’s directions!”. I hope others will read this and avoid the frustration I felt.

  17. Lucy –
    I’ve added emphasis to the following paragraph:
    Making a regular chart is actually easier than you think, as long as you are careful about setting the chart series data. You cannot set the overall source data range for the chart. You have to start with a blank chart, and add your data one series at a time.

  18. This solution is a big problem when dealing with any more than probably 5 chart series. In one instance, I had 100+ chart series to plot. I wanted the advantages of a regular chart as outlined by Peltier, but needed the flexibility of the pivot table to manipulate the data behind the scenes. This keeps me from duplicating charts and data over and over.
    What I did, was create another tab. Use cell references back to the pivot table data. Include with the other data you wish to plot. Then simply insert chart on the referenced cells. Excel will automatically create each series, and a non-pivot chart. You can use some formulas to cleanup references that extend beyond the pivot table as it grows and shrinks with your filtering. Hope this was clear enough, cheers.

  19. This is simply a solution I stumbled across in partial ignorance while trying to align the PT columns with the axis categories of a column chart (my problem was that the rows and column switching seems to be synchronised between the chart and the table). The solution I offer for comment was to use

    = IFERROR( GETPIVOTDATA( … ), “” )

    to form the intermediate data table and build (somewhat less volatile) charts from that.

  20. Hi Jon
    I have 20 regular scatter plots plotted from data within a pivot table. Any suggestions on how I can unhinge my graphs from the pivot table data without needing to Edit each X series and Y series? I am using Excel 2013. I want to get my graphs out of Excel and into Acrobat for a publication (.tif or .pdf at 300dpi). Regards Megan

  21. Megan –

    If you need a chart type not supported by Pivot Tables (e.g., XY Scatter), you don’t have much choice. You could copy the pivot chart to another range, as values or with formulas linking to the pivot table, and build your charts from this pasted range.

    If you simply need to show less data than the pivot table displays, you could filter the unwanted data from the pivot table, export the chart, refilter the data for the next chart, export it, etc. This might be slightly less tedious than dealing with all the series formulas, but it has to be repeated if the data changes or the charts need reformatting.

  22. Peter Bartholomew says:

    My previous post was a bit cryptic so the formula below may clarify the point. It provides a simple replication of the PT data, as suggested by Jon, but based upon GETPIVOTDATA.

    = GETPIVOTDATA( “Sum of Revenue”,PT.anchor,”YQ”,quarter)
    / GETPIVOTDATA( “Sum of Units”,PT.anchor,”YQ”,quarter)

    If you are used to using the function simply by clicking a cell then the ‘Item’ contains a simple string. The function will, however, take a reference if you type it in. Here the name ‘quarter’ references a complete list of the quarters from another sheet and the array formula returns the corresponding array of values. That, in turn, permits the use of a greater range of chart types and, being a normal chart, its formatting is stable through updates of the PT.

    The reason there are two function calls in the formula is that I have used the ratio of two value fields to give a weighted average price – but that is a different problem.

  23. Peter –

    This is a good example of a flexible way to get pivot table data into a form that can be used for other purposes, for example, a nice output table, or in this case, the precise chart you want.

  24. Hi Jon
    I am trying to create pivot tables with pivot charts for each value(name of person) in a selected field(names).This should appear on individual worksheet as it represents a different person.can you advise how do i do that? I know i can generate multiple pivot tables on to each worksheet but need the pivot chart to be likewise.
    Appreciate your kind help

  25. Keis –

    I would put the name into a page field (), and select one name in the pivot table. Then I would create my chart on the same worksheet as the pivot table, and format it how I want them all to look. Then I would copy the worksheet for each additional name, and switch the names in these pivot tables. The pivot charts will be linked to the pivot tables on the same worksheet, so each chart will show the data for the selected person.

  26. Dear Jon

    Thanks for your suggestion. As its quite tedious, wondering if there are shorter turnaround time.
    I do have another query on pivot charts. For example, we are measuring the %recommendation of a salesperson (responses are either Y or N) . The response was put as a count in the value and %of row total. We want only to look at the%Y and not show the %N. i had formatted the N without line etc to give the visual to be invisible but noted then when i add the slicer for the chart using field sales person. After clicking down the list a few times, the N response line appears in the pivot chart and also affects the original %Y line (either losing the line leaving behind only the markers) Weird i know. did i miss something?
    Thanks for your kind guidance


  1. […] Why turn to Jon Peltier’s excellent blog on Excel tips and tricks.  In this case, this post on developing a non-Pivot Chart chart on a Pivot Table did the […]

  2. […] I don't think you can do that with a pivot chart. You could create a normal chart: Making Regular Charts from Pivot Tables – Peltier Tech Blog […]

  3. […] Making Regular Charts from Pivot Tables (TechTrax Article) […]

  4. […] not supported in a pivot chart. Nut you can make a scatter plot from a pivot chart. See my tutorial Making Regular Charts from Pivot Tables. Then you're going to have many sets of X values and one set of Y values, which Excel isn't so […]

  5. […] document.write(''); A pivot chart contains all the (non-summary) data from the pivot table, and no data from outside of the pivot table. You can Make a Regular Chart from a Pivot Table. […]

  6. […] draw on the line (from Insert > Shapes). You could make a regular chart from the pivot table (Making Regular Charts from Pivot Tables) and add a data series (Add a Line to a Column or Line […]

  7. […] googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1486744346002-0'); }); "It does not work" is a broad and vague symptom. Could you describe in more detail how the tutorial does not work in your case? I will suggest however that if you're plotting data from a pivot table, by default Excel gives you a pivot chart, and a pivot chart is limited to plotting all the data in the pivot table, and no data from outside the pivot table is allowed. It is poccible, however, to build a regular Excel chart from pivot table data. […]

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