The new Excel offers a rich set of charting capabilities that make creating and customizing charts simpler and more intuitive. One part of the fluid new experience is the Formatting Task pane.
Until now, precise adjustments to chart elements were made in the Format dialog box. The box sometimes obscured a portion of the chart, changes entered in the box were not visible until you closed it, and you had to select the exact element on the chart in order to see the options that were the best fit for the job.
In the new Excel, the Format dialog box is replaced by the Formatting Task pane. The pane aligns neatly with the right or left side of the screen, so it’s less likely to obscure the chart, and changes happen in real time, so you can immediately see how your choices affect the chart. The Formatting Task pane also offers an element selector so you can jump quickly between different elements without having to select one to modify.
The new Formatting Task pane is the single source for formatting–all of the different styling options are consolidated in one place. With this single task pane, you can modify not only charts, but also shapes and text in Excel.
Using the Formatting Task pane
The fastest way to open the Formatting Task pane is to double-click a chart element. You can also use the keyboard shortcut CTRL+1 while a chart element is selected. There are two other ways to open the task pane:
The first way: On a chart, select an element. On the Ribbon, select the Chart Tools Format tab, then click Format Selection.
The second way: On a chart, select an element. Right-click, then select Format <element> where <element> is the axis, series, legend, title, or area that was selected.
Once open, the Formatting Task pane remains available until you close it. Since it always stays on the right or left side of the screen, the pane remains unobtrusive as you concentrate on other tasks. The options in the Formatting Task pane will change based on which element is currently selected. For example, if you select a legend, the Formatting Task pane offers layout, fill, and effect options uniquely tailored to the legend element. With this more intuitive experience, you can feel free to leave the Formatting Task pane open while you format different elements of your chart.
Selecting chart elements in the Formatting Task pane
The element selector in the Formatting Task pane allows you to jump quickly between different elements without selecting them in the chart itself. Since some chart elements are small and perhaps difficult to select, the element selector is a great alternative to the “hunt and peck” approach.
The element selector is in the top left of the Formatting Task pane. The selected element is displayed, along with a down arrow. Clicking the down arrow opens a dropdown menu that shows all elements of the selected chart. When you choose an element from this menu, the Formatting Task pane displays options uniquely tailored to this element, and it also selects this element in the chart.
You can also find the element selector on the Ribbon on the Chart Tools Format tab.
Chart options in the Formatting Task pane
Chart options in the Formatting Task pane are in two categories: Size & Properties and element-specific.
Size & Properties option
Size & Properties deals with sizing, alignment, and miscellaneous properties such as alt text and locks.
The Chart Area element is unique in that its Size & Properties options affect the chart as a whole. Size, scale, and aspect ratio can be adjusted only on the Chart Area element, from which all other chart elements derive their inherent size and scale. The Chart Area element also controls the alt text of the chart, whether the chart moves and/or sizes with its underlying cells, and whether the chart is printable and locked.
Other chart elements can adjust their alignment from the Size & Properties options, which dictate vertical alignment, text direction and angle, and margins.
There are unique, element-specific options for axis, legends, and series:
Axis Options. Axis options allows you to adjust the axis bounds and units, the placement and interval of its labels, and other options including tick marks and number format.
Legend Options. Legend options allows you to specify the position of the legend, and whether or not it overlaps the chart.
Series Options. Series options allows you to specify whether the series should be plotted on the primary or secondary axis, the spacing and width of the columns on a bar or column chart, and the angle and explosion (separation) of the slices of a pie chart.
Line, fill, and effect options in the Formatting Task pane
In addition to chart options, the Formatting Task pane allows you to fine-tune the visuals of each chart element by offering a multitude of line, fill, and effect styles. These styling options are available for shapes as well.
Line options allow you to adjust the styling of the lines and borders of each chart element. There are two line types: solid and gradient. A solid line uses one color throughout, while a gradient line changes smoothly from one color to another along its path. Regardless of the line type you choose, you can adjust a line’s thickness, transparency, dash type, and endpoint settings.
Fill options allow you to choose how the inner portion of each chart element is filled. There are four fill types: solid, gradient, pattern, and picture. A solid fill uses only one color, while a gradient fill smoothly blends multiple colors along its filled region. A pattern fill tiles the inner fill region with preset imprints such as crosshatches and tiles, and a picture fill uses preset textures or a picture that you specify.
Please note that certain chart elements, such as the series of a Line Chart, do not have an inner fill region to color or tile. Fill options are disabled for these chart elements.
Effect options offer a powerful set of effects that add visual impact to your charts. Effects include shadows, glows, soft edges, and 3-D formatting.
Shadow. This effect adds a shadow either outside or inside the chart element.
3-D Formatting. This effect adds a bevel to the chart element to give it a 3-dimensional relief.
Text options in the Formatting Task pane
In addition to modifying the look and feel of charts and shapes, you can also style text inside these objects.
Text options are in the top right of the Formatting Task pane. Clicking Text Options toggles the task pane into text styling mode. You can toggle back to the former chart and shape styling mode at any time by clicking the element selector’s title.
In text styling mode, you can modify the look and feel of your text using the same line, fill, and effect options that are available for charts and shapes.
Tell us what you think
The new Formatting Task pane is just one of many ways to customize and refine the look and feel of your charts. The on-object buttons featuring the new Chart Elements and Chart Styles provide quick access to the most common chart customizations, but when you need detail-level control, now you can get it with the Formatting Task pane. Please try it out, and give us your thoughts and feedback on the experience–we’d love to hear what you think!