How-to Add Clean Breaks or Cliff Edges to an Excel Area Chart

How-to Add Edges to Excel Area Charts
How-to Add Edges to Excel Area Charts

How-to Add Clean Breaks or Cliff Edges to an Excel Area Chart

A stacked area chart displays an area of points above other data points and connects them to the next category.  However, there is no setting to Add Clean Breaks or Cliff Edges to an Excel Area Chart.  If you have blank data or zeros values in the data series, Excel will plot the data as a slope from your previous data point.

You get this from Excel Stacked Area Chart:

Stacked Area Chart Cliffs Stacked Area Chart
Stacked Area Chart Cliffs Stacked Area Chart

vs What you Really Want Excel with a Stacked Area Chart Gaps:

How-to Add Edges to Excel Area Charts
How-to Add Edges to Excel Area Charts

There is no standard way to add clean breaks or cliff edges to an Excel Area Chart. But, have no fear, you can trick Excel to show an area chart with multiple cliffs/edges.

Thanks to Jeff Mattson’s comment from YouTube that inspired this technique.





There is an Excel Bug with this Technique, so make sure you read the entire post or watch the entire video to make sure you know how to correct the bug and the best way to utilize this technique.

The Breakdown

Steps to Create

1) Add Filler Data Row

2) Create Stacked Column Chart

3) Move Filler Series to 2nd Axis

4) Change Filler Series Fill


SPECIAL - SAVE 10% until July 20th. Use code EDT.


5) Chart Clean Up

Bug/Issues with Area Chart Cliffs:

After Save, 2nd Axis Series does not display as previously created.

To fix this issue after opening the file again, move 2nd Axis Filler series to the Primary Axis and back to the Secondary Axis.  Then make sure to delete the vertical axis that will appear.

Step-by-Step

1) Add Filler Data Row

The base of this technique is that we need to add another series that will mask the connected data points that are sloping to the next category.

Therefore, with original chart data that looks like this:





Stacked Area Chart Cliffs Original Data 1
Stacked Area Chart Cliffs Original Data

Add another data series below the last category and insert a value of zero for each matching column of data as you see here:

Stacked Area Chart Cliffs Add Data for Second Axis 2
Stacked Area Chart Cliffs Add Data for Second Axis

2) Create Stacked Column Chart

You can now create your Excel Stacked Area Chart with the data we updated in step 1.  To do this, select the range from A1:M6 and then click on the Insert ribbon and then select Stacked Area chart from the Area Button in the Chart group.

Stacked Area Chart Cliffs Insert Stacked Area Chart
Insert Stacked Area Chart

Your Excel Stacked Area chart should now look like this:

Stacked Area Chart Cliffs Stacked Area Chart
Inserted Stacked Area Chart

3) Move Filler Series to 2nd Axis

For this trick, we need to move the dummy “2nd Axis” series to the secondary axis.

First, click on the chart, then click on the Layout ribbon and select “Series 2nd Axis” from the Chart Elements pick list in the Current Selection group.


SPECIAL - SAVE 10% until July 20th. Use code EDT.


Select Dummy 2nd Axis Series
Select Dummy 2nd Axis Series

Now that you have the “2nd Axis” dummy series selected, next, click on the Format Selection button in the Current Selection group to launch the Format Data Series dialog box.

Format Selection Button
Format Selection Button

From the Format Data Series dialog box, select the Secondary Axis radio button from the Series Options.

Format Data Series Dialog Box Series Options Secondary Axis
Format Data Series Dialog Box Series Options Secondary Axis

Your Stacked Area Excel Chart with Gaps should now look like this:

Dummy Series on 2nd Axis
Dummy Series on 2nd Axis

4) Change Filler Series Fill to White

We will now use the dummy 2nd Axis series to mask the slopes of the area charts to create the cliffs/gaps by matching the color of the chart background of white  To do this, if you have closed the Format Data Series dialog box, either complete the first part of step 3 above or click on the chart and press CTRL+1.  Then when you have the Format Data Series dialog box open, navigate to the Fill options and change the fill from Automatic to Solid Fill with a Color of white.

Format Data Series Dialog Box Fill Options Solid Fill White
Format Data Series Dialog Box Fill Options Solid Fill White

The chart should now mask the gaps of the Excel Stacked Area Chart and look like this:





Dummy Series Solid Fill White
Dummy Series Solid Fill White

5) Chart Clean Up

Your chart is pretty close, all we need to do is clean up the chart by deleting the secondary vertical axis of the Excel Stacked Area chart as well as the legend entry for the 2nd Axis dummy series.

To do this, select the chart, then select the secondary vertical axis and press the delete key.  Then click on the legend and then select the 2nd Axis legend entry and press the delete key.  Your chart will now look like this:

Final Stacked Area Chart Cliffs
Final Stacked Area Chart Cliffs

Bug/Issues with Area Chart Cliffs:

Please note that there is a bug that does not allow the setting of this area chart series on the secondary axis to remain after you close and open the chart.  So EVERY TIME you open the chart, you will have to perform the following action to reset your chart cliffs/chart gaps in the Excel Area Chart.

To Fix this Issue Complete the Following Steps

1) Move 2nd Axis Filler Series to Primary Axis


SPECIAL - SAVE 10% until July 20th. Use code EDT.


2) Move 2nd Axis Filler Series back to Secondary Axis

3) Delete 2nd Vertical Axis

Recommendation

Only use this type of cliff chart if you are going to print or use a screenshot to show the chart.

DO NOT send as an Excel file as the cliffs will disappear when opening the file.

Video Demonstration

Check out this Video tutorial on the techniques presented above.





Sample File Download

Click here to Download the Free Sample Excel Template File:
How-to-Add-Clean-Breaks-or-Cliff-Edges-to-an-Excel-Area-Chart.xlsx

This is an interesting Trick that will work, but unfortunately, it will not hold closing and reopening the saved Excel file.  Do you agree with me that it is a Bug in Excel?  Let me know in the comments below.

Steve=True





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