With each passing day the amount of information contained in a single spreadsheet, slide, document is growing. Thanks to demanding bosses, clients and colleagues, we are now supposed to provide all the relevant information in as much less space as possible.
This is where micro charting or light weight data exploration has become a rage. The idea of shrinking a chart to fit in side a cell has been catching up with corporates and individuals alike.
In this post, we are going to review 7 of the MS Excel Micro-charting Alternatives so that you have a good idea of finding the right micro charting tool for your purpose.
1. Incell excel charts using REPT() spreadsheet function
Incell charting using REPT() spreadsheet is one of the easiest ways to include some data visualization capabilities to your excel tables without sweat. Click here to learn this technique of drawing incell charts.
- Very easy to implement
- No need to install any VBA or Add-ins
- Suitable for simple data visualizations in tables
- You can only make variants of bar charts
- Difficult to format, highlight specific points with out tweaking
- Not suitable for corporate environment where you need lots of visualizations on the tables
2. Incell charts using REPT(), cell formatting and conditional formatting
This technique involves using in-cell charts to prepare the micro chart and then using excel features like cell alignment and conditional formatting to provide additional information, thus making the charts rich. Learn more.
- Moderately easy to implement
- No need for VBA or add-ins
- Suitable for visualizing project plans, sales reports etc.
- Conditional formatting has limitation of only 3 conditions / formats
- Not suitable for complex visualizations
3. Resizing regular excel charts to fit inside a cell
By resizing the normal excel charts and removing all the chart labels, axis, background etc. we can get a micro chart effect with all the goodness of regular excel charts.
- Since most of us familiar with regular excel charts, this is an easy to implement technique
- All the chart types are available for micro charting, so you can create spark lines, pie charts, stacked bars etc.
- Easy to format, highlight charts
- Not all charts scale elegantly
- Needs a lot of formatting to remove all the chart labels etc.
- Not suitable if you have lots of charts to prepare as maintaining that many charts is painful
4. Using custom fonts / ding bats to create micro charts
Since we can insert any character in to a cell using formula, by installing a custom bar chart / pie font in our computer we can create incell graphs in excel with ease. Click here to see example pie chart, line chart.
- Easy to implement
- Reduces lots of chart maintenance / creation work because of the fonts
- Suitable for simple visualizations
- Not shareable since other person need to have the font installed before seeing the spreadsheet
- Not for everyone, since installing fonts is often not possible on office computers
- Not suitable for complex visualizations / dashboards
5. Using Spark lines UDF from Daily dose of excel
If you are planning to get simple spark lines on your spreadsheet cells then Daily dose of Excel’s sparklines UDF can be handy for you. This technique takes a set of numeric values as input and draws a line in the output cell based on the input.
- Moderately easy to implement
- Suitable for instant spark lines
- Makes a good addition to your sales report, project plans etc.
- You need to install the User Defined VBA Function in order to get this work
- When sharing the work book with others, they need to enable UDFs / VBA to make this work
- Suitable only when you want spark lines
6. Using a free excel micro charting tool like Spark lines for Excel by Fabrice
Spark lines for Excel is an excellent alternative to make your reports / dashboards look truly professional without spending a penny. This is set of VBA UDFs defined to draw micro bar charts, line charts, bullet charts, reverse bullet charts, Pareto charts, Scale-lines, variance charts and cascade charts. The latest version is available for download on sourceforge.
- Totally free with truly world class micro charting in excel options
- Easy to implement if you know how to install UDFs / excel add-ins
- Suitable for enterprise class dashboards, sales reports
- Since this is a free / open source version, any implementation issues will have to be solved by you
- Requires installing UDFs on others computer or enabling VBA before you can share this with them
7. Commercial alternatives like Bonavista micro charts
Of course if you are a heavy user of micro charts and you (your company) needs a totally professional solution for your dashboards then you may want to consider one of the commercial alternatives like Bonavista micro charts.
Since they advertise on my site through Google ads, I am not planning to talk about this any further. But if you have any questions, drop a comment. Andreas, who represents both Xlcubed and Bonavista systems is a frequent commenter here and he would be happy to answer your questions.
So, which one should I use?
If you want a simple incell chart, use one of the REPT() based techniques.
and If you want a full fledged micro charts for you reports / dashboards then start with free excel spark lines and then if needed migrate to one of the commercial alternatives.