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When & how to use the 30+ chart types in Power BI?



Power BI has a LOT of chart types. More than 30 of them. So, picking the correct chart for a data analysis situation is hard. Here is a picture of a frustrated Power BI developer trying to figure out the right chart for her data analysis.

A Power BI developer frustrated trying to figure out which chart to use...

In this article, let me explain when & how to use these Power BI charts along with my top tips to make them.

The Power BI Visualization (Charting) Options

Here are the 30+ charting options in Power BI (as of July 2023). In this article, I am going to cover a majority of them.

We can categorize these charts into below groups.

  • Bar / Column Charts 📊
  • Line & Area Charts 📈
  • Pie & Donut Charts 🍩
  • Card Visuals 💳
  • Tables & Matrices 📰
  • Scatter (XY) plots 
  • Maps 🗺
  • Everything Else

Let’s understand when & how to use these charts now.

Bar & Column Charts in Power BI

When:  Use them to compare things


Top Tips

  • Use the “Legend” option to split the chart
  • If you put more then one field in the “axis”, you can drilldown on the charts. 
  • You can also split the chart into many using the “small multiple” option. See this video to learn more.
  • When using “time” or “date” axis, try the column charts instead of bar charts. 

Line & Area Charts in Power BI

When:  Use them to see the trends


Top Tips

  • Convert line to “stepped” line chart by enabling the “stepped” option in formats.
  • Enable markers to improve the line chart readability.
  • When you have a line chart with date axis, you can use the “analytics” options to introduce forecast or trend lines.
  • Don’t make line chart with “things” on axis. They are meaningless (most of the time).

Pie & Donut Charts

When:  To understand the full picture & contribution


Top Tips

  • Always customize the labels and legend to get best look for your pies (or donuts)
  • Avoid making too many slices. No one likes a tiny slice of pie.

Card Visuals

When:  To share single numbers, KPIs & messages


Top Tips

  • Add context to your cards whenever possible. This is a powerful way to engage your audience. Read this article for more.
  • Power BI recently introduced a “NEW Card” visual. Give it a try. It lets you build cards with more formatting options and it is faster than regular cards.

Table & Matrix Visuals in Power BI

When:  To show details


Top Tips

  • Adjust row padding on tables & matrices to make them look easy on eyes.
  • Add conditional formatting to one or two fields to elevate the data.
  • Apply correct sort order on your tables. If you hold SHIFT while sorting the tables, you can sort on multiple columns!
  • When you have lots of data, Filter your tables down to just important points.

Power BI Maps

When:  To explain geographical data


Top Tips

  • Power BI has a lot of map visuals. Try them all to see which one gives you best fit for your data. My favorite is the new Azure Map Visual. Learn more about it here.
  • While maps are useful, I find them clunky. So try tables or other charts from time to time.
  • Do not overlay useless information like traffic on to maps. Keep them light so the focus can be on the data.

Scatter (XY) Plot in Power BI

When:  To explain 2 dimensions in one picture & to explore relationships


Top Tips

  • XY plots are great for exploring relationships. But remember the golden rule – Correlation is not same as causation.
  • If you have a Date dimension, use it on the “Play Axis” option to make a cool animated XY graph in Power BI.

Waterfall Chart

When:  To explain how things have changed from one point / place to another. 


Top Tips

  • Use the “explain” feature of Power BI to auto-generate useful waterfall graphs for you.

Don't forget

Don’t forget title, sub-title, legend, labels & tool-tips. 

These can make or break a chart.


Top Tips

Everything Else...?

Use with caution.

When in doubt, try them with your audience, get their feedback and proceed as needed.

Demo Workbook with all these charts

Here is a Power BI workbook with all these visuals. Check it out to learn a bit more. 

When & How to use Power BI Charts - Video

I made a short & useful video on all of the important chart types in Power BI. Check it out below for some extra tips, pointers and information on when & how to use Power BI visuals.

Watch it below or go to my channel.

Play Video about Power BI - Chart Selection - Handy Guide

More Resources on Power BI

  • Course: I run an online Power BI course to make you awesome with it. Check out the program and sign up today to learn Power BI, the right way. 


Here are some articles & videos to help you master Power BI:



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