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Add a Vertical Line to a Column or Line Chart: Error Bar Method.

How do you add a nice horizontal line to a column or line chart, to show a target value, or the series average? The method involves adding a new one-point series with an error bar, applying it to the secondary axes, and making the secondary axes disappear.

Use this data to make a column or line chart. The blank cell in the upper left of this range tells Excel that "Value" is the series names, and the dates in the first column are the category (X axis) labels. (I use dates in this example, but you could use any type of category labels.)

[blank]    Value
11/11/02     15
11/10/02     16
 11/9/02     16
 11/8/02     10
 11/7/02     14
 11/6/02      9
 11/5/02     10
 11/4/02      8
 11/3/02      6
 11/2/02      4
 11/1/02      3
10/31/02      3

In a free section of your worksheet, set up a range with X and Y values corresponding to one endpoint of your indicator line, shown below. The Y value could be 0 or 1; Here the value is 0. We will use the secondary Y axis for this line, and scale its min and max to 0 and 1.

  • For a time-scale axis, simply use the date as the X values for the two points. Make sure that the time-scale axis has a Base Unit of "Day(s)" (Double click the axis > Scale tab).
  • If the X values are text categories, you should enter the number i to have your indicator line fall on the ith column or marker; use i - 0.5 or i + 0.5 to put the indicator line before or after the ith column or marker.

Note that if you've checked the Categories in Reverse Order checkbox in the X axis scale format dialog, you need to count up to i from right to left. The name for the added series will be "Today," although by the time you read this, the date shown will be well behind us. To keep this value up-to date, enter the formula =TODAY into the appropriate cells.

[blank]    Today
11/9/02      0

Select and copy this range, select the chart, and from the Edit menu, choose Paste Special. Select the New Series, Categories in First Column, and Series Names in First Row options. The new series has the same style (Column or Line) as the first series.

Select the new series "Today"; since the series is not visible, click on the "Value" series, then press the up arrow key once to move the selection to the "Today" series. With the series now selected, choose Chart Type from the Chart menu. Choose the XY Scatter type, subtype Scatter, markers without connecting lines. The series changes (I've formatted it as a cross) and secondary axes appear on the chart.

Double click on the marker for the "Today" series. Click on the Y Error Bars tab, select the Plus error bar, with a fixed value of 1. Double click on the resulting error bar, and on the Patterns tab, select a color and line style for the vertical line. Here I've chosen a solid red line.

Now it's time to neaten up the axes. Select the secondary X axis and press Delete (or more formally: right click on the chart, choose Chart Options from the Pop Up menu, click on the Axes tab, and uncheck the box for the Secondary X Axis).

Double click on the secondary Y axis, and on the Scale tab, set 0 for Minimum and 1 for Maximum. On the Patterns tab, choose None for Major and Minor Tick Marks and for Tick Mark labels to make the axis disappear.

An alternative approach is to delete the secondary Y axis, and use the minimum or maximum primary Y axis scale values in place of 0 or 1 for the dummy series Y value and Y error bar length. This requires setting the primary Y axis scale parameters manually, however, and changing the axis scale parameters and the dummy series Y values and error bar lengths whenever warranted by changes in the primary series' data. This approach is less desirable than using the secondary Y axis, but if the Y axis is being used for other data series, it's handy to know that you could always fall back on this approach.

All that may be left is some fine tuning of the line position. Up until now my example has used the target date to position the line on top of the target column or marker. These two charts show the effect of using the target date minus 0.5 and plus 0.5 for before and after the target date. is a zipped workbook that shows this technique and others for reliably placing a vertical or horizontal line on your column or line chart, using a dummy series or a dummy error bar. Here are some related pages on this site:

Add a Horizontal Line to a Column or Line Chart: Series Method.

Add a Vertical Line to a Column or Line Chart: Series Method.

Add a Horizontal Line to a Column or Line Chart: Error Bar Method.


Peltier Tech Chart Utility

Peltier Technical Services, Inc.

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