Excel charts are a powerful tool for visualizing data, but sometimes you need to represent different scales of data on the same chart. This is where a secondary axis comes in handy. In this guide, we will walk you through the process of adding a secondary axis in Excel, step by step. By the end of this article, you’ll be able to create charts with multiple axes that enhance the clarity and effectiveness of your data representation.

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Understanding the Need for a Secondary Axis

Before we delve into the mechanics of adding a secondary axis, let’s discuss why it is necessary. Consider a scenario where you have a dataset showing the sales and profit margin of a company for six years. If you plot both these variables on the same axis, the difference in scales becomes apparent. While sales figures may be large, profit margins are usually much smaller. As a result, it becomes challenging to compare and analyze the data accurately.

By adding a secondary axis to your Excel chart, you can overcome this issue. The secondary axis allows you to plot data with different scales, enabling a clear visual representation of the variation in both series of data. Let’s dive into the steps of adding a secondary axis in Excel.

Step-by-Step Guide: Adding a Secondary Axis in Excel

Step 1: Select the Dataset

To begin, select the dataset that you want to create a chart with in Excel. In our example, we have a dataset containing sales and profit margin data for six years.

Step 2: Click the Insert Tab

Next, navigate to the Insert tab in Excel. This tab contains various options for inserting charts, tables, and other elements into your spreadsheet.

In Excel 2013 and higher versions (Excel 2016, 2019, and Office 365), you can utilize the Recommended Charts feature. This feature analyzes your data and suggests several chart options based on its analysis.

Step 4: Select a Chart with a Secondary Axis

In the Insert Chart dialog box, scan through the recommended charts in the left pane. Look for a chart option that includes a secondary axis. This type of chart will allow you to plot data with different scales.

Step 5: Customize the Chart (Optional)

After selecting the desired chart with a secondary axis, you can customize it further to suit your needs. You can change the chart type, add axis titles, adjust the colors, and perform other formatting options to enhance the chart’s visual appeal and clarity.

Alternative Method: Adding the Secondary Axis Manually

If the Recommended Charts feature does not provide the desired chart with a secondary axis, you can add it manually using the following steps:

  1. Select the dataset.
  2. Click the Insert tab.
  3. In the Charts group, choose the Insert Columns or Bar chart option.
  4. Select the Clustered Column option from the resulting chart.
  5. Identify and select the profit margin bars in the chart.
  6. Right-click on the selected profit margin bars and click on ‘Format Data Series.’
  7. In the right-pane that opens, select the Secondary Axis option to add a secondary axis.
  8. Right-click on the profit margin bar again and select ‘Change Series Chart Type.’
  9. In the Change Chart Type dialog box, change the Profit Margin chart type to ‘Line with Markers.’

Tips for Working with Secondary Axes

When working with secondary axes in Excel charts, keep the following tips in mind:

  1. Consider the range and scales of your data. Ensure that the primary and secondary axes adequately represent the data values without distorting the visual representation.
  2. Customize the axis titles and labels to provide clear context and explanation for each axis.
  3. Use contrasting colors for different series to enhance readability, especially when printing charts in black and white.
  4. Experiment with different chart types to find the most effective visualization for your data.


Adding a secondary axis to Excel charts is a straightforward process that greatly enhances the clarity and effectiveness of your data visualization. By representing data with different scales on separate axes, you can accurately compare and analyze your data. Whether you choose to use the Recommended Charts feature or manually add a secondary axis, Excel provides the tools you need to create visually compelling charts. So go ahead and take advantage of this feature to elevate your data presentations to the next level.

Remember, practice makes perfect. Keep experimenting with different chart types and customization options to find the best representation for your specific data. With the skills you’ve acquired through this guide, you’re well on your way to becoming an expert in Excel charting.


Does adding a secondary axis affect the formatting of the chart?

No, adding a secondary axis does not directly affect the formatting of the chart. However, you have the flexibility to customize the formatting, including colors, labels, titles, and other visual elements, to make the chart more visually appealing and informative.

Can I customize the scale and labels of the secondary axis in Excel?

Yes, Excel allows you to customize the scale and labels of the secondary axis. You can adjust the minimum and maximum values, add axis titles, change the number format, and customize other formatting options to meet your specific requirements.

Is it possible to add multiple secondary axes in an Excel chart?

No, Excel does not support adding multiple secondary axes in a single chart. However, you can create additional secondary axes by creating separate charts and overlaying them to achieve the desired effect.

What other customization options are available for Excel charts?

Excel provides a wide range of customization options for charts. You can customize data labels, add data markers, apply different chart styles, modify gridlines, adjust axis scales, and more. Experimenting with these options can help you create visually appealing and informative charts.

How can I make my Excel charts more visually appealing with a secondary axis?

To enhance the visual appeal of your Excel charts with a secondary axis, consider using contrasting colors for different series, adding axis titles and labels, and utilizing appropriate chart types. You can also experiment with various formatting options, such as adding legends, changing fonts, and applying gradient fills, to make your charts visually engaging.

Does adding a secondary axis impact the performance of Excel when working with large datasets?

Adding a secondary axis itself does not significantly impact the performance of Excel. However, working with large datasets, multiple charts, or complex chart formatting can sometimes affect the performance. It is recommended to optimize your data and use efficient charting techniques to ensure smooth performance when working with extensive data.

Are there any alternatives to using a secondary axis for comparing data in Excel charts?

Yes, there are alternative ways to compare data in Excel charts. You can consider using combination charts, where you can plot different data series on different chart types within the same chart. You can also create separate charts and place them side by side for visual comparison. Additionally, you can use other visual elements like data bars, sparklines, or conditional formatting to represent and compare data in Excel.

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