Stacked area charts make sense when you want to show changes in a part-to-whole relationship over time. For example, here we have sales data for an eclectic website with 4 product lines: banjos, hammocks, cycling bags, and organic flannel. In this case, the four product lines have a part-to-whole relationship - together, they represent total sales. Let’s plot this data in a stacked area chart. Since we have totals in the table, I’ll exclude those from the selection. You can find area charts under the line chart icon, but in general you’ll probably get better results with recommended charts. Notice the description in recommended charts mentions the part-to-whole relationship. The result is a chart with 4 data series, stacked one on top of the other. Notice the plot order follows the source data, but moves away from the origin. You can adjust plot order using select data. Or, by changing the source data before you make a chart. Next, let’s take a closer look at the stacked area chart. First, we can see total sales were a little over 25k in 2012, and over 35k in 2015. We can also see that overall sales are increasing. Looking at the four product lines, we can see banjo and organic flannel sales have been increasing. Hammock sales are relatively flat, though it’s difficult to interpret in this chart. Cycling bag sales have been decreasing. In fact, we the chart makes it clear that increases in banjo and organic flannel are more than making up for the decline in cycling bag sales. In addition, we can guess that organic flannel is a new product line, since sales in 2012 were almost zero. These are the type of observations you can make with a stacked area chart. I also want to mention a note about data labels and area charts. Adding data labels to area chart is generally awkward, because there’s not space for the labels at either end. However, sometimes data labels are a good way to call out data series names in an area chart. To do this, first enable data labels. Then select labels for each data series in turn, and enable Series name under Label Options. You can then remove the legend if desired. 

Dave Bruns

Hi - I’m Dave Bruns, and I run Exceljet with my wife, Lisa. Our goal is to help you work faster in Excel. We create short videos, and clear examples of formulas, functions, pivot tables, conditional formatting, and charts.