How to Add Axis Labels in Microsoft Excel

Knowing how to use Excel is an incredibly useful task in today’s society. This is especially important if you work with any type of data management or if you are a science student. Excel is creeping into the life sciences too however and the applications for the program are endless.

Excel tends to have a relatively intuitive interface, but beneath that is an array of possibilities if you know how to access these. In this article we discuss axis labels and how to work with them to your advantage. You may find that your institution has specific demands on font, size etc they require in reports. If you are submitting anything to a journal you can also expect an array of very details instructions on font setting and sizing. So with no further ado lets have a look at labelling your axis and customizing the labels if required.

Adding Simple Pre-set Axis Labels

The first step to adding labels is creating a graph, so lets do that.

Step 1: Find your data – in our example we have someone documenting changes in weight over time. This lends itself well to a scatter plot. Look at your own data and decide what type of graph suits you.

Step 2: Create your chosen graph – as you can see our graph is showing days on the x-axis and the weight in the y-axis. The axis is not labelled so someone looking at it would have no idea what is going on. We also have the option of adding a title. To add a title just klick where it says chart title and type the name you want. If you do not want a title, then just delete the textbox.

Step 3: adding the x-axis title – In the top ribbon select “Chart Design” (orange arrow), and then select “Add Chart Element” (Purple Arrow). A Menu will appear in the menu select “Axis Titles” (red box) and then “Primary Horizontal”. As you can see on the chat an axis title text box has been inserted under the x-axis (Green Box). Next we’ll fill in the axis name and chart title.

Step 4: name your title. To do this just click your mouse cursor on the text box that appeared in step three and start typing. Note that it is scientific convention (which you only have to adhere to if you’re a scientist) to put the variable first i.e. “Time” and the unit i.e. “Days” in brackets after.

Step 5: here we add the y-axis title text box. To do this, follow the same steps as in Step three (all selections highlighted in the image as well) until the final menu, here you select “Primary Vertical” seen in the red text box, as you can see on the chart a text box has appeared on the y-axis seen in the green text box.

Step 6: We name the y-axis using the same scientific convention with the variable “Weight” first and then the unit “Kg” in brackets after. Note that to move your cursor through the text e.g. if you need to correct a type you use the up-down arrows on the keyboard not the right-left arrows as you normally would. You can also click with your mouse cursor.

So now we have some basic axis labels, but we might still need to customise these. We can change the entire chart design or just focus on the labels. In the next section we focus on how to change only the labels if you are happy with the chart layout otherwise.

Customizing Axis Labels

The possibilities for what you can do with your axis labels is relatively endless. Therefor We’ll just show you an example of what can be done to give you an idea. For the axis labels in the above graph we will aim to make three changes to the text;

  1. Make the unit lettering bold
  2. Change the font to Times New Roman and make the size two units smaller
  3. Make the lettering bold black instead of the pre-set grey

After that we will also show you how to add a box around each axis label if you wish and how to change where the label sits on the graph as well as the text direction.

Formatting the Axis text

Lets start by making the unit names bold;

To make the units bold within the brackets we highlight the text to make bold (Days and Kg) on at a time then press Ctrl + B (on windows) or Command + B (on a mac). As you can see in the image the text is now bold.

Next we’ll change the font.

To change the font of an axis we work with one axis at a time. Start by highlighting the text on the axis (Green box). Next select home in the top ribbon (Orange arrow), in the ribbon below you’ll see a box with the current font (Red box and purple arrow), click here -> as you click a long list of fonts will appear. It can be time consuming to scroll to the right font so if you know the name of the font you want start typing it in the box. Select the font by clicking on it and the fond for the selected axis will change. You have to repeat everything for the second axis.

Next lets look at changing the size.

Changing the size is similar to changing the font, again we highlight the text (the x-axis is highlighted in the image), then under the home tab we look next to the font selection box, there is a small box with a number in it (Purple arrow), typing in or selecting a new number here will change the text size. For now we will choose 8.

Finally, as mentioned the grey color is not nicely contrasting the background so lets look at how to make the text a more classic black.

We do this again under the home tab. In the image above we have already done the x-axis and have now highlighted the y-axis label. Under and slightly to the left of the font size selection box, there is a letter A with a colored line under it (the line is black in the image), if you click on this you pop up a color selection menu. There will be preset colors within the theme or you can select “More Colors” as seen in the bottom of the pop-up menu to create a custom color.

This should give you an idea with how to work with text formatting within axis titles. We’ll next look at formatting the text box and it’s position on the graph. For most purposes you will only need axis like the ones shown above, however.

Formatting the Axis Text Box

Let’s make another list of desired changes:

  1. Creating a solid line purple box around the x-axis title
  2. Changing the position of the y-axis title to be right justified and at the bottom of the axis, with a horizontal text direction.

If you click on the axis title text box (Green rectangle) a menu will appear on the right termed “Format Axis title” there are three selectins under this, a bucket which allows to add a colored fill or a solid line (red box. Once we select solid line a menu appears giving us potential line properties such as color (purple arrow) we can select the line color but also adjust other properties such as the width (orange arrow), the transparency and the line spacing.

Having selected a purple box we then adjusted the line width to 2pt. This is now reflected on the graph.

Next lets work with the Y axis.

Next to the bucket we have two other symbols the pentagod (which allows us to add shading, 3D effects and other types of effect to the text box and a square the arrows inside and surrounding it, this is named “Size and Position”. It is under this third menu that we can work with text direction, position within the text box and size.

Having clicked on the y-axis, and selected the “Size and position” we open the text direction and select horizontal. You can also make a custom angle or choose among the other presets. With the vertical alignment we make no changes as the text box is tight, however if the text box was larger there may have been possibility to make an adjustment.

Finally to move the text box to align with the bottom of the axis we just move it with the mouse pointer.

Start by selecting the Y axis, and holding the right button (single click with mac) move the pointer until the text box aligns where you’d like it to. For our example we pull it down to align with the origin.

So now we have made all the planned changes to the graph. This is of course not how you should present your graph but merely a demonstration to show you how to use the formatting features in Excel.

We hope that you have enjoyed the tutorial and that you can now confidently work with axis titles and their formatting.