How to Plot Multiple Lines on an Excel Graph

by John Michael Thomas
Data entered in two separate columns with headers in the first row of each column.

Data entered in two separate columns with headers in the first row of each column.

When you create a line chart in Microsoft Excel, your chart may display only a single plot line. It's often helpful, however, to plot two or more lines on the same chart, for example you may have multiple data series that were collected at the same time, or you want to compare data taken at different times. To create an Excel chart with multiple lines, create a new chart with multiple plot lines or add plot lines to an existing chart.

Create a New Chart With Multiple Lines

Enter Your Data

If you already have a spreadsheet with data entered into columns, skip to the next step (Create Your Chart, below).

Step 1: Enter the labels for each of the data series

In the first row of the worksheet, enter the labels for each of the data series to plot. Since each data series (the data for each separate line to be plotted) must be in a separate column, you must enter the labels for each data series in a separate column on the first row. Excel uses the labels in the first row of each column to label the lines in the chart for the data in that column.

Step 2: Enter your data

Enter your data into each of your columns, in the rows below the labels.

Here's an example worksheet showing two data series. The data for each series is in a separate column, and the label to display on the chart for each is in the first row of each column.

Step 3: Create Your Chart

1. Select all the cells in each column that contain your data.

Tip

  • If there is at least one empty row and one empty column between the data for your chart and any other data in the worksheet (or if the data for your chart is the only data in the worksheet), you can select all your data cells by selecting any cell of the data and typing Ctrl-A.

2. On the Office Ribbon select the Insert tab, click on Line in the Charts section of the ribbon, and then select the type of chart you want to create.

When you select Line in the Charts section of the Office Ribbon's Insert tab, you're presented with multiple options for the type of line chart to create.

Tip

  • There are multiple types of line charts used for different purposes. If you're unsure what type of line chart to create, select either Line or Line with Markers. Don't worry if it's not right the first time, since you can change it later if you need to.

Excel creates a new chart that displays a separate plot line for each column of data.

Add a Line to an Existing Chart

Step 1: Enter your new data

Enter or copy and paste the data for the new plot line into the column immediately to the right of the original data. Make sure to add a label to the first row of the new column so the chart can display a label for the new plot line.

Step 2: Select the chart

Click on the chart that displays the original data to select it.

Step 3: Edit the Chart data range

Right-click on the chart and choose Select Data... from the pop-up menu. Alternately, click Select Data from the Data section of the Office Ribbon in the Chart Tools Design tab.

New data has been added to the right of the existing data, including a label, the chart has been selected, and Select Data can be chosen from either the Ribbon or the right-click menu

The Select Data Source dialog opens. The data displayed in the chart is shown in the Chart data range field.

The Chart data range field in the Select Data Source dialog initially displays the range

Tip

4. In the Chart data range field, change the last letter of the displayed range, to make it match the letter of the last column of the new data.

In the example, the Chart data range displays =Sheet2!$A$1:$A$12, but the new column of data is column $B. So the last A (in the cell reference $A$12) must be changed to a B. The resulting Chart data range displays =Sheet2!$A$1:$B$12.

The Chart data range field in the Select Data Source dialog now displays the range

After changing the Chart data range, press the OK button. The chart updates to display an additional plot line for the new data.

The Select Data Source dialog closes and the chart updates to display a new plot line for the new column of data; the original plot line of the original data remains, but the chart scale updates to include both the old and new data

Tip

  • There are two other ways to include new data in the chart from the Select Data Source dialog.

    1. Press the range selection button (the small button on the right side of the Chart data range field that looks like a grid), and then use your mouse to select all the chart data in the worksheet. Make sure to include both the old and new data, and to include the first row of both columns that includes the plot labels.

    2. Press the Add icon in the Legend Entries (Series) list. You must then separately type in or select (using the range selection button on each field) only the first row of data in the new columns, and then all the other data in the new columns except the first row.

About the Author

John Michael Thomas is a writer and technology consultant with more than 20 years experience in software and systems engineering, IT, cybersecurity, industrial automation and chemical and biological weapons detection. He holds a Bachelor of Science in computer science and mathematics and has worked with Fortune 100 technology companies, film and television productions, and the U.S. government.