The formatting and style elements for your charts, together with other formatting tools, are codified within a simple XML template. This can easily be edited using Notepad or another text editor (we usually use Notepad ++ because if you set the Language to XML it will display it in colour as below).
The complete XML for the default QuickChart template looks like this:
It may look slightly daunting if you’ve not done any computer coding, but it’s quite simple to customise an existing template – you just edit the text shown in blue above to change the template colours, fonts, sizes and formats. Also, provided that you save a copy of your starting template, you don’t have to worry about breaking anything. Just remember that all values, including numbers, need to be inside quote marks (“”), and don’t delete any of the “<” or “/>” characters as the program uses them to identify the separate blocks.
There are three main blocks in the template: “Chart”, “Colours” and “CellFormats”. Let’s look at the Chart block first.
The code for the Chart formatting is shown here:
As you would expect, the ChartTitle line contains the formatting for the Chart Title. Here you can specify whether you want a title or not (show=”true”/show=”false”), where it should be and the font, size, and colour, expressed as the RGB colour code.
The Sizes block, allows you to create the list of possible sizes (in cm) that can be selected from the “Size” dropdown on the Excel ribbon toolbar. You give each size a name, a height and a width. You can also apply a scaling factor (slideScale) that will make the chart larger or smaller when you export it to PowerPoint. This can be useful in certain circumstances, but should usually just be set to “1”.
You can select the size options for a given chart in two places; on the ribbon, or on the right-click chart context menu. As you can see, there is a 1-to-1 match between the sizes in the menus and the ChartSize elements in the Sizes block.
Most of the other formatting blocks should be quite self-explanatory – they follow the same pattern of choosing whether to show that element, what colour it should be, what font it should use, and what size.
You can set the default number formats for the axes using the standard Excel number codes. You can see these if you enter the “Format Number” window within Excel. When you are charting dates, QuickChart will try to apply the most appropriate format depending on whether it is days, months or years being charted. These can be formatted differently in the “DayDate”, “MonthDate” and “YearDate” NumberFormats (or you can set them to be identical if you prefer).
The AxisTickLabel has an extra field “Angle” – this allows you to angle the text on the horizontal axis to make reading labels easier. This can be set to 0 to keep them vertical.
The GridLines have extra fields to set the lineStyle and the dashStyle. These follow the Microsoft enumerations for these fields which can be found here and here. You can also set the weight of the line using the appropriate field.
The Colours block is quite straightforward.
The ChartColours block lists the colours that will be used (in order) to colour in the data series in your charts. Unlike in the default Excel chart formatting, you are not limited to just six colours – in fact, you can have as many as you wish to specify! Just add an extra element with the required RGB colour code.
Some of the special chart types within QuickChart (e.g., Waterfall charts) automatically distinguish between Positive, Negative and Neutral values and colour them appropriately. You can set these colours in the “HighlightColours” block. Just enter the RGB values as usual. To maximise legibility, you may wish for label text to be a different colour when used in conjunction with these colours. You can customise these in the “TextColours” block.
QuickChart gives you the ability to set a range of custom cell formats in the right-click context menu within Excel, under the “QuickChart Format” element.
This list can be completely customised in the CellFormat block in the template. As you can see, below the “Clear Borders and Colours” command, there is a 1-to-1 match between the menu commands and the CellFormat elements in the XML.
These formats are additive, i.e., if a format command is not specified, it will not change that setting in the cell. For example, the “Light Blue Fill” will change the fill of a cell, but not the font, the boldness, the size, the borders or any other format condition. This gives you maximum flexibility in specifying a range of formats to suit your needs. You are also not limited by the number of formats you wish to have available – just add or delete lines as appropriate.