Sunday, June 22, 2008

Automating Excel: Creating Charts

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and sometimes a chart can make your point more effectively than the raw data behind it can. This is especially true when comparing relative values such as monthly revenue data or team statistics.

In our last episode, we looked at how to define titles in existing Excel charts. Sticking with the Excel Charts theme, let's now investigate how to create new charts in Excel.

A chart is a visualization of data, and for this example, the data represents Runs Scored and Runs Allowed for American League Baseball teams, as reported on the website. Our Excel worksheet contains a row for each team, with columns for Runs Scored and Runs Allowed:

We'll use the win32ole library for automating Excel, and we'll connect to a running instance of Excel and use the already open 'mlb_stats.xls' workbook:

require 'win32ole'
xl = WIN32OLE.connect('Excel.Application')
wb = xl.Workbooks('mlb_stats.xls')

Let's define some parameter variables that we'll use later:

xlColumns = 2
xlColumnClustered = 51
xlWhite = 2
xlRed = 3
xlBlue = 5
xlGray = 15

To add a new Chart object to the workbook's Charts collection, call the Charts.Add method:

mychart = wb.Charts.Add
mychart.Name = "MLB Scoring"

The Charts.Add method returns a reference to the newly-created Chart object, which we've assigned to the variable mychart.

To delete an existing Chart object, call the Charts(chart).Delete method, where chart is the name or (1-based) index of the chart to delete:

wb.Charts("MLB Scoring").Delete

Naturally, we can't produce a chart without data, and we use the SetSourceData method to define the source of the data that the chart will represent. This method takes 2 arguments, [1] a range of cells from a worksheet, and [2] a number that indicates whether to plot the graph by rows (1) or by columns (2):

mychart.SetSourceData wb.Worksheets("Runs Scored and Allowed").Range("A1:C15"), xlColumns

There are many different types of charts to choose from, and for our purpose, we'll use a 2-dimensional column [aka vertical bars] chart, setting the ChartType property to 51 (via our previously-defined xlColumnClustered variable):

mychart.ChartType = xlColumnClustered

Now, you could execute your code at this point and create a new chart. But let's tweak the colors a bit. The SeriesCollection object holds each series of data and its related properties. Our chart has 2 series, one for Runs Scored, and one for Runs Allowed. Let's make the Runs Scored columns blue and the Runs Allowed columns red, via the Interior.ColorIndex property:

mychart.SeriesCollection(1).Interior.ColorIndex = xlBlue
mychart.SeriesCollection(2).Interior.ColorIndex = xlRed

We could also dictate the name that is displayed for each series in the legend:

mychart.SeriesCollection(1).Name = "Runs Scored"
mychart.SeriesCollection(2).Name = "Runs Allowed "

If you do not define a name for each series, Excel will try to pull it from your source data worksheet.

The PlotArea represents the area on which the data (columns, in our case) is plotted. The ChartArea is the area surrounding the PlotArea, on which the title, axes, and legend are placed. For demonstration purposes, let's define specific colors for these objects by setting their Interior.ColorIndex property:

mychart.ChartArea.Interior.ColorIndex = xlWhite
mychart.ChartArea.Border.ColorIndex = xlBlue
mychart.PlotArea.Interior.ColorIndex = xlGray
mychart.PlotArea.Border.ColorIndex = xlWhite

Finally, we'll add a title to the top of the chart, and format the text:

mychart.HasTitle = true
mychart.ChartTitle.Characters.Text = "American League - Runs Scored vs. Runs Allowed"
mychart.ChartTitle.Font.Name = 'Verdana'
mychart.ChartTitle.Font.Size = 16
mychart.ChartTitle.Font.Bold = true

Note that we first have to set the HasTitle property to true. Without first doing this, trying to define the various ChartTitle properties will raise an error.

Our complete code looks like this, and produces a chart that looks like this:

Not a bad start, eh? A quick glance at this chart tells you that Boston and Chicago are doing very well, run-wise, and that it could be a very long season for Kansas City and Seattle. And we see that Texas scores a tremendous amount of runs, but allows even more.

I encourage you to investigate the vast array of chart methods and properties. Towards that end, you might want to check out Jon Peltier's Chart tutorials, which I have found to be helpful.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Post a comment here or send me an email.

Thanks for stopping by!


Ajasja said...

Great post -- thank you!

mikewoodhouse said...

Yup, very nice. It's cool how much can be achieved with win32ole, and how easily.

From a pure charts-as-information point-of-view, I think I might also have tried a stacked column chart, or maybe sorted the data by one or other value.

Brian said...

Have you written a book on Ruby + Windows? If so, where is it? If not, where the hell is it? This blog remains my number one resource any time I need to figure something out regarding Ruby in a Windows environment. I'd love to see the material expanded and put down on paper.

I suppose I can print it out myself, but it's just not the same.

David Mullet said...

Thanks, ajasja!

@Mike: The chart in the example could definitely be improved upon. I wanted to keep this initial example fairly simple. Sorting the data makes sense, though I left the teams in their original order, by division and winning percentage.

@Brian: Sorry, no "Ruby on Windows" book (yet), but thank you for the encouragement! I may have to give it some serious thought.

Lcyeap said...

First of all, thanks for the great post.

May i know how to set the category x axis label instead of showing number (1, 2,..)? i saw the graph you showing is displaying the team name, i have follow the code provided by you, but still i can't set the x axis to name i want.

Thanks a lot.

David Mullet said...


To change the names for the X (Category) axis labels, pass the axis' CategoryNames property an array of strings:

xAxis = mychart.Axes(1)
xAxis.CategoryNames = ["1", "2", "3"]


Azam said...


Does the above code work in Microsoft Excel 2007? I tried it and it doesn't work. Compiled it using SciTE, i got this error:

excel.rb:27:in `method_missing': Worksheets (WIN32OLERuntimeError)
OLE error code:8002000B in

HRESULT error code:0x80020009
Exception occurred.
from excel.rb:27

Azam said... it work.thanks for the wonderful code.

Pyali said...


I am running into same issue as Azam, looks like your reply to him has been deleted. Could you help me with this error.


David Mullet said...


"I am running into same issue as Azam, looks like your reply to him has been deleted."

Azam resolved his problem before I had a chance to reply.

The code was developed and tested with Excel 2007. Note that the sample code requires that you have created---and have open---a worksheet as described in the article. You may need to tweak the code to meet your individual needs.

Feel free to email me your code and further details.


Pyali said...

Thanks. I was able to plot the data. I have one more question: instead of 1st column being string, that is, x-axis [Boston Tampa ...] I have numbers x axis = [1122 2234 2132 ...] how can I plot this as x-axis. When I tried plotting, it would consider x-axis as integer and not string even though I used to_s. Any suggestions. Thanks.

Pyali said...


One more questn: are you aware of any minimum requirement of rows needed for plotting charts? My data has only 2 rows with multiple columns but looks like it didn't quite like it so I added 2 more rows with y-axis as 0. then it plotted fine. Thanks, Payal