Choosing the right chart type: Bar charts vs Column charts

Both the Bar and the Column charts display data using rectangular bars where the length of the bar is proportional to the data value. Both are used to compare two or more values. However, their difference lies in their orientation. A Bar chart is oriented horizontally whereas the Column chart is oriented vertically.

Example of Bar Chart

Figure : Bar chart

Example of Column Chart

Figure: Column chart

Due to their different orientations, they cannot be always used interchangeably.

Bar charts are good for displaying long data labels:

Column charts have limited space in the category axis. So, when your data labels are long, the category axis may look cluttered.

Column chart with limited space in the category axis

You can reduce clutter by either slanting or rotating the labels.

Column chart with slanting or rotating labels

However, if you use the Bar chart, it will improve the readability of your chart manifold.

Bar chart displaying long data labels

Bar charts are good for displaying large number of data sets on the category axis:

The Column chart is a good fit for a maximum of 10-12 data sets. However, when the number of data sets is larger than that, using a Column chart is not the best way forward.

Column chart with many data sets

A Bar chart with the data sets placed one below the other would be a better choice in this case as it makes optimum use of space.

Bar chart with many data sets

Column charts are good for displaying data sets with negative values:

In a Bar chart negative values are displayed as bars on the left.

Bar chart with negative values

However, we associate negative values more with downward direction (as used by the Column chart) than leftward (as used by the Bar chart).

Column chart with negative values

Therefore, use the Column chart when you have negative values in your data set.

To sum up, while the Column chart can be used to facilitate all comparison-based analysis, it is better to use the Bar chart when your data labels are long or you have too many data sets to display.

Keep watching this space for more insights on charting best practices.

Happy Charting till next time 🙂

  • John Lynch December 28, 2016, 2:11 am

    The bar chart with the negative values are more effective

    • swarnam February 24, 2017, 12:37 pm

      Hi John,

      As mentioned in the post, column charts would have better visualization when compared to bar charts and for comparison based analysis. Do share your thoughts on why bar chars seems to be more effective.

  • RANGASWAMY SARLA January 18, 2017, 11:56 am

    here i am using the basic version of fusion chart
    and is this posible to set a legends in pie chart with out comparison
    and in attribute the legends options are workimg or not

    • swarnam February 24, 2017, 12:24 pm


      Yes, its possible to add legends for Pie charts. Do set the attribute “showLegend” as 1 in the chart element. Check out this fiddle.

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