Grid lines are lines drawn in the chart plot area to ‘assist in the visual alignment of data.’ These charts can have vertical grid lines, horizontal grid lines, or both. Horizontal grid lines Fig. 1: Column chart with horizontal grid lines Vertical grid lines Fig. 2: Bar chart with vertical grid lines Horizontal and Vertical grid lines Fig. 3: Bubble chart with horizontal and vertical grid lines Many people consider grid lines as a useless carry-over from an age when charts were drawn by hand on grid paper. Back then, they needed additional lines as reference points to plot data accurately. They think that in today’s era of software-generated charts, grid lines have become redundant. In this post, we’ll walk you through the different scenarios in that grid lines can be useful and how to use them effectively, you may use Data Charts to improve your charts or graphs when creating data visualization. There are certain scenarios in which grid lines can be useful:

Scenario 1: To Add Precision in Large Graphs

Grid lines to add precision in large graphs 1 For graphs, where data points are too far from the quantitative axis, it helps when you have grid lines to align the data to the right value. Grid lines to add precision in large graphs 2 It would have been difficult to measure the value for December 2013 from this chart had the grid lines not been there.

Scenario 2: To Highlight Subtle Differences

Can you detect the difference between the monthly revenues of March and April from the chart below? Grid lines to bring out subtle differences 1 Due to their almost similar lengths, it is difficult to find out their difference. Grid lines to bring out subtle differences 2 If we redraw the same chart using grid lines, it would be easier to detect their difference.

Scenario 3: To Focus on a Specific Area in a Bubble or Scatter Chart

Bubble chart 1 In a bubble or scatter chart, it is difficult to focus on a specific area because data values are scattered. Bubble chart 2 The grid lines, in this case, divide the graph into sections and help users to focus on a specific section for analysis. We recommend reading Stephen Few’s article on Grid Lines in Graphs are Rarely Useful to discover other scenarios where grid lines are helpful.

How to Use Grid Lines Effectively

Grid lines can help in interpreting data in certain scenarios. So here are three tips to make them more effective:

Keep Them Subtle

subtle grid lines 1 Visually heavy grid lines distract the user from the actual data. subtle grid lines 2 If you are using grid lines in your chart, make sure they are subtle and do not hinder the interpretation of data.

When Adding Trendlines with Grid Lines

A trendline is used to add context to a chart, by helping the user interpret data in relation to some predetermined value. It provides a reference point to compare the measure against a set benchmark. trendline In the above chart, the Target line is a trendline. When adding a trendline along with grid lines, ensure that the trendline is of a different color. Doing so will make it visually stand out from the other grid lines. [Related read: How to add trendlines in FusionCharts Suite XT?]

When Adding Regression Lines with Grid Lines

At times, you may be required to plot a regression line to derive a sense of the trend from a scatter plot. regression line Similar to adding a trendline, ensure that the regression line is of a different color to that of the grid lines. Ideally, the regression line should match the color of the respective data plot. This will make it easier for the user to interpret the data.

Ready to get started building powerful charts featuring grid lines?

Download the latest version of FusionCharts today! [Related read: How to add a regression line in a scatter chart using FusionCharts Suite XT?] Now over to you!  Do you think grid lines are chart junk or visual aids? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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One response on “Grid Lines: Chart Junk or Visual Aids?

  1. I think a couple of your examples are aided by the lack of identifying information on a couple of the axes.

    Scenario 1: To add precision in large graphs – if on the vertical axis the dollar values had been there in chart 1, then I don’t think the gridlines are nececessary.

    Scenario 2: To bring out subtle differences – same as in Scenario 1.

    Scenario 3: To focus on a specific area in bubble or scatter chart – I would agree in your example w/ very few data points that gridlines do help in this case. But also having he horizontal axis labeled to begin with would have been helpful as well. If there were many data points on this bubble chart (or in a scatter chart) then I think the gridlines detract more than add.

    Great site though and I’m looking forward to more!