What is an Area Chart?

An area chart is essentially a line graph with the area below the line filled in. A simple area chart is drawn by plotting data points on a cartesian coordinate grid, then joining a line between the points and finally filling in the space below the completed line. Area charts are ideal for showing trends, by showing the development of quantitative values over intervals or time periods.

Area Chart Examples

View more examples of area charts.

The first appearance of an area graph or line graph was a chart on the national debt of England in the 1786 book The Commercial and Political Atlas, by William Playfair, a Scottish engineer and political economist.

Infogram is a free online chart maker that offers five different area chart types (area, stacked area, stream graph, 100% area chart and stepped area chart). Here is a short guide on how to use each of them.

  • Area (standard)  – For the standard area chart, data is displayed using different colors or shading in the space below the line. Area charts are commonly used to display accumulated values over a period of time.

  • Stacked area – Stacked area charts are used to represent cumulative totals using numbers or percentages over time. They make it easier to visualize part-to-whole relationships. They show how each category contributes to the overall total.

  • Stream graph - Stream charts are unusual and not used often, but still worth mentioning. A stream area chart is a generalization of a stacked chart with the baseline shifted to the center. The height of each individual color shows how the value of that stream has changed over time. The length of the stream shape shows its duration.

  • Stepped area chart - The stepped area chart can be used when you want to show a trend and highlight the increase or decrease in values over time. This type of area chart might be useful if you need to show the change in price over time for gas, bus fare, or stamps.

When to Use an Area Chart

Area charts can both show change over time, overall trends, and continuity across a dataset. While area charts may function the same way as line charts, the space between the line and axis is filled in, indicating volume.

How to Create an Area Chart

You can make an area chart in 5 easy steps:

  1. Join Infogram to make your own area chart design.

  2. Select an area chart type (area, stacked area, stream graph, 100% area chart and stepped area chart).

  3. Upload or copy and paste your data.

  4. Customize colors, fonts, and labels.

  5. Download your area chart or embed on your website.

Best Practices

1) Make it easy to read

  • Avoid occlusion – This happens when one or more layers covers important information on the chart.

  • Make your layers transparent if it makes each one easier for the viewer to comprehend.

  • If you have too many data sets to visualize, make a line chart instead – it’s cleaner!

2) Use a stacked chart for multiple data sets if you want to emphasize part-to-whole relationships

  • Stacked charts are helpful when the area under the plotted line represents a summation or percentage.

  • Helps to understand the relationship between the data sets and how they change over time.

3) Area charts help the viewer look at the bigger picture – Take population for example…

  • Line charts are good for showing net change in population over time.

  • Area charts are good for showing the total population over time.

Have more questions about the appropriate type of chart to use? Check out this article.