What is a Pie Chart

A pie chart is a circular graph which displays data in an easy-to-read pie slice format.  Each slice represents a category of data and the size is proportional to the quantity it represents.

The pie chart is one of the most used and hated chart types of all times. Its shape is very familiar, but this visual representation is easily misleading if not used properly. 

Pie charts are popular as they are easy to create and understand but they are only effective when you're comparing 3-5 different data points with different quantities that are easy to differentiate.

Pie Chart type examples

View more examples of pie charts.

Infogram is a free online chart maker that offers four of the most widely used pie chart types (classical pie chart, doughnut chart, semi-circle chart and irregular polar area diagram). Here’s how they differ:

  • Pie chart – Compares the values of categories as part of the whole, displaying angle-size differences. Example: Total spending by category.

  • Doughnut chart – Compares values by displaying differences in length and allows the empty center to be filled with additional information. Example: Quantity of cars sold by region.

  • Semi-circle pie chart - As the name suggests, it is half of a pie chart, yet still represents parts of a whole. Example: Referendum results.

  • Irregular pie chart– Compares data through differences in the length of the radius of each segment. Example: Customer Survey.

 

When to Use a Pie Chart

The main use of a pie chart is to show comparisons between different categories. They are widely used in the media and in business reports as they give the reader a quick idea of the proportional distribution of data.

When the number of data categories are small (less than 6) and you don't need to show progression over time, a pie chart might be appropriate.

Use a Pie chart if you want to illustrate the dominance of one category over the others.

pie chart good and bad example

How to Create a Pie Chart

You can make a pie chart in 5 easy steps:

  1. Join Infogram to make your own pie chart.
  2. Select a pie chart type (pie, semi-circle, doughnut, irregular).
  3. Upload or copy and paste your data.
  4. Customize labels, colors, and fonts.
  5. Download your pie chart or embed on your website.

Best Practices for Creating Pie Charts

  • Add a name or number to each segment of your pie chart to make it easier to read.
  • When using percentages, make sure all segments add up to 100%. Sounds obvious, but it is a common mistake.
  • Avoid using 3D perspective or shadows as it makes your data difficult to understand.
  • Use less than 6 pie slices to get your point across. If the pie slices have roughly the same value, consider using a bar or column chart instead.

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