Graphing with Excel

Superimposing Graphs

Table of Contents

  1. Superimposing graphs
  2. Reformatting the new graph


If you want to merge data from two graphs, rather than create a new graph from scratch, you can superimpose the two using a simple 'copy and paste' operation. Before superimposing two graphs, consider the following:

  • Do the two graphs share the same independent variable (the X axis)? If not, you should not try to merge them.
  • Do the two graphs share the same dependent variable (the Y axis)? If not, you should not try to merge them.
  • What is the relationship of the data in the two graphs? Normally you will be creating a second independent variable when you superimpose the graphs. For example, they might be two levels of a common variable. In the example below, the two graphs represent two different types of aluminum alloy.
  • Do the two graphs share the same variable scales and a similar range of values? For example, if the first graph has dependent variable values running from 0.1 and 2.5 seconds and the second graph between 250 and 3500 seconds, the scale of the superimposed graph, in order to show the second's values, will make it very difficult to see the values of the first.

Superimposing graphs

Below is a graph of the tensile strength of one type of aluminum:

The graph has been selected by clicking just inside the outer box of the graph. Notice that when the graph is selected, black boxes (or 'handles') show around the perimeter. With the graph selected, you can also see the independent (Strain) and dependent (Stress) data highlighted to the left in purple and blue, respectively. Because the graph only has one independent variable, there is no need to have a legend. Information about what the independent and dependent variables relate to is in the title.

In this example, both the first and the second graph and their data are on the same worksheet page:

Notice that the independent and dependent variables are identical, though the ranges of the scales are slightly different. The second graph has Stress values ranging up to approximately 70000 psi, compared to 13500 psi on the first graph. The second graph has Strain values only up to approximately 0.20 in/in compared to 0.38 in/in on the first.

To superimpose the two graphs, you should first create a copy of one of the graphs to use as a base for the new graph. You want a copy in case something happens during the superimposition process. To copy the graph:

  • Select the first graph (1100 Aluminum in this case) by clicking somewhere just inside the outer box (the back box handles will appear around the perimeter).
  • Choose Edit>Copy from the menu.
  • Click in a new spreadsheet cell that represents, approximately, the upper left hand corner of where you want the new graph to go.
  • Choose Edit>Paste from the menu.

This new copy will be used as the base for the superimposed graph. Now select the second graph to begin the superimposition process:

  • Select the second graph (e.g., 2024 Aluminum) so the handles appear.
  • Choose Edit>Copy from the menu.
  • Click on the copy of first graph (e.g., 1100 Aluminum) so the handles appear.This is a critical step since it indicates the target of where the second graph is to be copied.
  • Choose Edit>Paste from the menu.

The new, superimposed graph should now show both sets of data:

Notice that it has taken the title from the second graph (2024 Aluminum). Also noticed that while the dependent variable scale (Stress) adjusted to accommodate the larger range of the second graph, the independent variable scale clipped the larger range of the first graph.

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Reformatting the new graph

You can adjust the range of the scales by selecting the new graph and double-clicking on an axis value:

Choose the Scale tab and set the scale range and units as needed.

At present, both of the data series are using the same color and symbol. This can be changed by double-clicking on one of the data points on the graph:

You can now select the Patterns tab and choose a new Style, Foreground, and Background for the Markers of the data series.

Because you have two independent variables in the new graph, you will also want to show the legend. You can do this by selecting the graph and choosing Chart>Chart Options..., selecting the Legends tab, and clicking the Show Legend check box.

If the text in the legend does not properly reflect the second independent variable levels, you will need to change this by selecting the graph and going to Chart>Source Data...

  • Select the Series tab.
  • Now select the Series whose name needs to be changed.
  • Type a new name in the Name: field. This can be in the form seen above or by simply typing the name (without quotes) into the box.

The title on the graph can be changed by clicking once on the title and highlighting the text you want to change. The final graph in our example looks like this:

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