How to Make Surface Chart

You are going to learn how to insert a surface chart, and it will be easy to perform.

Definition of a Surface Chart

A Surface Chart is a type of chart that displays data in a three-dimensional format. It is used to represent the relationship between three variables, with one variable being plotted along the X-axis, another along the Y-axis, and a third variable represented by the height of the surface above the X-Y plane. This allows the viewer to visualize the data in a more intuitive manner, as opposed to a traditional scatter plot or line graph.

Surface Charts are widely used in scientific research, engineering, and data visualization. They can help to identify patterns and trends in data, and provide a visual representation of complex data sets. Surface Charts are particularly useful when analyzing data that has multiple variables, or when trying to identify relationships between variables.

In terms of how Surface Charts work, they essentially use a grid of X and Y values to create a surface, with the height of each point on the surface corresponding to the value of the third variable. The resulting 3D surface can be rotated and viewed from different angles, allowing the viewer to gain a better understanding of the data.

Data preparation

Data Preparation is a crucial step in creating a Surface Chart. The following are the key aspects of Data Preparation:

Selection of Data to be plotted: The first step in Data Preparation is to select the data that you want to plot on the Surface Chart. This could be any type of data that has three variables. The data should be relevant to your research question or analysis.

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Types of Data that works well with Surface Chart: Surface Charts work well with data that has three continuous variables.

Pre-processing of Data (if needed): Once the data has been selected, it may need to be pre-processed before it can be plotted on a Surface Chart. This could involve cleaning the data, filling in missing values, or scaling the data to ensure that all three variables are on a similar scale.

Formatting of Data for Surface Chart: Finally, the data needs to be formatted in a way that can be plotted on a Surface Chart. This typically involves organizing the data into a table format, with each row representing a unique combination of the X and Y variables, and the corresponding Z-value (the third variable) in the third column. In some cases, the data may need to be transformed or aggregated to create the appropriate format for the charting software being used.

In our simple example, we will use data about an imaginary company as in the image below. The data would be used for creating the chart:

data set to create a surface chart

Note: Before you create a surface chart, there must be at least two different data points.

Mark all the data:

marked data

Inserting the surface chart

Click on Insert (1), and then on Recommended Charts (2).

ribbon insert recommended chart

Click on All Charts (1), and then Surface (2), and choose the design of the 3D surface chart (3), and then click ok (4).

insert a surface chart in excel

The surface chart is ready. Now you can proceed with the formatting of your surface chart.

surface chart exampleFormat the surface chart

The design and formatting of the Surface Chart can have a significant impact on how well it communicates the insights from the data. Consider using a clear, easy-to-read font and color scheme, and avoid cluttering the chart with unnecessary elements. A clean, simple design can help to focus attention on the key insights from the data.

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The surface chart is very sensitive to outliers. One value significantly different from the others may distort the visibility of the surface chart.

At this stage, you should look at the data. Perhaps there is a typo there? If so, it should be corrected so that there is not too much data difference.

This should improve the visibility of the surface chart. To improve it even more, the axis scale should be corrected. The minimum value and the maximum value should match your data.

Excel Surface chart

You can confirm for yourself that data visibility is now much better.

If you are still not satisfied with the data visibility, you can change it with this clever trick.

Click on your surface graph. Go to Ribbon> Design> Switch Row / Column.

Excel switch rows columns

Now you will get the view from a different point of view as the columns and rows have been swapped.

If the data on your plot is covered you can also flip the scales. Just click on it and choose from the menu:

  • series in reverse order
  • values in reverse order
  • categories in reverse order

Depending on what you want to change. Try all of these options and choose the one that offers the highest visibility.

If none of these possibilities meet your expectations, you can also change your data table. It’s a good idea to sort the data from largest to smallest. The largest is on the left and the smallest on the right. So that the values on the chart do not overlap.

Interpreting Surface Chart

Interpreting the results: Interpreting the results of the Surface Chart involves looking for patterns, trends, and anomalies in the data. Consider looking for areas of high or low values, changes in slope or curvature, and regions of uniformity or complexity. Additionally, consider the relationship between the X, Y, and Z variables, and look for any correlations or causal relationships between them.

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Extracting insights from the Surface Chart: Extracting insights from the Surface Chart involves identifying meaningful patterns and trends in the data. This can involve identifying regions of high or low values, identifying correlations or causal relationships between the X, Y, and Z variables, and identifying any anomalies or outliers in the data. Additionally, consider using statistical analysis or machine learning algorithms to extract additional insights from the data.

Things to remember

The surface plot is best suited for plotting rare phenomena or values that rarely differ from each other. You can use the surface chart to show rainfall or sales values. You can easily see if sales are significantly higher on one of the days (for example, due to a concert in your city that was attended by many people).

Remember that there are four different types of surface graphs. Choose the one that best meets your expectations. In this Excel charting lesson, I showed the 3D surface chart, but there are also: Wireframe 3D Surface, Contour, and Wireframe Contour.