How to Create and Customize Your Graphs

Graphing Basics

Improve your ability to effectively visualize and present your research by learning the different ways you can customize the appearance of your graphs in Prism.

You will learn how to:

  • Select the graph type
  • Navigate and utilize customization features
  • Adjust style, fonts, size and colors
  • Annotate you ...

Improve your ability to effectively visualize and present your research by learning the different ways you can customize the appearance of your graphs in Prism.

You will learn how to:

  • Select the graph type
  • Navigate and utilize customization features
  • Adjust style, fonts, size and colors
  • Annotate your graphs

This video is part of the Graphing Basics series, presented by Dr. Trajen Head, Product Manager for GraphPad Prism.


One of the most important parts of scientific research is visualizing and presenting the data that you collect in a way that's clear and easy for others to understand. Rarely, however, is there ever a one size fits all approach to data visualization, and customizing the appearance of graphs made from your data is a critical step in the research process.

In this short series of videos, we're going to look at some of the ways that you can customize your graphs in Prism. Keep in mind as we work through some of these options that the real power of graph customization in Prism comes from the combination of a multitude of different customization options that can be applied together, resulting in an effectively infinite number of different ways to present your data. Throughout these videos, I'll be utilizing Prism's built-in tutorial datasets to generate some starting graphs to customize as we'd like.

Let's start by looking at some ways that we can customize our graphs directly.

To begin, we'll create an XY data table. Select Start With Sample Data to follow a tutorial, choose Dose Response, X is Logged Dose, and click Create.

For the purposes of this video, we won't worry about the data or analyses for now, and we'll just go straight to the graph.

Immediately, when you click on the graph sheet, the Change Graph Type dialogue appears. Here we get to make our first customization decision: what kind of graph do we want to make? If you've used Prism for a while, you'll know that the type of data table that you are using affects the default options presented for choices of analyses, as well as graph types. If you aren't familiar with the concept of data tables, you should watch our video on the eight different types of data tables that Prism offers. In this case, we're using an XY table. And so, by default, the graph family selected is XY.

You can choose to change this selection. But in most cases, if you've used the right kind of data table for your data, the types of graphs that are appropriate for your data that you'd like to make will belong to the same family and will be selected by default.

For this data, you can see that we can choose from many different types of graphs that we'd like to make. We can make points with error bars, points in connecting line with error bars, individual replicates, and so on.

For each graph type, we can make some choices now for how we'd like the data to be plotted. For example, for points with error bars, we could choose Median Only, Mean and Error, and we could define if we wanted our error bars to display Standard Deviation, Standard Error of the Mean, the 95% Confidence Interval, or the Range of the Replicates.

Alternatively, if we choose Individual Replicates, we can choose whether we want our replicates to be aligned and possibly overlapping, or staggered so that they don't overlap but plotted in a position that may be slightly off the point's actual X value so that every data point can be seen and an idea of the point distribution at that X value can be visualized.

Let's select a line, and click OK.

If at any point you decide that this graph type isn't the type you wanted to make, you can always go back to the Change Graph Type dialogue by clicking this button in the Change section of the toolbar.

Once you've created your basic graph, some of the first and easiest changes you can make to a graph are some manual adjustments to its size and axis labels. The axis and graph titles can be changed simply by clicking on the text and typing what you'd like for it to show. For example, we can change the Y axis to read "Response".

You can also change how close the axis titles are to the axes by simply clicking and dragging. You have to make sure that you're not directly on the text, or the software will think that you want to edit the text. Just off of the text, though, your cursor will change and you can reposition the title wherever you'd like.

There are a few ways to change the size of a graph, two of which I'll show you here.

The first is to manually adjust the length of each axis by first clicking on the axis you'd like to change and then dragging the handle at the end to the desired length.

Note that although dragging the axis this way changes the size of the overall graph, the font sizes of text on the graph stay set. You can adjust the size of the font of axis labels and titles simply by first clicking on the text you'd like to change. For example, we can select the X and Y axis number labels by clicking each while holding Shift. Using the tools in the text section of the toolbar, we can make changes to these numbers. We can set the font to Courier New, the font size to 12, and un-bold the text.

This same approach can be used to change the graph and axis titles as well as the legends. Let's select the legend by clicking and dragging, making sure that it's not in the graphing area, and then change the font to Copperplate.

The other way to change the size of a graph that I'll show you in this video is to use the Resize Graph button in the Change section of the toolbar. From this dropdown, you can choose to increase or decrease the size of a graph in a step-wise fashion, or you can select to have the graph fill the entire page.

Using these tools will change the overall size of the graph, but won't change its aspect ratio.

If you select the option More Choices, a new dialogue will appear in which you can define specifically how you'd like to resize the graph.

Note here that when using these options the text size will automatically be adjusted proportionally to the change in the size of the graph, as opposed to when we were manually stretching the axes and the font sizes remained constant.

Another important way that graphs can be customized is through the use of color.

If you click on the Change Color button in the toolbar, you can select Colors, which is one of the built-in color schemes that Prism offers. You can explore other built-in color schemes offered by Prism by selecting More Color Schemes. From here, you can browse the various built-in color schemes Prism offers, or you can choose to define and save your own color scheme that you could apply to other graphs in the future.

Let's select the color scheme Winter Soft, and click OK.

In a future video, I'll cover how to set your preferred color scheme, maybe a built-in color scheme or maybe one that you define yourself, as the default for future graphs.

Note that from the Change Colors button in the toolbar you can also selectively change the color of the background, the plotting area, and the color of the axes.

One other very easy way that Prism provides for you to add some personal customization to your graphs is through the use of the draw and write tools in the toolbar. For example, by clicking on the dropdown arrow in the Draw section of the toolbar, you can see that you can quickly create various shapes and lines on your graph to emphasize specific regions or points of data. And if you're doing statistical analyses, Prism also includes the ability to draw lines and brackets with centered text.

Let's select one to draw to see how it works.

By default, when you draw one of these lines with centered text, you can choose to represent statistical significance using the common star notation, or simply choosing NS for Not Significant.

For our graph, we won't need this line, so let's remove it.

Let's go back to the Draw tools and select to draw a rectangle.

We'll use this rectangle tool to mark off a region of our data. If we wanted, we could then add some text using the right tools in the toolbar. We can label our rectangle with a title, and we'll title it "Region of Interest".

As before, we can change the font size of our text using the tools in the Text section of the toolbar. Let's make this font a little smaller, and then recenter the text on the rectangle by clicking and dragging.

Prism provides automatic snapping of objects to make it easier to arrange custom shapes and texts that you add to your graphs.

So, these quick manual adjustments and additions are a good start for customizing our graph, but there are even more tools to fine-tune nearly every aspect of your graph. In the next two videos of this miniseries, we'll be looking at some of these tools found in the various tabs of the Format Graph and Format Axes dialogues.

Thanks for watching.

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