Within the 2010 version, Microsoft Excel still does not have a feature to selectively highlight specific regions of your chart backgrounds. For example, in the chart below, let’s say that I want to highlight ONLY the third quarter periods of the year (July, August, and September).
There are basically two ways to perform this task manually. One involves using wide data bars on a secondary axis to simulate a highlighted background. I generally don’t recommend this method because it is very complicated and it adds another axis to your graph, which you must use significant formatting to hide. The other method involves using an embedded picture and is much easier to implement. I’ll describe the process below:
1. Count the number of intervals in your chart
In my example, there are 12 intervals.
2. Select a set of uniform width cells that match the number of intervals in your chart
The easiest way to do this is to move over to the right of your Excel spreadsheet where you haven’t edited anything yet. These cells will already have a uniform width. To make things easier, you can label each of these blank cells with a number above.
3. Highlight the cells within the set that correspond with the region of the chart you want highlighted
Since I want highlight the third quarter of the year, this would correspond with cell numbers 7, 8, and 9.
4. Remove gridlines
Click “View” within the Excel Ribbon and uncheck the box for gridlines.
5. Copy the set
6. Open MS Paint and paste what you copied
There are other programs you can use, but MS Paint is probably the simplest
7. Within MS Paint, cut off the white space at the top and bottom of the image
This step is important because this image will be stretched out in your background. Therefore, if you leave the white space in, it will cover a large portion of the background.
8. Save the image file as a jpeg
9. Back in Excel, Right click the chart and select “Format Plot Area”
10. Within the “Fill” section, select “Picture or texture fill”, click the “File…” button, and select the jpeg file you created
Voila. The background should still work regardless of how you resize the chart. However, the background created is static. Therefore, if you need to adjust to highlight the fourth quarter, for example, you’d need to repeat the steps above.