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Everything You Need to Know About Pie Charts

By Jennifer Gaskin, Sep 28, 2021

pie chart

Pie charts are a staple in any organization’s data visualization arsenal, and they’re one of the most instantly recognizable types of data visualization. Though they appear simple, there are a few key aspects of understanding pie charts you may not be aware of.

Learn more about this versatile design tool and how you can quickly and easily make an engaging pie chart for your organizational internal or external needs with Venngage’s Pie Chart Maker.


 

Click to jump ahead:

 

What is a pie chart?

Pie charts are sometimes called pie graphs, donut charts/graphs or doughnut charts, but all of those names describe a circular graph that illustrates part or parts of a whole.

As pie charts are used to visualize parts of a whole, their slices should always add up to 100%.

A pie chart is so named because it resembles a sliced pie thanks to its round shape and segments representing the data it’s illustrating.

pie chart


 

This pie chart template shows a simple application of this versatile data visualization tool. It’s a true pie chart because the full circle is shown, and all the segments add up to 100%.

Also read: Pie Charts and Other Ways to Show Percentages in Infographics

 

When should you use a pie chart?

Pie charts are used to represent percentages, though not every percentage you encounter is best visualized with a pie chart. Still, the basic use of a pie chart is when you want to visualize a percentage or parts of a whole.

This is a good example of data that’s ideal for use in a pie chart:

pie chart


 

The pie slices all add up to 100%, no segment is too small to understand, and the percentages are all very different from each other so the visualization is effective, which brings us to …

 

When should you not use a pie chart?

The most obvious reason not to use a pie chart is if you have no percentages to illustrate or the percentages you do have don’t add up to 100%. This may happen if you’ve conducted a survey and allowed people to select multiple answers to a question; in that case, your data will not add up to 100%.

As you can see in this pie chart, the percentages from each section add up to more than 100%:

Misleading Graphs 2020 Examples 3

Source

The creator of the original pie chart should have presented the data kinda like this:

Misleading Graphs 2020 Examples 1

For more examples of misleading graphs, check out this post: 5 Ways Writers Use Misleading Graphs to Manipulate You

But there are two other reasons why other data visualizations like bar graphs may be better suited for the data you have:

  • You have lots of percentages to compare. Pie charts can quickly become difficult to read if you have more than a few slices. Ideally, you should limit your pie chart to no more than five slices.
  • The percentages you do have are similar. Even in pie charts that only have a handful of slices, if any percentages in the pie are within 5-10 percentage points, it will be hard for readers to understand what they’re supposed to get out of the data.

It comes down to this: If your pie chart will be overly complicated to the point that it’s no longer an effective way to visualize data, try a bar chart or line graph. Data visualization isn’t just for dressing up a design, so if the method you’ve chosen doesn’t help people visualize information, choose another method.

Here’s an example of what not to do when it comes to creating pie charts:

YouGov British pizza topping poll

YouGov British pizza topping poll

Though this pie chart (or is it pizza chart?) was clearly designed to entertain and get clicks, it commits one of the cardinal sins of making a pie chart, which is that the percentages add up to well over 100%.

Also, at first glance you’ll think that there are only 6 segments in the pie chart while in fact it’s used to visualize 10 percentages, each of which doesn’t coordinate to any particular slice. This makes the chart confusing and violates the purpose of visualizing data, which is to communicate it better.

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Are pie charts and donut charts the same?

Not exactly, though they do the same thing. Donut charts are emerging as the best modern alternative to the standard pie chart because their function is identical, visualizing parts of a whole. Plus, they’re also named after food!

This automation infographic uses a series of donut charts to visualize the data contained. In this case, each figure is a single percentage rather than multiple slices (bites?) of the donut. But it’s clear to see how donut charts resemble their pie chart cousins.

pie chart


 

Donut charts can also have multiple segments just like pie charts, and the biggest advantage of donut charts over pie charts is they take up less visual space. This can allow for additional content, needed whitespace or more iconography and illustrations, like in the example below.

pie chart


 

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How do you create a pie chart with Venngage?

Create a pie chart in mere minutes with Venngage’s Pie Chart Maker.

1. Sign up for Venngage with your email, Gmail or Facebook account—it’s free!

2. Select one of our professionally designed Pie Chart Templates or choose a blank canvas.

pie chart

3. Double click the chart to open the Chart Editor and enter your data.

BarLineChart-New

You can enter the data directly in our Chart menu or import data from an XLSX or CSV file.

4. Now the fun part! Edit the colors with our color wheel. Or try out different pie chart styles.

Pie Chart Edit Chart

You can also add images, icons or illustrations to your pie chart design. We offer more than 40,000 icons and illustrations to be used at your fingertips. If you want to replace an existing icon, simple double click the icon and choose a new one from the icon library:

Replace-icon-v1

5. Email or share your graph directly from the Venngage pie chart maker tool. Or upgrade to download it.

pie chart

With a paid Venngage account, you can download your template in PNG, PDF, Interactive PDF (if you want your links clickable).

A Business account also allows you to export your template to PPTX (for use on PowerPoint and Google Slides) or HTML (often used for email embeds.)

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What are the types of pie charts?

There are many flavors of pie chart, and chances are there’s one to suit your needs.

Pie graph

A standard, whole pie graph or pie chart, with multiple segments or slices, which all add up to 100%.

pie chart


 

The pie graph in this infographic uses a helpful technique, which is that it separates one segment from the pie. This is a good method of highlighting a piece of the pie while still visualizing all slices, especially when the percentages are similar to each other.

Doughnut chart (Donut chart)

A pie graph or pie chart with an empty center. May include segments adding up to 100% or may visualize a single percentage.

This infographic has a pie chart and several donut charts so you can see how similar (and different) these two variations are.

pie chart


 

Half pie graph

A half pie graph serves the same function as a traditional pie chart but in half the space. It’s a semicircle used to visualize one or more percentages adding up to 100%.

pie chart


 

If you’re going to use a half pie graph, it’s especially important to consider how effective the visualization will be since readers will only see half of it. Limit half pie charts to no more than three segments.

2D pie chart

All the pie charts we’ve explored so far are 2D, meaning flat against the screen. This is the best way to use pie charts, as creating them in 3D can skew the data, which we’ll explore more in a moment.

pie chart


 

The 2D pie chart in this monthly financial report utilizes a lot of the pie chart best practices we’ve discussed, as it has only four segments, and there’s a clear difference between the larger and smaller slices.

3D pie chart

3D pie charts appear as though they pop off the page thanks to the perspective with which they’re created. While this is an interesting way of dressing data up, it’s often tricky to pull off. If the perspective is too extreme, the data visualization can become skewed, ruining its effectiveness.

pie chart


 

The 3D pie chart in this monthly profit-and-loss report template skirts the line between useful and not, though it definitely adds some visual sizzle to an otherwise traditional document.

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Pie chart templates & examples

Let’s check out a few more pie chart examples you could consider creating for your organization, depending on the information you have at your fingertips.

Business half-pie charts

Check out these business half-pie charts you can customize to add your sales, profit, survey or other data.

Pack tons of information in your infographics without taking up too much space by turning your traditional pie charts into half-donut charts:

pie chart


 

The dominant visual element in this business infographic is a series of half-donut charts. While this data deals with real estate buyers, it’s easy to imagine data from any other industry populating the charts.

pie chart


 

HR pie charts

HR can get in on the pie chart action, whether the data at hand is related to employee evaluations, salaries or something else.

pie chart


 

Help team members visualize their progress toward career goals by creating visual performance reviews like the one above.

Statistics pie charts

Leverage pie charts for external purposes like content marketing. In our data-driven society, posts that include statistics tend to be much more successful than others.

Statistical infographics can be a useful tool in your marketing arsenal, and this one that includes a series of pie charts can be customized with your researched data sets with just a few clicks.

pie chart


 

This pie chart infographic is a clever twist, combining a 2D pie chart with an image to make it seem like it’s in 3D.

pie chart


 

Marketing pie charts

The average marketing department is a treasure trove of data across dozens of platforms. Help team members visualize your marketing data with pie charts.

pie chart


 

Use a series of donut charts side-by-side as a unique alternative to the standard bar graph.

pie chart


 

Visualize user breakdown along gender lines with this template, or customize it for age groups by adding additional slices.

pie chart


 

This pie chart was informed by survey data, which makes it perfect for any internal or external survey data your marketing team might have.

Related: 15 Visual Content Marketing Statistics to Know for 2021

pie chart


 

Customize this marketing pie chart with the specific channels your team uses to share with company leaders or partners in the industry.

Budget pie charts

Visualizing data on spending is an ideal use for pie charts, as you see right away which line items control the biggest slices.

pie chart


 

This budget pie chart template can help your company visualize your major areas of spending. Simply update the percentages and icons, and don’t forget to list the total spending at the top so the reader can easily understand.

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Pie chart FAQs

Do you have more questions about pie charts? We’ve got answers.

What is a pie chart used for?

Pie charts are used to visualize numbers that add up to 100%. There are many types, and they have a wide range of uses across all industries.

What should a pie chart include?

A pie chart should always include a reference to the percentages listed—or in other words, the data labels. Unless the visualization is obvious (50% in each pie slice, for example), it’s important that readers know the exact numbers, so they should be included on the chart itself or nearby.

Is a pie chart always in percentage?

Yes, though sometimes it’s in a roundabout way. While most pie charts list percentages, it’s also possible to create a pie chart using non-percentage data, so long as the data constitutes all parts of the whole.

 

In summary: When used correctly, pie charts are a tasty addition to your design recipe book

Creating a pie chart has never been simpler thanks to Venngage’s Pie Chart Maker. Just add your data, pick your style and see all the ways in which you can bring your information to life through a pie graph or donut chart.


 

 

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About Jennifer Gaskin

A veteran of newsrooms and agencies, Jennifer Gaskin is a writer, editor and designer who is the only living person not to have strong feelings on the Oxford comma. She's an award-winning practitioner of journalism and information design who spent the better part of a decade as the creative director of a digital marketing shop. As a writer, Jennifer contributes to a variety of publications while working with clients as well as taking on her own projects.

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