5 Best Ways to Create Bar Charts with Vertical Labels in Python Matplotlib

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πŸ’‘ Problem Formulation: When visualizing data with bar charts in Python using Matplotlib, presenting the labels vertically often enhances clarity, especially when dealing with long text labels or a large number of categories. This article describes how to rotate X-axis labels vertically, providing a cleaner presentation of the data. We aim to transform a bar chart with horizontally overlapped labels into one with neatly aligned vertical labels.

Method 1: Using xticks() and Rotation

This method involves modifying the orientation of the labels on the x-axis using Matplotlib’s xticks() function and the rotation parameter. This is an easy and straightforward approach to vertically align your labels for better visibility and clarity.

Here’s an example:

import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

# Data
categories = ['Category A', 'Category B', 'Category C', 'Category D']
values = [10, 20, 30, 40]

# Bar Chart
plt.bar(categories, values)

# Rotate X-axis labels

# Display the plot

The output is a bar chart with vertical labels on the x-axis, ensuring that all labels are readable.

This snippet sets up a simple bar chart with the categories on the x-axis and their corresponding values. By calling plt.xticks() with the rotation='vertical' parameter, we rotate the labels vertically to prevent them from overlapping and to make them easily legible.

Method 2: Using set_xticklabels() with Rotation

Another method for rotating x-axis labels is by using the Axes object’s set_xticklabels() method with the rotation argument. This provides an object-oriented way to explicitly set the labels and can be useful when dealing with subplots.

Here’s an example:

# Assuming 'ax' is the Axes object from a subplot
ax.set_xticklabels(categories, rotation=90)

The output will show vertically rotated labels on the x-axis of the specified subplot.

In this code, ax is a reference to the Axes object on which the bar chart is plotted. By using set_xticklabels(), we assign the categories to the x-axis and set their orientation to vertical by passing rotation=90 as an argument.

Method 3: Using tick_params()

The tick_params() function is a versatile tool for customizing tick properties such as label rotation. This method involves minimal code and is particularly handy when dealing with multiple axes customizations simultaneously.

Here’s an example:

plt.bar(categories, values)
plt.tick_params(axis='x', rotation=90)

The output is a bar chart with its x-axis labels rotated at a 90-degree angle.

This code snippet first creates the bar chart and then calls plt.tick_params(), setting the axis parameter to ‘x’ to specify that we are modifying the x-axis ticks. The rotation=90 parameter rotates the labels vertically.

Method 4: Formatting with Text() and get_xticklabels()

For more control over label properties, the combination of Matplotlib’s Text() properties and get_xticklabels() can be used. While it requires a few additional steps, it enables sophisticated customization of font properties and alignment alongside rotation.

Here’s an example:

bars = plt.bar(categories, values)
labels = [bar.get_text() for bar in plt.gca().get_xticklabels()]
plt.gca().set_xticklabels(labels, rotation=45, ha='right', rotation_mode='anchor')

The output will be a bar chart with diagonally rotated labels on the x-axis, facilitating better readability while maintaining a clean appearance.

The above code snippet first generates the bar chart. It then retrieves the current labels using get_xticklabels(). The set_xticklabels() method is then used with custom rotation, horizontal alignment (ha), and rotation mode to achieve the desired text orientation and alignment.

Bonus One-Liner Method 5: Using plt.setp()

For a quick, one-liner solution, Matplotlib’s plt.setp() function can be used to access and modify the properties of the x-axis labels.

Here’s an example:

plt.bar(categories, values)
plt.setp(plt.gca().get_xticklabels(), rotation=90, ha='center')

This results in a clean bar chart where the x-axis labels are rotated to a vertical position while centered.

This method is concise and to the point. It involves creating the bar chart, then using plt.setp() to access and rotate the x-axis labels in one line of code. It specifies both rotation and horizontal alignment directly.


  • Method 1: xticks() function with rotation. Simple and straightforward. Might not allow detailed customization.
  • Method 2: set_xticklabels() with rotation. Offers more control for object-oriented plots. Can be slightly more verbose than other methods.
  • Method 3: tick_params(). A versatile and simple way to rotate labels. Useful for adjusting multiple tick parameters at once.
  • Method 4: Text() and get_xticklabels(). Provides the greatest level of customization for text properties. Best for detailed and specific label formatting.
  • Bonus Method 5: plt.setp(). A concise one-liner. Most effective for quickly applying a standard set of properties to labels.