How do you create a thematic map like the one above for your next presentation if you don’t have a mapping tool? Simple, create it in Excel. Easier said than done, right? Well, not really…

You know that you can add shapes to your worksheet, don’t you? So, why not to add shapes that mirror geographic borders (states, counties…)? That’s the rational behind the idea of creating thematic maps (or “choropleth maps”) in Excel.

Unlike the previous poor man’s GIS that uses a “geo-scatterplot” to display data points, this technique do not rely on a more or less creative use of the chart library.

In this screencast tutorial I’ll show you how to create a thematic map and color-code it, based on your own data. You don’t need add-ins or additional software, just a little time to set it up. Please note that this is not intended to replace even the simplest mapping tool, but it’s a simple and fast solution to geo-reference your data and add it to a presentation slide.

To start the tutorial just click the link below:

Screencast: How to create a thematic map in Excel.

Note that you need a map. You can draw it yourself or you can import it. Drawing a States map is simple:

  • Import an image to the Excel file (you can use this one, for example);
  • Draw the shapes using the map as a reference.


The other option is to obtain a file. You can get an ESRI Shape file from the National Atlas but you’ll have to convert it to Windows Metafile (WMF) or similar format.

Hope you’ll find this technique useful and feel free to suggest any improvements.

If you liked this tutorial you may be interested in How to create population pyramids and the “How-to Edition” of the Excel Dashboard tutorial . And you may consider subscribing to get updated news and tutorials.

[Update: The Clear and Simple blog has several posts about thematic maps. You should check it. Tushar Mehta has a nice tutorial also. His VBA code is more robust but also more complex.]