Questions from Tableau Training: Can I Move Mark Labels?

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Questions from Tableau Training: Can I Move Mark Labels?

by Elizabeth Kreitler

Our Certified Tableau Trainers are asked a myriad of questions each day. In this series, they share some answers.

Sometimes Tableau puts mark labels exactly where we want ‘em… But sometimes the default positioning of mark labels leaves class participants asking:

“Can I pick where my mark labels go?”

The answer is yes! You have two options for adjusting positioning for your mark labels:

  1. Adjust the alignment using the Label button
  2. Click directly on the mark and set it free to be wherever you choose
  3. Not really adjusting mark labels at all … but adding annotation as a label instead (that’s why I said there are only two options).

However, as with many decisions in life, these two options have different long-term effects as well as different effects depending on which chart type you’re using.

Option 1: Label Button Alignment

In the below example, a bar chart is labeled at the rightmost edge of each bar. Navigating to the Label button reveals that Tableau has defaulted the alignment to automatic. However, by clicking the drop-down menu, we have the option to choose our mark alignment.

Mark labels in Tableau

Tableau > Label > Alignment > Automatic

We have both horizontal and vertical mark label alignment options.

Horizontal and vertical alignment

See if you can guess which options produce this result …

Left-bottom alignment

If you said left horizontal alignment and bottom vertical alignment, you’d be right.

I created a line graph to show sales across months, and after dragging the Sales pill to Measures (or choosing Show Mark Labels in the Labels button), we have the same options for our line graph:

Line graph alignment options

This time, changing the alignment in the same way produces the following:

Changing alignment to bottom-left

Now, Tableau has moved every label to the bottom left of each point on the line chart. This option has overridden the default, therefore mark labels can overlap our line (as seen above). I’ll leave it to you to explore the best option for your scenario.

Finally, we have the pie chart: one in which labels are often used!

Tableau pie chart with labels

You can try the above methods all you want, but those labels aren’t going to budge a bit. Apparently, when faced with a pie, Tableau knows no direction (which is sometimes how I feel when faced with pie … but I digress). And herein lies the rub: How do we get those mark labels inside the pie? Or anywhere else for that matter?

Option 2: Set the Mark Free

This brings us to label-positioning tactic #2 (from above):

“Click directly on the mark and set it free to be wherever you choose.”

This method is as simple as clicking on the label you want to reposition — wait until you get the following cross quadruple arrow cursor (at least that’s what I call it):

Quadruple arrow cursor

Then, drag the label wherever you want. As you can see, in the below screen shot, I’m bringing it inside the pie:

Bring inside the pie

Lather, rinse, repeat and we’ve got a nicely labeled pie chart:

Nicely labeled pie chart

There’s only one issue.

Now that you’ve freed those marks to float around wherever you put them, they are free to float into places you don’t want them (e.g. if the chart changes). See what happens when I exclude EMEA (the orange slice):

Exclude EMEA

Our green mark label has floated right to the bottom of the green pie slice. Similarly, when I resize my pie, those marks get so jumbled we can’t even tell which piece of pie they reference:

Resize jumble

This is a risk you take any time you override Tableau’s default label positioning and free your labels by manually positioning them. So, if you’re now reconsidering this whole pie chart labelling ordeal, you’re probably wondering how to get the labels back to where they started. Right-clicking on the mark brings up the below menu, and under Mark Label we have the option to reset the position. This will get you back to automatically positioned labels.

Tableau menu to Mark label menu to Reset position

The above manual method will work on any chart type — it is just most often requested on the pie chart. So, the moral of the story is: You can reposition your labels, but beware of resizing or changing your chart with floating labels, as they become unpredictable!

Don’t Forget Option 3: Annotations

Lastly, we have the non-label way to get labels wherever you want. Don’t use labels! Use annotations instead, which you’ll have to come back to the blog to learn about!

And now that you’ve got your marks right where you want ‘em, find out how to format them in this blog post

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More About the Author

Elizabeth Kreitler

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