Illustrator Graph Designs: Creating a Pictogram/Unit Chart

Although Adobe Illustrator already has the built-in feature to produce an array of different charts, some of them can be adjusted to produce additional types of chart.  One in particular is the Bar Graph Tool that can be adjusted using the Graph Design feature to produce a Pictrogram Chart, also known as a unit chart.

Pictogram charts use icons to give a more engaging overall view of small sets of discreet data. Typically, the icons represents the data’s subject or category, for example, data on population would use icons of people. Each icon can represent one unit or any number or units (e.g. each icon represents 10). Data sets are compared side-by-side in either columns or rows of icons, to compare each category to one another.

The use of icons can sometimes help overcome differences in language, culture and eduction. Icons can also give a more representational view of the data. So for example, if your data is ‘5 cars’, you show 5 icons of cars in the chart.


Setting up a shape

Before you can even begin to draw the graph, first you will need to assign the icon that will be used in the Pictogram Chart.

1) Create a new document in Adobe Illustrator. First thing you need to do is to select the Star Tool in the side toolbar. You will have to hold down on the Rectangle Tool button to get a complete list of options to see the Star Tool.

illustrator graph design


2) Set Fill Color to red and Stroke Color to None. Click anywhere on canvas and enter these values.  Hit OK when done.

illustrator graph design

The result should look like this:



3) Rotate the star counterclockwise 90 degrees by going Object > Transform > Rotate…

star rotated


4) Time to assign the star as Illustrator Graph Design. Make sure you’ve selected the star with the Selection Tool. Next on the top menu, go Object > Graph > Design… then on the window that pops up, press the New Design button to make the star into a Graph Design.

illustrator graph design


5) Click Rename and write “Red Star” and hit OK.  Hit OK again on the Graph Design window.

illustrator graph design


6) Delete the original star you had drawn, as this is no longer needed.


Building the chart

We’ll now construct the chart itself now that we’ve created an icon.

1) On the side toolbar, select the Bar Graph Tool.

illustrator graph design


2) Click onto canvas and drag out a box to draw the chart.

illustrator graph design


3) In the Data window that pops up, enter in these values and then hit the Apply button (the tick) to apply the data to the graph.


The graph will change:

illustrator graph design


4) Right click onto the graph and select Column…

illustrator graph design


5) Select Red Star from the Graph Column window.  Set the Column Type to Repeating, this will repeat the icon as a pattern.  Enter 1 in the Each Design Represents field, this is the unit that each icon represents.  Fractions can either be Scale or Chop – this determines how data with fractions will be displayed.

illustrator graph design


Hit OK and the graph will change from being a bar graph to the desired pictogram/unit chart:


6) Now lets clean up the chart and remove the unnecessary scale.  Select the chart with the Selection Tool and go Object > Ungroup.  Press yes on the pop-up message that you will be prompted with.


7) On the side toolbar select the Direction Selection Tool and select all the elements are not needed for the chart and delete.

illustrator graph design

And there you go.  You’ve produced a basic pictogram/unit chart on Adobe Illustrator.

You can also have multiple icons in one chart by using the Group Selection Tool and selecting the individual bar, then assigning the icon via Column…

You can easily change the chart by it’s data without having to fiddle with the graph, which can save time when reproducing the same style of chart over and over again.  However, this can only be done before you ungroup the chart.  So be careful and save the chart before you begin to tear it apart.  By right-clicking the chart and selecting Data… from the menu, you can enter in new data and the chart will update when you press Apply.

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If you’re interested in learning more about Adobe Illustrator, then we offer a range of high quality courses at different proficiency levels, in numerous cities across the UK.