Stock charts are an essential tool for technical traders of all stripes. Charts can be used to identify trends in the price of a stock, track price movements on a tick-by-tick basis, or even to search for technical patterns that may indicate a big movement is coming.
That said, not every stock chart is equally simple to use or filled with technical analysis features. It’s important to find the best stock charting software so that you’re not missing out on important information and tools.
To help, we’ll highlight a few of the important features you should look for in a stock charting platform. We’ll also take a closer look at four of our favorite stock charts for intraday and medium-term technical traders.
What to Look for in a Stock Chart Software?
Stock charts can be relatively minimal to give traders a clean and simple interface, or they can be loaded down with a ton of features and tools. Choosing the best stock charting software for you ultimately comes down to what tools you plan to use and how much flexibility you need to create advanced studies. With that in mind, here are a few features that we think are essential for stock charts.
While the majority of traders read and analyze stock charts using the classic candlestick price bar, you should have more options than just candlesticks. Many stock charting software platforms allow you to chart prices using standard bars, lines, area graphs, monkey bars, or a variety of other bar types. Depending on the analysis you’re running, having the option to look at data in a different way can be extremely helpful.
It’s also important to consider how much flexibility you have in displaying price data over time.
That means looking for stock charts that allow you to plot different bar timescales over different window lengths. For example, your chart may default to displaying a three-month chart with daily bars, but can you display the same three-month window with hourly or weekly bars? Having this flexibility can be very important for looking at patterns over longer time periods and examining hourly or weekly patterns that often go overlooked by traders.
In addition, day traders will need to make sure that their stock chart is displaying real-time data and has the ability to show price changes on a tick-by-tick basis. These very short-term price changes may not be important for trades on longer timescales, but they can make or break the profitability of intraday trades.
Trendlines, Technical Overlays, and Studies
The biggest differences among many popular stock charting platforms are the number and type of technical analyses that they support. More is almost always better here, since trendlines, technical overlays, and secondary chart studies are at the heart of technical trading.
At a minimum, stock charting software should support basic overlays like moving averages and hand-drawn trendlines. Ideally, your stock chart will also allow you to draw in Fibonacci retracements, place markers, and add text annotations.
Technical studies are also extremely important. Basic stock charts may only offer a handful of common studies, such as RSI, MACD, and Bollinger Bands. More advanced stock charts typically come with a suite of hundreds of pre-defined technical studies that you can use to analyze price data over time.
A critical point to watch for here is customizability. The vast majority of stock charting platforms limit your ability to change the parameters underlying the included studies – for example, you may be limited to moving averages of just a few fixed periods, or to using RSI with a standard 14-day price window. Advanced charting platforms will give you more options to edit these parameters, which enables you to develop custom studies or to investigate trends more deeply than cookie-cutter analyses will allow.
Optional: Scanners and Alerts
Having a stock scanner and alert system built into your stock charts isn’t essential, but it can dramatically improve your trading efficiency.
An integrated stock scanner allows you to search for stocks that meet specific technical parameters – you can then pull up detailed charts for any resulting stock within the same platform and begin to run advanced technical analyses. You could accomplish this with a separate stock scanner, but it’s faster and often easier to work within a single platform.
Technical alerts can also be extremely useful, particularly for day traders. Many advanced stock charts allow you to set alerts based not only on price levels, but also based on technical overlays and studies. So, you could get an alert when a stock breaks above its short-term moving average or when the RSI indicates that a stock is overbought or oversold.
Backtesting is a relatively advanced technical analysis feature that is best suited for traders developing custom strategies. With backtesting, traders can use historical stock data to determine the profitability of a specific set of technical entry and exit triggers. Backtesting is not a requisite feature for trading, but it’s worth considering because it is included in many heavy-duty stock charting platforms.
If you plan to use flexible technical studies to create your own indicators or pattern triggers, backtesting is absolutely essential. Otherwise, it may just add to the complexity and cost of your stock charts.
Our 4 Favorite Stock Charting Platforms
Now that you have an idea of what to look for in a stock chart, let’s take a closer look at four of our favorite stock charting software options.
TradingView is a highly versatile stock charting platform with a helpful and educational social component. The charts themselves are very flexible, with nearly unlimited options for time interval displays and technical studies. On top of that, TradingView charts make it possible to compare multiple stocks on a single chart.
TradingView includes a built-in stock screener and technical alerts. In addition, it offers a few unique features that make this platform stand out above the crowd. One of these is a replay function, which allows traders to learn and recognize pattern formation by playing back the day’s ticks at fast speeds. Another is the Pine Editor, which allows traders to define custom indicator-based strategies and to perform a basic backtest.
The most interesting feature of TradingView, though, is its social component. Traders can share screenshots of their own annotated charts with notes, as well as scripts for custom studies and strategies. This makes charting more fun and can allow traders to use the best ideas of fellow traders rather than reinventing the wheel for each new custom indicator.
TradingView offers much of its charting functionality for free. However, a paid plan starting at $14.95 per month is required to add multiple indicators to a single chart or to view price data at the one-second timescale.
StockCharts.com puts a lot of emphasis on offering different chart visualizations beyond just the standard candlestick plot. With StockCharts.com, traders can view price movements in old-school charts marked with X’s and O’s, investigate interactive yield curves, or look at colored boxes to reveal sector-wide trends. In addition, StockCharts.com has a number of options for comparing up to a dozen stocks on a single page at one time. These alternative charts are the main draw to the platform and many are impossible to re-create using other stock charting software.
Unfortunately, StockCharts.com isn’t as easy to use for traders who want to stick with candlestick charts. While the platform includes most common technical indicators, applying indicators is somewhat cumbersome and there’s no way to define custom studies. The charts also just aren’t as pretty and interactive as what a lot of other charting platforms offer.
Anyone can use StockCharts.com for free, but data will be delayed by up to one full trading day and there are no intraday timeframes. Paid plans start at $14.95 per month for intraday charts and real-time price data.
Thinkorswim is an extremely powerful stock charting and trade execution platform offered by TD Ameritrade. The software has a lot to offer, including unlimited timeframe customization, a built-in scanner and technical alerts, and extraordinarily flexible charts. The software can be a bit overwhelming because it offers so much, but Thinkorswim has a huge potential for technical traders.
Perhaps the best feature of this platform is its custom, easy-to-learn coding language. The platform includes hundreds of technical indicators and studies, but traders can also write their own from scratch using the intuitive code editor or by modifying the code for existing indicators. The benefit of this even for traders not looking to create their own strategies is that any common indicator can be modified or combined with another technical study to create a scan or watchlist.
Of course, Thinkorswim also offers advanced backtesting. Traders can replay historical data back to 2009 to test out strategies and keep track of profit and loss over any period from intraday to multi-year. In addition, the thinkBack tool allows strategy testing for stock options.
Thinkorswim is free to use with a TD Ameritrade brokerage account.
Power E*TRADE is a close competitor to Thinkorswim provided by a rival brokerage. However, where Thinkorswim opens up a host of possibilities for creating custom indicators and strategies, Power E*TRADE focuses more narrowly on common technical analyses and options trading. One of the major advantages of this platform is that it is capable of automatic pattern recognition, which can allow traders to pick up on technical formations that are hard for the human eye to see clearly.
For options traders, Power E*TRADE is hard to beat. The platform includes a feature it calls “snapshot analysis,” which instantly displays the risk and reward trade-offs of an options trade so traders can make informed decisions quickly. Spectral analysis takes this one step further, allowing options traders to explore profit and loss under a wide range of hypothetical price movement scenarios.
Power E*TRADE is free for E*TRADE brokerage customers.
Stock charts are essential tools for technical traders and the basis of many technical analysis methods. Choosing the right stock charting platform for your needs depends on what features you plan to use, including whether or not you want the ability to create and test a custom strategy. Keep in mind that depending on what brokerage you use for trading, you may be able to get a highly advanced stock charting software at no cost.