By clicking “Accept”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.
Dec 22, 2023
Looker Studio

Sankey Charts: The New Data Visualization Hero in Looker Studio?

Explore How to Visualize Data Paths Like Never Before. By Fassil S. Yehuala

Looker Studio has solidified its position as a premier data visualization platform, offering users a seamless experience in creating interactive and personalized visualizations. Recently, Looker Studio introduced an innovative Sankey chart, providing dynamic insights into data flow between diverse categories. This article aims to delve deeply into Looker Studio's latest offering, exploring its features and guiding users on harnessing the potential of this robust tool for comprehensive data visualization.

What is a Sankey Chart?

A Sankey chart serves as a visual representation illustrating the flow of data among distinct categories or groups. Widely employed in network data visualization, this graphical representation showcases the movement of data through various nodes. Nodes represent categories, and the connections between them are depicted as lines with varying widths, offering a lucid portrayal of the data flow dynamics.

Looker Studio's Sankey chart introduces an interactive and customizable approach to visualizing data flow between categories. 

Let's now explore how we can make a Sankey chart in Looker Studio.

Creating the Sankey Chart in Looker Studio

For the Sankey chart to function seamlessly, it requires two distinct columns—one for the "source" and another for the "destination." These columns serve as the dimensions that the graph utilizes to draw the connecting lines.

Consider a scenario where you want to analyze income distribution by countries and then drill down further into cities. In this case, you would ideally have two columns—one representing the countries as the source and the other capturing the cities as the destination.

This structure allows the Sankey chart to map the flow of income from countries to cities seamlessly, creating a visually intuitive representation of the data.

The process of creating a Sankey chart in Looker Studio is intuitive. You can create the Sankey chart by following the following steps:

  1. Add or select a chart in Looker Studio
  2. Navigate to the Properties panel on the right
  3. Use the Setup tab to configure how the chart's data is organised and displayed

Customizing Sankey Charts

Most of the styling features for Sankey charts align with those available for other charts within Looker Studio. However, when it comes to Sankey charts, two distinctive features—Link and Node—stand out and merit detailed explanation due to their specific roles in shaping the visualization. These settings play a pivotal role in controlling the appearance and layout of connections and individual nodes within the Sankey chart.


The options for Link color mode and Iterations play a crucial role in determining how the connections between nodes are displayed.

  • Link Color Modes: Users can select from various options that define the appearance of the links between nodes:
  • Default: This setting presents links in a shade of grey, while the nodes follow the color designated in the Color by section.
  • Source Colour: Links take on the color of the source node.
  • Target Color: Links are represented in the color of the target node.

Gradient: This option displays links in a gradient of colors between the source and target node hues.

Iterations: This feature influences the layout of nodes for better readability. Increasing the number leads to a more organized arrangement of nodes, especially beneficial for complex Sankey charts. However, it's essential to note that selecting a higher number of Iterations might lead to longer rendering times in certain cases.

It's important to note that for very simple Sankey graphs with no intermediary nodes, increasing the iterations beyond 16 won't visibly alter the graph's appearance. However, in more complex charts with multiple nodes in-between, adjusting the iteration count would indeed have a notable impact on the overall layout and organization of the Sankey chart. As complexity grows, so does the significance of fine-tuning the iteration count for optimal visualization.


Adjusting Node thickness and Node padding significantly impacts the appearance of the individual nodes within the Sankey chart.

  • Node Thickness: This setting allows users to define the thickness of each node. A higher value results in more visibly prominent nodes within the chart.
  • Node Padding: Governing the space surrounding each node and the spacing between links, this setting controls how compact the nodes appear. Higher values create more space, affecting node density and link spacing.

These customization options grant you the ability to fine-tune the appearance of your Sankey charts, facilitating personalized and visually appealing representations of their data.

Multi-Level Sankey Charts

At the moment, Looker Studio restricts the addition of extra dimensions to create more complex charts, as it solely accepts two dimensions: source and target, without intermediary steps. Nevertheless, by structuring data in line with the chart's requirements, you can enhance your Sankey charts to depict multi-level relationships more comprehensively. Let's move into transforming the data structure to facilitate the creation of a multi-level Sankey chart.

After structuring the data as depicted above, you can configure your Sankey chart following the previously outlined steps. Initially, the resulting chart will resemble the one displayed below (iteration = 0).

However, the nodes will be ordered by their values, potentially posing readability challenges for some. To enhance clarity and organization, increasing the iteration count significantly improves the chart's organization and readability, as demonstrated below in the updated visualization (iteration = 16).


In conclusion, Looker Studio has reinforced its standing as one of the leading data visualization platforms with the introduction of the innovative Sankey chart. This powerful tool empowers users to create interactive and personalized visualizations, offering dynamic insights into the flow of data across diverse categories.

While Looker Studio currently limits the addition of extra dimensions for creating more complex charts, you can still optimize Sankey charts for multi-level relationships by aligning data with the chart's requirements. 

In summary, Looker Studio's Sankey chart, with its interactive capabilities and customization options, empowers you to unlock deeper insights into data relationships. Whether visualizing simple or multi-level charts, Looker Studio continues to be at the forefront of facilitating intuitive and insightful data exploration.

More to read

If you enjoyed this blog, you'll love these too! Dive into more captivating content:

Further Links

Check out our LinkedIn account, to get insights into our daily working life and get important updates about BigQuery, Data Studio, and marketing analytics

We also started with our own YouTube channel. We talk about important DWH, BigQuery, Data Studio, and many more topics. Check out the channel here.

If you want to learn more about using Google Data Studio and taking it to the next level in combination with BigQuery, check out our Udemy course here.

If you are looking for help setting up a modern and cost-efficient data warehouse or analytical dashboard, email us at and we will schedule a call.