learn to read an option profit and loss graph

Even the simplest option, a long call, can be difficult to visualize and manage. Trying to keep a portfolio full of iron condors, long puts, bear call spreads, etc... without any help is a daunting task. Then, if you try to manage one of those positions by making an adjustment you would be truly lost without some sort of visual representation of what is happening.

An option's profit and loss graph, also known as risk graph, takes these very complex strategies and gives you a simple representation of what is happening and what is going to happen. We will discuss further why we need profit and loss graphs, how to read the graphs and the limitations of using them.

Iron Butterfly

Why Do We Need Profit And Loss Graphs

Profit and loss graphs serve many purposes but mainly they help us visualize how an option strategy will perform over a variety of prices. Before a position is placed you can use these graphs and tell exactly what your profit and loss potential is for that strategy.

Not only can you see your overall gain and loss potential but you will be able to see how your position responds as the underlying moves across various price points.

One of the biggest benefits of a profit and loss graph is that you can see what happens when you try to adjust your position. Right now, visualize what happens when you have an iron condor on and you adjust the position by buying a vertical put spread around your lower condor strikes. Do you know what that looks like? Can you tell what your new profit and loss potential would be?

Most traders couldn't visualize that adjustment let alone tell you their new profit and loss potential. Profit and loss graphs makes that an easy task.

long call

How To Read A Profit And Loss Graph

The graphs are broken down into two axis planes. The Y-axis, vertical or up and down, represents the profit and loss for the position. Any area above the X-axis shows us a profit and any area below the X-axis shows us a loss on the strategy. Some strategies will have a capped or limited profit or loss and some will have an unlimited profit or loss.

The X-axis, horizontal or left and right, represents the price of our underlying. A profit and loss graph will typically show a small section of prices that effects our strategy starting with lower prices on the left and rising prices towards the right. Since our underlying can't go into negative territory our X-axis will always begin at zero.

Our breakeven or breakevens for the strategy occurs at the price or prices anytime our strategy line crosses the X-axis.

Risk graphs can be created by hand, using software or through your [option brokerage](content: top 5 option brokerages). To make a graph by hand you need to build a table of possible prices and what your profit and loss would be at each of those prices and then graph it out.

Let's say The Option Prophet (Sym: TOP) is trading for $30 and you want to purchase a call option at the 30 strike for $5.00. 

learn to read chart

From this very simple table, you can begin to see how our graph is starting to come together. You can continue to plot your price points for the increments that you need and the prices you need.

Now this is an option it is not the most effective way. A step up from writing out the table yourself is to use Excel and have your numbers computed by formula and then placed in a nice spiffy graph.

The easiest, fastest and the way you should be doing your profit and loss graphs is by using the tools your broker has given you. After all, that is why you are paying all of those steep commissions. A brokerage that does not offer profit and loss graphs to your positions and for necessary adjustments is not a good option brokerage.

Diagonal Spread with Calls

The Limitations In Profit And Loss Graphs

Profit and loss graphs have several limitations that you need to be aware of. The first limitation is that the risk graph shows our profit and loss at the time of expiration, not before.

This is important for several reasons. Most beginning option traders see a profit and loss graph for their strategy and note the breakeven price or prices. Now, in their mind this is the price their underlying must get to to start making any money. If you hold your options to expiration this is true but it is not true if you are looking to trade in and out of the positions before expiration.

When you begin to add time into a risk graph the lines are no longer perfectly straight. Anytime you see a curve involved in the graph you know you are dealing with options over different time spans. This can make it difficult to see exactly what your profit and loss will be at expiration because those numbers are ambiguous.

Another limitation and this one is minor is that profit and loss graphs don't account for commissions. Option commissions are small compared to regular trading commissions. As with any trading, however, everything must be taken into account when deciding on the best strategy. Some option strategies are commission intensive such as an iron condor and when you have to adjust the position this commission total can have a negative impact on your overall profit.


Option profit and loss, or risk graphs, are one of the easiest option concepts to grasp but they can have such a large impact on your overall trading success.

While you can always create your own profit and loss graphs it is best to find a brokerage that will create graphs for you. By going through your brokerage you should be able to easily map possible strategies, your current positions, and any adjustments you might make to your positions. Adjusting positions can be hard to see and understand their overall effect without a risk graph associated with them.

round testimonial

"Last year The Option Prophet absolutely transformed my trading account from one where monthly gains were often uncertain and unpredictable into one where a steady monthly income stream through OTM credit spreads bought amazingly steady and consistent growth."

-Andrew B.