Top 6 Chart Time Frames for Day Traders

Understanding the stock market’s subtle shifts is key to a day trader’s performance. As you get to know the six main chart time frames, you’ll see that each offers a different view of market patterns and the best times to buy or sell.  The 1-minute chart forces quick decisions, while the 4-hour chart shows a wider view of market trends. Knowing the pros and cons of each time frame helps you build a solid trading plan.

When you look at different chart time frames, think of them as tools. A 1-minute chart is like a microscope, showing you every tiny move in the market – it’s useful for making very quick trades.

A 4-hour chart is like stepping back for a broader view, like looking at a landscape from a hilltop. It helps you see longer trends that might not be obvious in the minute-by-minute movements.

Your job is to pick the right tool for your trading style. Some traders prefer the fast pace of short time frames, while others like the bigger picture. By understanding what each time frame tells you, you can make better choices about when to enter or exit a trade.

Quick Take:  The best chart time frames for day traders are typically the 1-minute, 5-minute, and 15-minute charts. These time frames provide the necessary detail for intraday trading decisions without overwhelming the trader with too much information. Day traders often use these shorter time frames to identify short-term price patterns and make quick trading decisions


  1. Understand Each Time Frame’s Utility: Each chart time frame, from 1-minute to monthly, offers a unique perspective on patterns, important for formulating effective trading strategies.
  2. Align Time Frames with Trading Style: Day traders should align the chart time frames with their trading style, whether they prefer the rapid decision-making of 1-minute charts or the broader trends visible in 4-hour charts.
  3. Recognize the Importance of Flexibility: Adapting to various time frames is key to exploiting short-term wins or building steady profits, depending on market movements and individual trading goals.
  4. Utilize Tools Suitable for the Time Frame: Using the right analytical tools for the chosen time frame can enhance the decision-making process, whether for fast-moving charts or longer, more stable time frames.
  5. Balance Detail and Overview: Traders need to find a balance between the detail provided by shorter time frames and the bird’s eye view provided by longer ones to effectively spot trends and make decisions in line with their trading plan.

Understanding Chart Time Frames

To get the hang of day trading, grasping the concept of chart time frames is key. These time frames can shape your trading approach in a big way. They influence how often you trade and which tools you use to make decisions. For example, a chart that updates every minute is great for those looking to make many small trades quickly. But a chart that updates every 15 minutes could lead to fewer trades.

Picking the right tools for these time frames matters too. For fast-moving charts, you’ll want tools that can keep up so you will need to adjust the settings for any indicator that you are using. For longer time frames, staying close the the default settings is never a bad starting point. There’s no magic answer here; it’s about what works best for you and your trading plan.

Best Time To Use These Timeframes

When looking to day trade, traders will often resort to the first and last hour of the trading day.  This is, historically, when a lot of the trading volume takes place.  Some stats have shown that 45 – 50% of day traders spend 1-2 hours in front of the screen and less than 20% spend more than 6 hours day trading.

The 1-Minute Chart

1-Minute ChartFor those looking to jump into day trading, the 1-minute chart is a key tool for making quick decisions and keeping up with fast-moving markets. This type of chart shows you the market’s activity in detail, displaying every price change. When you’re trading on such a short time scale, known as scalping, you need to see these immediate changes to grab small profits quickly.

However, scalping is not easy. It requires your full focus and quick reactions. In this high-pressure environment, every small change in price, or ‘tick’, could mean gaining or losing money. If you’re disciplined and can stay calm under pressure, the 1-minute chart may suit your trading style, allowing you to make many trades for small gains throughout the day.

The 5-Minute Chart

5-Minute ChartFor those who find split-second trading decisions a bit too intense, the 5-minute chart is a little slower. It provides a wider snapshot of market movement, which can lead to better trade choices.

What to remember about this particular chart:

  • It finds the middle ground between rapid, short-term charts and slower, long-term ones.
  • You’re more likely to spot clear trading patterns because there’s less random fluctuation than on the 1-minute chart.
  • When buying or selling in small price movements, known as scalping, this chart gives you a bit more time to think and act.

This chart is a go-to for many day traders due to its pace.  For some, it may still offer to much market noise to be practical.  I often use a 5 minute chart as an entry time frame depending on the strategy I am using.

The 15-Minute Chart

15-Minute ChartIf you’ve been using the 5-minute chart for your trades and feel it’s a bit too hectic, the 15-minute chart is a great trade-off.  It’s less cluttered than the 5-minute one, making the market’s direction and price action easier to see.

When you use tools like chart indicators they’re often more dependable on the 15-minute chart because they have more information to work with.

Let’s talk about support and resistance. Imagine these are like floors and ceilings in price; the 15-minute chart shows these levels more clearly. This allows you to find better entry points, price targets, and even places to place your stop loss.

The 30-Minute Chart

30-Minute ChartIf you’re trading and want to see the bigger picture without getting lost in minute-by-minute fluctuations, a 30-minute chart is a solid choice.   In my early days of day trading, I’d use the 30-minute chart trend direction for taking trades on the 5-minute chart.

Here’s how this broader view can be useful:

It’s great for noticing trends that are more likely to last. On a shorter chart, you might see what looks like a trend, but it could just be a brief correction that doesn’t hold up longer than a few bars. The 30-minute chart smooths things out, so you’re less likely to be fooled by those short-term price movements.

It helps you spot important patterns like triangles or head and shoulders. These patterns can tell you a lot about where the market might be headed next – no guarantee but the probability of something happening over something else.

As an experienced trader, I’ve found that using the 30-minute chart is a good balance—it gives you enough detail to make decisions but also keeps you from getting bogged down by every little price change. Remember, trading is not just about jumping in whenever (FOMO)—it’s about understanding the market’s rhythms and making choices based on what you see.

The 1-Hour Chart

1-Hour ChartWhen you look at the 1-hour chart, it becomes easier to see the direction in which the market is moving. This clarity can really help when you’re deciding when to buy or sell. On this chart, you’ll be able to spot the best times to get into or out of a trade with greater accuracy, avoiding the confusion that often comes with looking at shorter periods.

This time frame is also great for spotting chart patterns in the price of stocks or other assets. Recognizing these patterns is a key skill if you’re day trading and should be part of a trading plan.

How does this benefit you?

Using the 1-hour chart, you can make informed decisions because you’re seeing a broader picture of what’s happening in the market. Let’s say you notice that every time a certain stock reaches a price of $50, it tends to go up. That’s a pattern. If you see it approaching $50 again, you might decide it’s a good time to buy, expecting the price to rise once more.

In short, the 1-hour chart is a useful tool for traders. It helps you see trends and patterns that could guide your trading decisions, giving you a better chance of making profitable trades.

Identifying Market Trends

Utilizing the 1-hour chart, you can discern short-term market trends that inform smart trade decisions throughout your trading day. It’s a powerful tool for grasping the pulse of the market, combining market psychology and technical indicators to provide a clearer picture of potential movements. Here are three crucial steps to effectively identify trends using the 1-hour chart:

  1. Analyze Candlestick Patterns: Look for bullish or bearish formations that suggest a shift in trader sentiment.
  2. Apply Technical Indicators: Utilize tools like moving averages, RSI, and MACD to confirm trend direction and strength.
  3. Assess Volume: Confirm the trend’s validity by checking if high volume accompanies price movements, indicating strong trader interest.

Entry and Exit Points

Once you get the hang of recognizing market trends using the 1-hour chart, you should focus on finding the best times to enter and exit your trades. Watching the price movement helps you decide when to enter the market. If the price moves sharply in one direction and more people are trading (high trading volume), it’s usually a good sign that the trend is strong and it’s a good time to jump in if your trade plan allows it.

When it’s time to exit, look for signs that are the opposite of what you looked for when you entered. If the price movement starts to slow down and fewer people are trading, that could be your cue to sell and either take your profits or tighten up your stop.

Chart Pattern Recognition

Chart Pattern RecognitionUnderstanding chart patterns on a 1-hour chart can greatly improve your success in finding good trades during the day. This particular chart view strikes a nice balance—it cuts down on the random fluctuations that you see in shorter periods, while still letting you act fast when the market changes.

Here’s how to use it effectively:

  • Spot Important Patterns: Keep an eye out for certain shapes like ‘head and shoulders’, ‘triangles’, or ‘flags’. These can hint at whether a price is likely to keep going in its current direction or go through a trend change.
  • Understand Price Movement: Look at the candlesticks on your chart; they’re like snapshots of the tug-of-war between buyers and sellers. A candlestick with a large body and small wicks can indicate strong buying or selling pressure.
  • Check Volume: Volume is how many shares are traded. When you see a pattern, check if there’s a big increase in volume. This can tell you whether a lot of people are behind a price move, making it more likely to sustain.

The 4-Hour Chart

4-Hour ChartThe 4-hour chart is a good middle ground for traders. It shows important movements in the market while giving you clear spots to enter and leave trades. It’s not as overwhelming as shorter charts and helps you judge trade risks better.

It filters out the daily noise and shows you the main paths the market is taking.  Use this chart to your advantage. For example, if you’re considering buying shares in a company, you might wait to see if the 4-hour chart shows a consistent upward trend before you hit the buy button. This way, you’re not jumping in based on a short-lived spike that you might see on a 1-hour chart.

Identifying Market Trends

Identifying Market TrendsTo get a handle on market trends, take a close look at the 4-hour chart. This chart strikes a good balance, showing you the short-term price changes and the bigger trends. It’s important for understanding the mood of the market and for a detailed look at trading volume. Let’s break down why this is helpful:

  1. Market Mood: The 4-hour chart shows what traders are feeling and doing. It’s like a snapshot of whether people are excited or worried about the market.
  2. Trading Volume: Volume tells you how many shares are being traded with each price change. This helps you figure out if a trend is strong and likely to continue, or weak and might change.
  3. Spotting Patterns: It’s easier to see certain patterns on this chart that you might miss on shorter ones. These patterns can give you clues about where the market might go next.

Managing Trade Risk

When you’re looking at a 4-hour chart to make decisions about your trades, it’s important to have a plan to protect your capital if things don’t go as planned.

  1. How Much to Trade: Think about how much money you’re comfortable with risking and how big your trading account is. Only trade with money you’re okay with possibly losing.
  2. Setting a Stop-Loss: Put your stop-loss—a safety net for your trade—at a point that fits with how much risk you’re willing to take and how much prices are going up and down. This is all about limiting your potential loss without getting stopped out of your trade too early.
  3. Keep Watching: Always keep an eye on your stop-loss and change it if the market starts in a parabolic fashion. It’s not a “set it and forget it” situation; you need to be actively involved to keep your risk under control and to take profits when big moves occur.


To succeed in the environment of day trading, traders are encouraged to experiment with and adapt these time frames to their individual needs, staying informed and ready to make changes depending on the volatility of the instrument being traded. From the rapid decisions required by the 1-minute chart to the broader perspectives offered by the 4-hour chart, each time frame serves as a tool that can be tailored to different trading styles and strategies.

Author: CoachShane
Shane his trading journey in 2005, became a Netpicks customer in 2008 needing structure in his trading approach. His focus is on the technical side of trading filtering in a macro overview and credits a handful of traders that have heavily influenced his relaxed approach to trading. Shane started day trading Forex but has since transitioned to a swing/position focus in most markets including commodities and futures. This has allowed less time in front of the computer without an adverse affect on returns.