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What are Chart Patterns? | Types & Examples | Technical Analysis Guide

What are Chart Patterns? | Technical Analysis & Trading

The following guide will examine chart patterns, what they are, the different types, and how to use them as part of your trading strategy, as well as present you with brief descriptions of the most popular ones.


Stock chart patterns 

Chart patterns are unique formations within a price chart used by technical analysts in stock trading (as well as stock indices, commodities, and cryptocurrency trading). The patterns are identified using a series of trendlines or curves.

Stock chart patterns can signal shifts between rising and falling trends and suggest the future direction of an asset’s price based on its previous movements. These patterns are often established when price action pauses, signifying areas of consolidation (fluctuations between support and resistance lines) that can bring about a continuation or reversal of the existing trend. 

A continuation chart pattern occurs when the trend continues in its current direction following a brief break, whereas a reversal chart pattern signals a change in trend direction.

Trading volume plays a vital role in these patterns, often declining during the formation and increasing as the price breaks out of the pattern.

Note: The patterns are created by drawing trendlines that join a series of descending highs (peaks) or ascending lows (troughs). Traders use trendlines to locate support and resistance areas on a price chart.


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Types of chart patterns

There are two types of chart patterns: 

  • Continuation patterns;
  • Reversal patterns.

In general, for both continuation and reversal patterns, the longer the pattern forms, and the larger the price movement within it, the more significant the predicted move once the price breaks out. 

During the development of a price pattern, there is no way of knowing whether the trend will continue or reverse. Therefore, traders must pay close attention to trendlines (used to formulate the price pattern) and which way the price eventually breaks. However, traders are best to assume a price trend will continue in its current direction until it is confirmed that it has reversed.

Note: Below, we have classified the chart patterns by whether they are typically continuation or reversal, but many can indicate either a continuation or a reversal, depending on the circumstances.

Limitations of chart patterns

The primary disadvantage to trading chart patterns is the risk of a false breakout. This happens when the price moves outside the pattern but immediately returns within it or to the other side. Unfortunately, it can occur multiple times before the pattern experiences a breakout and a continuation or a reversal occurs. 

Furthermore, patterns can also be subjective, as what one trader perceives as a pattern is not always how another trader would see or draw them in real-time. So while it can provide traders with a unique point of view on the market, it will also require additional practice to develop their skills in finding and drawing patterns, as well as formulating a strategy for using them. 

Note: Traders should take advantage of stop-losses to control risk.

Continuation patterns

Continuation patterns occur in the middle of a prevailing trend, indicating that the price action will likely resume in the same direction even after the continuation pattern completes. However, not all continuation patterns will result in the continuation of the trend — many will also result in reversals.

Many traders look for increased volume when the price breaks out of a continuation zone since a small volume on a breakout typically suggests the pattern is likely to fail.

Technical analysts use several continuation patterns to signal that the price trend will continue. Common continuation patterns, including:

  • Pennants;
  • Flags;
  • Triangles;
  • Rectangles;
  • Cup and handle.

Below are descriptions of these continuation patterns.

Remember: Unfortunately, continuation patterns are not always reliable. For example, a continuation pattern can appear during a trend, but a trend reversal can still happen. Additionally, a full breakout doesn’t always happen, or instead, false breakouts occur multiple times before the pattern is actually broken, and a continuation or reversal occurs.

Pennant

A pennant is a continuation pattern represented by two trendlines that eventually meet. It is often formed after an asset experiences strong upward or downward movement, followed by consolidation before the trend continues in the same direction.

Typically, trading volume will decrease during the pattern formation, followed by a significant increase during the breakout.

Bullish and bearish pennants, in which support and resistance form a symmetrical triangle. Source: Corporatefinanceinstitute.com

Flag

The flag is a continuation chart pattern formed using two parallel trendlines that, in a shorter time frame, move opposite to the dominant trend observed on the longer time frame price chart. 

As a signifier of a possible trend continuation, the flag offers the trader an entry point at which the price has drifted against that trend. Then, should the trend resume, the price increase could be rapid, giving anyone that can notice the pattern a massive advantage to time their trades appropriately. 

Flag patterns can be either bullish or bearish. The flag’s formation is often accompanied by declining volume, which recovers as the price breaks out of the flag formation.

A bullish and a bearish flag displaying two parallel trendlines. Source: Forex.com

Ascending triangle

The ascending triangle is a bullish continuation chart pattern created by placing a horizontal line along the swing highs (resistance points) and an ascending trendline along the swing lows (support points). 

Ascending triangle, a bullish continuation pattern. Source: Dailyfx.com

Descending triangle

Contrary to the ascending triangle, the descending triangle is a bearish continuation chart pattern in which the support line connecting swing lows is horizontal, and the resistance line connecting the swing highs is descending. 

Descending triangle, a bearish continuation pattern. Source: Dailyfx.com

Note: A recognized trend should be established for the triangle to be deemed a continuation pattern.

Symmetrical triangle

A symmetrical triangle is a continuation chart pattern in which two trend lines converge in an equal slope. The support line connects the lower highs, and the resistance line is drawn, connecting the higher lows. The breakout can happen from either direction. However, one from the lower trendline signifies the beginning of a new downward trend, while a breakout from the upper trendline marks the start of a new upward trend.

Symmetrical triangle. Source: Dailyfx.com

Rectangles

Rectangles are continuation chart patterns in which the price moves up and down between parallel support and resistance lines, indicating the absence of a trend. The rectangle ends with a breakout as the price moves out of the rectangle.

Bullish and bearish rectangle. Source: Financetrain.com

Note: Due to their popularity and easy visibility, rectangles are highly susceptible to false breakouts.

Cup and handle

The cup and handle is a bullish continuation chart pattern where an upward trend has paused but will continue once the pattern is confirmed. 

The pattern consists of a cup in the shape of a “U” with equal highs on both sides and a handle with a slight downward drift (resembling a flag or a pennant pattern). Once the handle is complete, the market will likely break into a bullish upwards trend.

Cup and handle on a price chart. The price breaks into a bullish trend once the pattern is complete. Source: School.stockcharts.com

How to read stock continuation chart patterns 

Continuation patterns are signals traders look for to indicate that a price trend is likely to remain intact. 

Investors should take the following steps to trade continuation patterns:

  • Identify the prior trend direction;
  • Wait for the pattern to form;
  • Identify the continuation pattern; 
  • Find the breakout point;
  • Enter the trade when the price breaks out of the pattern: Most traders will only take a trade if the breakout happens in the same direction as the existing trend. Yet, some traders will take trades in the breakout direction even if it’s moving against the existing trend. Though much riskier, they pay off if the trend reverses direction.

Reversal patterns 

Reversal patterns signal change in the prevailing trend. This is characterized by a pause in the established trend and a subsequent move in the new direction as fresh energy surfaces from the other side. 

For example, a downtrend supported by avid sellers can pause, revealing even pressure from both the bears and the bulls, eventually giving way to the bulls, resulting in a change in trend to the upside.

Reversals at market tops are distribution patterns where the asset becomes more vigorously sold than bought. Contrarily, reversals at market bottoms are accumulation patterns, where the security becomes more fervently bought than sold.

Technical analysts use several reversal patterns to signal that the price trend will change. Common reversal patterns include:

  • Wedges;
  • Head and shoulders;
  • Double tops and bottoms;
  • Triple tops and bottoms;
  • Gaps;
  • Rounding tops or bottoms.

 Below are descriptions of these reversal patterns.

Wedge

Wedges are drawn using two converging trendlines advancing in the same direction: up or down (i.e., rising or falling wedges). Wedges can indicate a reversal as well as the continuation of a trend. A falling wedge illustrates a pause during an uptrend, whereas a rising wedge shows a temporary interruption during a downmarket. 

Similar to pennants and flags, trading volume generally wanes during pattern formation, only to increase once the price breaks above or below the wedge pattern.

A rising and falling wedge. Source: Learn.bybit.com

Head and Shoulders

Head and shoulders is a reversal chart pattern consisting of three components: a large peak (head) and two smaller peaks on either side (shoulders). The line connecting the first and second lows (top pattern) or highs (bottom/inverse pattern) to form an area of support or resistance is called a neckline. 

A head and shoulders top pattern (in an uptrend) indicates a bullish-to-bearish trend reversal. Conversely, an inverse head and shoulders pattern (in a downtrend) predicts a trend reversal to the upside. 

Regular head & shoulders and inverse head & shoulders pattern. Source: Forex.academy.com

Double Top 

A double top is a bearish reversal pattern that resembles the letter M, forming after the price reaches a high two consecutive times with a moderate decline between them. It is confirmed once the price drops below the support level (the low between the two prior highs) and signals a medium or long-term trend change.

Double top pattern after which a downmarket ensues. Source: Investopower.com

Double bottom

The opposite of a double top is a double bottom, a bullish reversal pattern that looks like the letter W, in which two consecutive lows, unable to break through the support level, form. After unsuccessfully spearing through the support line twice, the market price shifts towards an uptrend.

Double bottom pattern that sees an upmarket after its completion. Source: Investopower.com

Triple tops and bottoms 

Triple tops and bottoms are reversal chart patterns that act similarly to double tops and bottoms, consisting of three peaks (bearish reversal pattern) or bottoms (bullish reversal pattern), respectively. 

Triple bottom pattern. Source: Swagforex.com

Gaps

Gaps are reversal chart patterns that typically occur when a news story or an event invites a torrent of buyers or sellers into an asset resulting in the price opening substantially higher or lower than the previous day’s closing price. There are four types of gaps: common, breakaway, runaway, and exhaustion. Depending on the kind, gaps can mark the beginning of a new trend or a reversal of an earlier trend.

Breakaway gap that is followed by bullish momentum. Source: Tradingsetupsreview.com

Rounding top or bottom

A rounding bottom is a chart pattern in which price movements form the letter U and usually indicates a bullish upward trend. In comparison, a rounding top is a chart pattern whereby price movements on a graph form the shape of an upside-down U and signifies a bearish downward trend.

Rounded top pattern followed by a downtrend. Source: Learn.tradimo.com

How to read stock reversal chart patterns 

Reversal patterns are signals traders look for to indicate that a price trend is likely to change.

The following steps should be taken to trade reversal patterns:

  • Identify the prior trend direction;
  • Wait for the pattern to form;
  • Identify the reversal pattern; 
  • Find the breakout point;
  • Enter the trade when the price breaks out of the pattern: Traders get out of positions aligned with the trend before the reversal or after seeing the reversal underway. Traders can profit from a bullish reversal by placing long positions that will benefit from a rising price. Bearish reversals, on the other hand, present the opportunity to profit from selling the stock.

Note: Reversals aren’t always easy to differentiate from noise, consolidation, or brief pullbacks. And while reverse patterns can be highly effective when identified correctly, they can be enormously destructive when misinterpreted. As a result, traders must take extra care and patience in confirming signals before jumping to conclusions. 

In conclusion 

All in all, chart patterns are helpful technical indicators that can assist traders in how or why a security’s price has moved in a certain way and how its price might behave in the future. This is particularly helpful for identifying profitable entry and exit points or setting up stop-loss levels. 

Yet, while recognizing chart patterns can provide you with a competitive advantage in the market, before starting your chart pattern analysis, it is essential to familiarise yourself with the set rules and strategies of each pattern you wish to use. 

Disclaimer: The content on this site should not be considered investment advice. Investing is speculative. When investing, your capital is at risk. 

FAQs about chart patterns

What are stock chart patterns?

Chart patterns are geometric shapes drawn onto price charts that can help traders understand price action, as well as make projections about where the price is likely to go (. e.g., price breakouts and trend reversals). They are a fundamental technical analysis method that allows traders to use past price action as a guide for potential future market directions. 

What are the types of stock chart patterns?

There are two primary types of stock chart patterns used in technical analysis: continuation patterns and reversal patterns. Continuation patterns occur in the middle of an existing trend, signaling the continuation of a trend even after the pattern completes. Reversal patterns, on the other hand, signal change in the prevailing trend.

How do stock chart patterns work?

Chart patterns form shapes of price action using trendlines, which can help forecast future price behavior. The patterns are often found when price action pauses, signifying areas of consolidation that can bring about a continuation or reversal of the prevailing trend. 

Why do traders use stock chart patterns?

Patterns provide logic to the price action, pointing to both breakouts and reversals. In particular, traders use chart patterns to identify price trends– valuable for forecasting future price behavior to determine profitable entry or exit points. They can be used to analyze all markets, including stocks, forex, cryptocurrencies, and commodities.

What are the limitations of using stock chart patterns?

The major drawback to trading stock chart patterns is the risk of a false breakout. Additionally, chart pattern movements are not guaranteed and should be used in tandem with other market analysis methods.

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