The Ultimate Guide To Profiting From Footprint Charts 

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Footprint charts helped me reinvent myself as a day trader after I had already been professionally trading for close to a decade.

Today we’re going to look at the critical edge footprint charts can provide to help build context around your trades, validate setups, and better time your entries and exits.

What is a Footprint Chart?

A Footprint Chart displays the amount of volume that traded on the bid and ask for every price increment of a security. Variations of the traditional Bid/Ask footprint include the Delta footprint and Volume footprint.

The Need for Footprint Charts

In 2008, I was 5 years into my career trading for GPC in Chicago. The majority of the day traders at the firm back then were purely Level II traders.

My trading setup included a Level II and a basic candlestick chart with volume… that’s it.

TSLA Level II Quote

I would use a Level II in order to determine when large buyers or sellers were entering the market, creating imbalances, as well as to identify critical support and resistance levels.

I profited by following the moves of other time frame participants as they bought and sold. Additionally, I would identify key support and resistance levels that local traders were leaning on as their out, take out the entire level, and cover into the locals panic.

2008 was an important year, as it marked the first time in history that algorithms accounted for more than 50% of the average daily trading volume. Algorithm’s were a major market disruption which completely changed the trading game for Level II traders. 

Graph displaying the percentage of daily volume accounted for by algorithms by asset class.

Algorithms’s are constantly adding and pulling orders from the book, decreasing the transparency, and ultimately the overall effectiveness of a level II.

It became much more difficult for level II traders like myself to profit solely off a level II. I reached a point where I had to develop new strategies or I would be searching for a new career path.

From 2009 to 2011, I was trading an algorithm that arbitraged an opportunity that existed at some of the retail forex brokers that were popping up everywhere online at that time.

The algorithm required very little of my time. I spent all of my spare time focused on developing new strategies.

Having experienced the increase in algorithmic trading first hand, I wanted my strategies to primarily focus on executed orders versus advertised orders. 

I began studying and experimenting heavily with volume and volume related indicators. I even paid to have some developed.

After thousands of hours of trading and screen time, I developed new strategies. Footprint charts helped mimic what a level II used to provide me…

Footprint Chart of Gold Futures

The ability to see and feel the pulse of the market. Footprint charts brought market supply and demand back to life for me.

For the past decade they have remained the primary tool I use in my edge.

You can use footprint charts to trade any market including stocks, futures, forex, crypto, you name it.  They’re great for day trading, swing trading, and even long term investing.

How to Read the Footprint Chart

Let’s cover some of the basics so you can begin to understand how to read a footprint chart.

The price of any security depends on whether you wish to Buy or Sell.

When you want to buy a security, the price you will pay is the Ask price. It’s the price the counter-party is willing to sell at. 

If you wish to sell a security, the price you will receive is the Bid price. It’s the price the counter-party is willing to buy at.

eMini S&P 500 Bid Ask Quote

In this example, If you were looking to buy an eMini S&P 500 contract, you would pay the Ask price of 3010.50.

If you were looking to sell an eMini S&P 500 contract, the price you would receive is the Bid price of 3010.25.

Trading Terminology – The act of buying with a market order is known as “taking the offer” or “lifting the ask”. The act of selling with a market order is known as “hitting the bid”.

Next, let’s take a look at a Trading DOM, which stands for Depth Of Market.

Depth of Market

The DOM shows all of the resting limit orders in the market, also known as the advertised prices. In the above example, the current market on the ES (eMini S&P 500) is 3010.75 by 3011.00.

Sellers are prepared to offer 380 contracts for sale at 3011.00 – the Ask price.

Buyers are prepared to purchase 1,156 contracts at 3010.75 – the Bid price.

Note: Since the introduction of algorithms, a lot of the orders resting in the book (seen above) will never trade.

Footprint charts give us the ability to see the data that I’m actually interested in, executed orders. Not the transactions that are being advertised on the DOM.

Basic Bid/Ask Footprint Chart

The chart above is a basic Bid/Ask footprint chart. Let’s zoom in and study the ins and outs of a footprint candle.

Single Bid/Ask Footprint Candle Outlining OHLC and Bid/Ask

The volume highlighted in green, is the amount of volume that traded as a result of market orders hitting the bid at the corresponding price.

The volume highlighted in red, is the amount of volume that traded as a result of market orders taking the offer at the corresponding price.

Considering a price quote is made up of a bid and an ask price, you have to look at the figures diagonally.

Bid/Ask Footprint displaying the current market at 2874.00 x 2874.25.

For example, when price was at 2874.00 x 2874.25, 113 contracts traded on the bid at 2874.00, and 173 contracts traded on the offer at 2874.25 as seen above.

We will look at how you can use imbalances in your trading shortly.

Point of Control (POC)

The Point of Control, also know as the POC, is the price level where the highest level of volume traded for a user defined interval.

On the chart below you will notice yellow rectangles highlighting the POC’s of every 5 minute session.

Bid/Ask footprint chart with imbalances and point of control

We will use the Point of Control shortly to help tell us determine whether buyers or sellers are the aggressor during a given session and to spot areas of support and resistance.

Let’s get into the three primary footprint chart types and some strategies you can use with each of them.

Bid/Ask Footprint Chart

Chart of Bid/Ask Footprint

There are three primary styles of footprint charts including: the Bid/Ask Footprint, Delta Footprint, and Volume Footprint.

We’ll start with the bid/ask footprint (seen above), which is the traditional footprint chart that you’re probably most familiar with, or have at least seen.

We use the bid/ask footprint to spot market imbalances as well as unfinished auctions.

Buy and Sell Imbalances

On the bid/ask candlestick below, you will notice some of the volumes are highlighted in green or red.

Footprint candle displaying buy and sell imbalances.

The ones highlighted in green are buy imbalances, because they occurred on the offer and were over 300% higher than the corresponding bid.

For example, notice the buy imbalance highlighted in green of 166. A total of 166 contracts traded on the offer (ask price) versus 44 contracts that traded on the bid.

166 divided by 44 = 3.7, which is a buy imbalance of over 300%, so the offer is highlighted green.

The one highlighted in red is a sell imbalance, because the volume that traded on the bid was over 300% higher than the corresponding offer.

A total of 376 contracts traded on the bid versus 72 contracts that traded on the bid.

376 divided by 72 = 5.2, which is a sell imbalance of over 300%, so the bid is highlighted in red.

300% is the setting I personally use for my buy and sell imbalances. Most footprint charting platforms will allow you to specify what you want to use for an imbalance.

Stacked Buy and Sell Imbalances

We can use large imbalances and stacked imbalances to find high probability support and resistance levels where price could potentially reverse.

Chart of e-Mini S&P 500 displaying stacked buy and sell imbalances.

Stacked imbalances are simply multiple imbalances spread across a few price increments in a tight range, as seen above.

Large buy imbalances will tend to act as support if price retraces back to test the level, and large sell imbalances will act as resistance.

Below we have an example of using a buy imbalance to find a support level for an entry.

Chart displaying a stacked buy imbalance acting as support.

Price breaks out to the upside establishing a new trend. We could have used the stacked buy imbalances to look for a long entry as price retraced, found support and began to rally again.  

Chart displaying a stacked sell imbalance acting as resistance.

Above we have some stacked sell imbalances. Notice how price retraces back to these levels and is rejected, and once again continues the downward trend. 

Next, we can use the bid/ask footprint to find finished and unfinished auctions in the market. 

Finished & Unfinished Auctions

Up auctions, bullish moves, end at a price level above which no active buyers are willing to buy. The price has become too unattractive to the buyers. 

This is notated on a bid/ask chart by a zero on the bid at highs. Price couldn’t go a tick higher because there were no passive buyer’s looking to buy. This would be considered a finished auction.

Example of two finished auctions on e-mini S&P 500.

Down auctions, bearish moves, end at a price level below which no active sellers are willing to sell. This is notated on a bid/ask chart by a zero on the offer at lows as seen here. Price couldn’t go a tick lower because there were no passive seller’s looking to sell. Once again we have a finished auction.

Unfinished Auctions are represented by volume trading on the bid as well as the offer at a session high or low as seen below.

Chart of e-Mini S&P 500 displaying unfinished auctions.

They can provide logical areas for price to revisit in order to complete the market’s auction process.

I wouldn’t fade a move simply because you see an unfinished auction. Where you will find value in unfinished auctions is using them as a take profit.

Chart of e-Mini S&P 500 displaying a trade setup that used an unfinished auction as a take profit.

Let’s assume you had a trigger that got you into a long position somewhere down near the double bottom seen on the chart above. You could use the unfinished auction as your take profit.

Delta Footprint Chart

The next style of footprint chart is the delta footprint. Delta is an extremely powerful tool for day traders, and an important indicator I have used in my scalping strategy for the past 10 years.

Volume Delta is the difference between buying and selling pressure. It’s calculated by taking the difference of the volume that traded at the offer price and the volume that traded at the bid price.

Volume Delta = Offer Volume – Bid Volume

If delta is greater than 0, buyers are the aggressor, as more contracts traded on the offer than the corresponding bid.

If delta is less than 0, the sellers are the aggressor, as more contracts traded on the bid than the corresponding offer.

Example of Bid/Ask Footprint and Delta Footprint

The bid/ask footprint seen above is the exact same candle as the delta candle on the right. 

26 trades took place on the bid at the lowest price point on the Bid/Ask Footprint, and 0 on the offer as seen below.

Calculating volume delta of a bid/ask candle.

0 – 26 = Delta value of -26, as seen on the delta footprint above.

Let’s do the delta calculation for the price level second from the bottom.

341 trades took place on the offer and 481 trades on the bid.

341 – 481 = Delta reading of -140

Delta and price will typically move in the same direction. Which makes sense right?

If buyers are aggressively taking the offer then price should go up, and if sellers are aggressively hitting the bid price should go down.

So what’s occurring in this example there’s divergence between price and delta?

Example of a delta divergence at a prior swing high.

In this example price is in a downtrend and begins to retrace and test the prior swing high.

Notice how we have positive delta and a large print signifying an influx of buy market orders, but price actually closes lower. 

When we have a divergence like this, sellers are aggressively selling on the offer with limit orders, enough so that it can hold off the influx of buy market orders. A sign of a potential reversal, which is exactly what occured.

Example of delta divergence at a swing low.

Here’s another example of divergence. There’s a large negative delta print at lows, but price closes higher. Buyers are stepping in on the bid faster than the sellers are hitting the bid, and once again the trend resumes.

Note: Trades that occur on the bid represent seller aggression and decrease delta. Where as trades that occur on the offer represent buyer aggression and increase delta.

Volume Footprint Chart

The final footprint style we’re going to take a look at is the volume footprint, sometimes called volume imprint, or just simply a volume profile.

Volume always has a story to tell. In fact, I believe it’s the most important story the market has to tell you.

If you’re interested in trading order flow, I would begin by learning how to use volume profiles. 

I use volume profiles to build context around my trades. You can think of context as the CEO of your trading business, it looks out above the trees and says, “We’re going that way!”.

Volume profile provide us with four critical pieces of information.

Volume Profile Outlining Point of Control, OHLC, and High and Low Volume Nodes

High Volume Nodes (HVN): Area of high volume relative to surrounding nodes

Low Volume Nodes (LVN): Area of low volume relative to surrounding nodes

Point of Control: Price level where the highest level of volume traded for a given session

Distribution: Price in relation to HVN’s

High volume node’s act like gravity. They tend to attract price and try to hold it there.

Conversely, low volume nodes are areas with very little gravity. The market often rips right through these levels, not staying for long due to low liquidity.

Let’s take a look at some examples of how you can use volume profiles in your trading.

Prior points of control, and high volume nodes will act as support or resistance when price is retracing back into them.

High Volume Node Acting as Support and Resistance

You can look to play reversals at high volume nodes in the direction of a trend as seen in the example below.

Price retracing and finding support at a High Volume Node.

HVN’s can also be use in your trade management.

Example of trailing a stop loss behind high volume nodes as position moves into profit.

When long, you can trail your stops below HVN’s as the position moves in your favor, as seen above.

When short, you would simply trail your stop above HVN’s until you’re taken out.

b&P Reversal Profiles

Volume Footprint Chart with b&P reversal profiles

We can also use the distribution of volume profile quickly spot potential reversals.

“b” shaped volume profiles, where the majority of the volume went off in the circle and price closed above, are a sign of a potential bullish reversal as price goes into discovery away from the mean.

“P” shaped volume profiles, where the majority of the volume went off in the circle and price closed below, are a sign of a potential bearish reversal.

You can use these to validate your current setups or create an entirely new strategy with them.

Computer monitor with Bid/Ask Footprint Chart

Footprint Chart Software (Updated 2023)

It’s time for you to get your hands dirty by trying out some footprint charting platforms! Here are a number of options for you to consider.

MotiveWave – I’ve been using MotiveWave for the past couple of years and think it’s a very solid platform. It’s the platform you have seen used through out this guide.

If you’re looking to trade order flow, I highly recommend this software.

Sierra Charts – I used Sierra for about 10 years until I made the switch to MotiveWave. Sierra calls their footprint indicator number bars. The majority of brokers support this charting package. (View Broker List Here)

Sierra’s GUI is a little outdated but it’s still an amazing platform. It’s lightening fast! I would still be on Sierra most likely if they had built a version for Mac OS.

You can still run Sierra on a Mac with Bootcamp or Parallels, which is what I did for years.

Quantower – A fairly new order flow software, but gaining steam fast. I have demoed the product and liked what I saw.

You can get a free demo with a live feed through Optimus Futures, who white labels Quantower and calls it Optimus Flow.

Bookmap – Bookmap is a highly visual trading platform for order flow traders. Through some creative heatmap looking charts you’re able to visualize market liquidity through advertised orders.

The three prior charting platforms mentioned all offer heatmaps as well now.

Exocharts – Web based charting platform with a lot of order flow tools. I don’t have any experience with them but they are popular in the crytpo community.

Unfortunately, Think Or Swim and Trading View do not offer footprint charts at this time.

Benefits of Footprint Charts

Final Thoughts

Footprint charts have played a key roll in my trading over the last decade. Implement them properly, and I’m confident you will see the edge they can provide. .

Build an entire trading strategy around footprint charts or you can use them to validate your current trade setups.

If you would like my MotiveWave chart templates and some other tools, become a JT Insider, it’s FREE!

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