Excel Tip of the Week #31 - Printing and print preview

This week we have a Basic User post, and we'll be looking at a few important things in printing an Excel workbook.

Excel is emphatically not designed for printing, unlike programmes like Word.  This can mean that sometimes a printed copy of a workbook doesn't look the way you want it to, or behaves strangely.  The first thing to note is: before printing a spreadsheet, decide if that’s the best way to work on the data.  A printed copy can be handy for quick, mobile reference, but is not ideal for detailed reviewing because you can’t review the formulas that underlie the data, and because you can’t make changes directly.  If at all possible, avoid printing Excel workbooks unless it’s truly necessary.

Also unlike Word, Excel spreadsheets can often be much wider than can comfortably be fit onto a single page.  An important early consideration when readying your work for printing is how the pagination of the final document will work.  You can see a preview of what the printed document will look like, including how the pagination will work, by going to View => Page Break Preview.

Dragging the dotted blue page break lines can help you decide exactly where to break between pages (within the limits of what can be fit onto a single page).

The simplest option for changing pagination and appearance is to flip between Portrait and Landscape orientation, which is done on the Page Layout tab => Orientation.

The Size menu, also shown in the picture here, lets you set the intended paper size that is used by Excel when setting the pagination.  Make sure that your selected paper size is actually available in your printer!

You can also see here the Print Area button.  If you only want to print a particular part of the document, you can drag and select the area you want, then go to Print Area => Set Print Area to restrict the printed part to your selection.

Under both Excel 2007 and 2010/2013, there is a Print Preview option that will let you see what your document will look like when printed, which is found under the Office button / File menu respectively.  These are handy tools to make sure that you are going to get what you want.  From this menu you can also select your desired page size (e.g. 3 pages wide by 7 pages tall) and Excel will do its best to scale your document to fit.  You can also indicate if you want to make all the rows fit onto one page, or all the columns, or the whole workbook.  This same print set-up screen will also let you decide if you just want to print the active sheet (i.e. the tab you’re looking at now) or the entire workbook.

Excel can be very sensitive to printing and sometimes doesn't behave the way you want.  Experiment carefully with these options and you should be able to get a useful result.

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