It’s March! Yesterday, I visited the delightful Flower Show. All of my social media ads are for spring attire with bright, friendly prints (and couches – can’t forget the couch ads!) and I’m kind of loving it.

“Spring prints”

But you know what I didn’t love? Hearing my dear friends kvetch about difficulty with printing spreadsheets during a recent board meeting. Blech! This function is way harder than it should be, and way too easy to mess up! So I resolved to write a post to help changemakers near and far!

Have you ever printed version after version… or printed a spreadsheet too soon, triggering dozens of pages of utterly useless information? A column that prints on its own page? No clear mechanism for putting pages in the right order? Did reconstructing your spreadsheet turn into an unplanned arts and craft project with glue, staples, thumb tacks and the like?

Yep, printing spreadsheets can be pretty awful.

However, I reject the notion that we should just never print them. (As I like to say, spreadsheets are for sharing, not just for you! There are some die-hard anti-printers in the world… and this post simply isn’t for them. But for the rest of us, I’m going to layout a clear rationale for when printing and print-enablement is a good plan, and then offer some tried and true tips for those times when you need to see-it-to-believe-it… on a paper…. in front of your face ūüôā

When to print

  1. You are reviewing information from a spreadsheet during an in-person meeting, without a screen or projector available
  2. You want to share information in a group with members with a broad range of tech accessibility and tech comfort
  3. You are soliciting feedback on info and you would like your comrades to use a “pen and paper” approach to jot notes or questions
  4. You are preparing data that will be printed in an annual report and you want to test the layout
  5. You are traveling to a remote place
  6. You are using a spreadsheet to “check in” guests at a protest or event and you want to print the contact list ahead of time
  7. You are making a budget decision and you need to present different scenarios
  8. You don’t have access to wifi at your location (and/or you aren’t using Excel or the desktop version of Google Drive).

These¬†are¬†all¬†perfectly¬†valid¬†reasons!¬† I encourage¬†you¬†to¬†ask¬†yourself,¬†“WHY am¬†I¬†printing¬†this?”¬†before¬†doing¬†it,¬†since¬†spreadsheets¬†ARE generally optimized to view on a machine. Plus, asking yourself the “why” question will help you make a better, printable, actionable version for your team.

“Excel print”

Print preview

Here are some tried and true tips to make your spreadsheets Print Friendly.

Google sheets users, want to watch an awesome video tutorial? (1:30 minutes!) Check out this link. The steps below are referencing Excel menus, but many of the features also map onto Google Sheets.

  1. Select¬†– your spreadsheet might have extraneous info that doesn’t need included in the printed version. Excel can prompt you to select the “current sheet” or “current table” or even “current print area” (determined by you!) so you don’t waste time, effort, and paper on sheets that don’t need to be printed.
  2. View – like putting on glasses, changing the View in Excel will help you see what the spreadsheet will really look like when printed (especially… where the page breaks will be). (Sort of like Print Preview, but better!) In the menu bar at the top, select View > Page Layout or View > Page Break View. This is also a good time to change the Page Orientation to “Landscape” instead of “Portrait.” You can click the Page¬†Layout tab on the menu bar to see more options.
  3. Break РOne of the most FRUSTRATING things about printing spreadsheets is the pagebreaks. Did you know that you can adjust them? See where the automatic pagebreaks fall by visiting View > Page Break View. Then, adjust them on Page Layout > Breaks.
  4. Shrink¬†– Page breaks and selecting data are good and fine, but what if you really want everything to fit on one page? That’s what Scale¬†to¬†Fit can provide. Select the maximum number of pages you want in your print version and Excel will scale your rows and columns to accommodate.
  5. Grid – Even the best spreadsheet layouts can get confusing in print-form without the gentle grey gridlines that guide our eyeballs as we peruse data. I consider it a “best practice” to print gridlines unless you have a good reason not to. Visit the Page Layout tab, then find “Gridlines” and select the “Print” checkbox.
  6. Guide¬†– Another common “Gotcha” with printing spreadsheets is pages with no guidance (because column headers were somewhere else!). You can use the Header and Footer features to give your users cues about what they’ll see on the page. Simply select View > Page Layout and you will notice that Header and Footer boxes appear.

Want to learn more?

I hope you can use these tips to go from printing a forest’s worth of data in a confusing, chaotic, and non-actionable format to crisp, high quality, easy to use sheets and charts. I believe in you!

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