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Top 10 Report Design Tips for Pixel-Perfect Layout

Posted on 02/02/2016

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Because Windward offers so many different output options (PDF, HTML, DOCX, etc.), this can sometimes lead to a question when it comes to report design:

How can you make sure the template renders the way you expect?

report design tips, docx to pdf

From Word template to PDF output

On the back end, we’ve done a lot of work trying to make the report output identical to the template, pixel for pixel. But it won’t be perfect, for a bunch of reasons. Some have to do with how the report design interface, Microsoft Office, formats itself differently according to a system’s graphics and printer drivers. Others have to do with vagaries of specific output formats like PDF.  We can’t do a lot about that.

But what we can do is help you make the output match the template as closely as possible. Here’s how.

Top 10 Report Design Tips

1. Use hard page breaks. If you want a page to break at a certain spot, use Word’s hard page break command. The same principle works for other types of breaks, such as line breaks and column breaks.

2. Stick to TrueType and OpenType fonts. Other types of fonts are closely tied to their code page and can lead to some unwanted – and frustrating – formatting hiccups.

3. Skip absolutely positioned objects. Instead, try to position relative to a paragraph, column or other item. Note: By default, text wrapping style typically is set to “in line with text.” Often you will need to change it to another style, such as “square” or “top and bottom” in order to ensure the relative position options are not grayed out in Word dialogue boxes.

report design tips, relative position word

Best practice: use Word’s relative position tool instead of absolutely positioning an object.

4. Sparingly use “keep lines together” settings for paragraphs. A paragraph that was 3 lines in a template can be 100 times (or more) that many in a report. They may not all fit together in the final output.

5. Ditto for “row header” settings for tables. Ditto again on the reasoning.

6. Use set values in table column widths. Set table column widths using inches, centimeters, points or percentages, not AutoFit. AutoFit will not necessarily match because of how MS Office works. Check out this Microsoft primer on using AutoFit.

7. Give yourself some wiggle room. Don’t try to cram stuff into every last corner of a page. Sooner or later the metrics will space out the glyphs more than expected and one page will spill over onto two.

8. Minimize using nested tables. We’re not recommending you get rid of them altogether – they can be great reporting tools – but if you have another option, take it. For example, if you want to put a border around a page that contains a table, don’t create a table for the entire page and then create a border for that table. Instead, use a page border.

9. Make table borders as simple as possible for PDF outputs. Windward uses what are called polylines. In a PDF doc, it draws one polyline for the outer border, one for each internal row border, and one for each internal column border. If you can, keep each one to a single width, color and style.

10. Design Word templates in DOCX or WordML, not RTF. RTF is notoriously funky and Word doesn’t always follow it. RTF templates have more problems than DOCX or WordML.

For more information on why some output reports will never be pixel-for-pixel identical with the template, or to discuss this topic with Windward developers and customers, head to the documentation wiki’s article Template Layout Best Practices.

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Author: Heidi V. Anderson

Heidi has been writing professionally about computers, technology and the Internet for more than 20 years. She lives in Vermont where she taps her maple trees for syrup and most of the year wishes it was just a little bit warmer out.

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