Report design tips for paginated reports (Report Builder)

Applies to: Microsoft Report Builder (SSRS) Power BI Report Builder Report Designer in SQL Server Data Tools

Use the following tips to help design your paginated reports.


You can create and modify paginated report definition (.rdl) files in Microsoft Report Builder, Power BI Report Builder, and in Report Designer in SQL Server Data Tools.

Designing Reports

  • A well-designed report conveys information that leads to action. Identify the questions that the report helps to answer. Keep those questions in mind as you design the report.

  • To design effective data visualizations, think about how to display information that is easy for the report user to understand. Choose a data region that is a good match for the data that you want to visualize. For example, a chart effectively conveys summary and aggregated information better than a table that spans many pages of detailed information. You can visualize data from a dataset in any data region, which includes charts, maps, indicators, sparklines, databars, and tabular data in various grid layouts based on a tablix.

  • If you plan to deliver the report in a specific export format, test the export format early in your design. Feature support varies based on the renderer that you choose.

  • If you plan to deliver the report as a subscription, test the subscription early in your design. Parameter support varies based on the subscription that you create.

  • When you build complex layouts, build the layout in stages. You can use rectangles as containers to organize report items. You can build data regions directly on the design surface to maximize your working area, and then, as you complete each one, drag it to the rectangle container. By using rectangles as containers, you can position all its contents in one step. Rectangles also help control the way report items render on each page.

  • To reduce clutter in a report, consider using conditional visibility for specific report items and let the user choose whether to show the items. You can set visibility based on a parameter or a text box toggle. You can add conditionally hidden text boxes to show interim expression results. When a report displays unexpected data, you can show these interim results to help debug expressions.

  • When you work with nested items in tablix cells or rectangles, you can set different background colors for the container and contained items. By default, the background color is No color. Items with a specific background color show through items with a background color set to No color. This technique can help you select the right item to set display properties, such as border visibility on tablix cells.

For more information about things to consider as you design your report, see Planning a Report (Report Builder).

Naming Conventions for Reports, Data Sources, and Datasets

  • Use naming conventions for data sources and datasets that document the source of data.

    1. Data sources. If you do not want to use an actual server or database due to security reasons, use an alias that indicates to the user what the source of data is.

    2. Datasets. Use a name that indicates which data source it is based on.

    3. Data regions. Indicate the type of data region and what data it displays. Data region names are useful in the following scenarios:

      1. Data region as a report part. When report authors browse the Report Part Gallery, a descriptive name helps them find the report parts they are looking for.


      Report parts are deprecated for all releases of SQL Server Reporting Services starting with SQL Server Reporting Services 2019 and all releases of Power BI Report Server starting with Power BI Report Server September 2022.

      1. Data region as a data feed. With appropriate permissions, a report reader can create an ATOM data feed from a data region.
  • Use underscores instead of spaces in report names. If you download a report from a Reporting Services web portal, spaces are replaced by underscores. If you use the download feature to save reports locally, and then include them in SQL Server Data Tools (SSDT), using underscores helps to keep report dependencies for subreports and drillthrough links accurate.

Working with Data

  • As a first step, get all the data that you want to work with to appear in the Report Data pane. As you refine the questions that the report is designed to answer, think about how to limit the data in the report datasets to just what is needed.

  • In general, only include the data that you will display in a report. Use query variables in your dataset queries to enable the user to choose which data they want to see in the report. If you are creating shared datasets, provide filters based on report parameters to provide the same functionality.

  • If you are an experienced query writer, understand that for intermediate amounts of data, you might want to group data in the report, and not in the query. If you do all your grouping in the query, then the report tends to be a presentation of the query result set. On the other hand, to display aggregated values for large amounts of data on a chart or matrix, there is no need to include detail data.

  • Depending on your requirements, you can display names and locations of report data sources, dataset query command text, and parameter values in the report. The first question many new users have is about where the data comes from. To reduce clutter in the report, you can conditionally hide text boxes with this type of information and let users choose whether to see it. Try adding this information on the last page of report. Set the text box visibility based on a parameter that the user can change.

Interacting with the Report Design Surface

The report design surface is not WYSIWIG. When you place report items on the design surface, their relative location affects the way that the items appear on the rendered report page. White space is preserved.

  • Use snaplines and layout buttons to align and arrange items on the report design surface. For example, you can align the tops or edges of selected items, expand an item to match the size of another item, or adjust the spacing between items.

  • Use arrow keys to adjust the position and size of selected items on the design surface. For example, the following key combinations are very useful:

    • Arrow keys Move the selected report item.

    • CTRL+Arrow keys Nudge the selected report item.

    • CTRL+SHIFT+Arrow keys Increase or decrease the size of the selected report item.

  • To add an item to a rectangle, use the upper left tip of the mouse to point to the initial location of the item in the rectangle container. Use keyboard shortcuts to help position selected objects. The rectangle automatically expands to accommodate the size of the contained items.

  • To add multiple items to a tablix cell, first add a rectangle, and then add the items.

    By default, each tablix cell contains a text box. When you add a rectangle to a cell, the rectangle replaces the text box. For example, place nested indicators in a rectangle in a tablix cell to help control how the size of a chart or indicator expands as you change the height of the row that the cell is in.

  • Use the Zoom control to adjust your view of the design surface. You can work with the whole page or smaller sections of the page.

  • To drag fields from the Report Data pane to the Grouping pane, avoid dragging the field across other report items on the design surface because this selects the other items and unselects the tablix data region. Drag the field down the Report Data pane and then across to the Grouping pane.

Selecting Items

To help select the object that you want on the report design surface, use the ESC key, the right-click context menu, the Properties pane, and the Grouping pane.

    • Press ESC to cycle through the stack of report items that occupy the same space on the design surface.

    • On some report items, try using the right-click context menu to select the report item or the part of the report item that you want.

    • The Properties pane displays properties for the current selection.

    • To work with row groups and column groups in a tablix data region, select the group from the Grouping pane.

In Report Designer in SQL Server Data Tools, you can select from the drop-down list of objects in the Properties pane toolbar or from the hierarchical view of report items in the Document Outline window. You can select items in this pane and see which item is selected on the design surface. To open the Document Outline window, from the View menu, point to Other Windows, and then click Document Outline.

Working with Specific Types of Report Items

Working with Parameters

  • The primary purpose of report parameters is to filter data at the data source, and retrieve just what is needed for the purpose of the report.

  • For report parameters, find a balance between enabling interactivity and helping a user get the results they want. For example, you can set default values for a parameter to values that you know are popular.

Working with Text

  • When you paste multiline into a text box, the text is added as one text run. Each text run can only be formatted as a unit. To format each line independently, insert a new line by pressing RETURN in the text run as needed. You can then apply formatting and styles to each independent line of text in the text box.

  • You can set format properties and actions on a text box or on placeholder text in the text box. If there is only one line of text, it is more efficient to set properties on the text box than on the text.

Working with Expressions

  • Understand simple and complex expression formats. You can type simple expression format directly into text boxes, properties in the Property pane, or in locations in dialog boxes that accept an expression. For more information, see Expressions (Report Builder and SSRS).

  • When you create an expression, it helps to create each part independently and verify its value. You can then combine all the parts into a final expression. A useful technique is to add a text box in a matrix cell, display each part of the expression, and set conditional visibility on the text box. To control the border style and color when the text box is hidden, first place the text box in a rectangle, and then set the border style and color of the rectangle to match the matrix.

Working with Indicators

  • By default, an indicator shows at least three states. After you add an indicator to a report, you can configure it by adding or removing states. For easier viewing by your users, choose an indicator that varies by both color and shape.

Controlling the Rendering of Report Items on the Report Page

  • On the report design surface, report items grow to accommodate the contents from the associated dataset, expression, subreport, or text.

    • When you position an item on the report page, the distance between the item and all items that begin to the right of it becomes the minimum distance that must be maintained as a report item grows horizontally. Similarly, the distance between an item and the item above it becomes a minimum distance that must be maintained as the top item grows vertically.

    • An item in a report grows to accommodate its data and pushes peer items (items within the same parent container) out of the way using the following rules:

    • Each item moves down to maintain the minimum space between itself and the items that end above it.

    • Each item moves right to maintain the minimum space between itself and the items that end to the left of it. For systems that right-to-left layouts, each item moves left to maintain the minimum space between itself and the items that end to the right of it.

    • Containers expand to accommodate the growth of child items. For a selected item, in the Properties pane, the Parent property identifies the container for the item. You can also use the Document Outline pane to see the containment hierarchy of report items.

    • The Layout toolbar provides multiple buttons to help align edges, centers, and spacing for report items. To enable the Layout toolbar, from the View menu, point to Toolbars, and then click Layout.

  • If you plan to save the report as a .pdf file, the report width must be explicitly set to a value that gives you the results that you want in the export file format. For example, set the report page width to exactly 7.9375 inches and the left and right margins to .5 inches.

  • Use Print Layout and Page Setup on the report viewer toolbar to render a report in a print-compatible view. To help remove unwanted horizontal pages, do the following:

    1. Remove all extra white space between data regions and on the edges of the report.

    2. Reduce page margins in the Report Properties dialog box.

    3. Use Rectangles as containers to help control the way report items render.

    4. In column headers, change the text box property WritingMode to use vertical text.

The combination of this behavior, the width and height properties of report items, the size of the report body, the page height and page width definition, the margin settings of the parent report, and the renderer-specific support for paging all combine to determine what report items fit together on a rendered page. For more information, see Pagination in Reporting Services (Report Builder and SSRS).

See Also

Report Builder in SQL Server
Reporting Services Tutorials (SSRS)
Report Builder Tutorials