Report Writer Series: Drawing Options Tips

Way back in February 2011 (yikes!), I wrote about some Report Writer toolbox items, and focused on the Arrange tab of tools.  Today, at long last, I am concluding that article with some notes and tips on the drawing options (most font options), hopefully clearing up some mysteries.

What are Drawing Options?

These are the options you get when either double-clicking on a text field or graphic field like a line or a box, or using CTRL+D on a data field.  There are several pieces to it and options that you have. Here I will describe how they work and how to use them effectively.

If you haven’t yet ready my article on formatting text, that may be a good place to start which gives some info I will not be covering today.

When you open the Drawing Options window, what you see differs depending on whether you opened this window from a text field, a data field or a graphic (line, box etc.) field.  This screen shot is from a graphical report that I’ve been modifying in this series. If you are in a Text report, every Drawing option is greyed out.

Drawing Options window (Text Report)

One tip before I start, if you are making the same change to a bunch of fields, you can select multiple fields at the same time and then change the drawing options at once. That speeds things up when you are doing a bunch of similar changes.  Use the Lasso or Ctrl-Click methods I mentioned in my earlier post about formatting text.

The Font section

The top left corner lists all of the fonts available to you on this computer. It’s barely visible in this picture, but the font I’m using happens to be Calibri, which is highlighted.  The symbol beside the font just tells you what kind of font it is – TT meaning True Type.  The standard text formatting options are available under Font Style of Bold, Italic and Underline. Font size, you’ll notice, is a drop down list.  TIP: you can also type in a font size.  From time to time I have had to drop to a font size smaller than the smallest available and simply clicking in the box to type in the value you want works.

A few words of caution when selecting fonts and styles:

  • Pick a font that is common. You don’t want to pick your special corporate font to find out that most computers don’t have it loaded and the reports don’t print correctly as you intended!
  • Every font has different characters sizes and kerning (spacing).  Depending on what kind of report you use, some fonts are easier to read than others, and fit in certain size fields better than others.  The more text you have, the more you’ll want to stick with a font that takes up a little less horizontal space than others.
  • Go easy on the bold & italics! Lots of either are often harder to read than not having them at all.
  • Font size can make or break a report. On one hand you want to fit all the information on the page right?  Try to be creative with placement of fields to avoid having to make a font choice so small it’s unreadable.
  • When you are testing your report, try to ensure that fields with descriptions contain suitably long names or descriptions in them, so you can see what fits when a field has the maximum typed in it.
  • Lastly, on more of a design note, try to be consistent. If you use a large font for a set of headings, use the same size for all of them. Nothing worse than looking at a report that uses inconsistent sizes of fonts and styles all over!

Colours & Patterns sections (revised!)

I’ve re-written this section of the article, after a conversation with a reader of the blog and some more testing to clarify a few things.  Now I can really say colour is more interesting!  (And yes, I will insist on spelling it “Colour” since I am proudly Canadian!).

My light bulb moment: something I didn’t really clue into before I did some more testing, you can select ONE pattern in the upper right hand corner.  It’s not one pattern per colour choice, it’s not solid for fonts, shading for background and then a pattern. Uh uh.  One. Pattern. Period.  Here is how your choice of Pattern (upper right) affects what your options are in the Colour (bottom left) section are:

  1. Clear
  • No background or foreground colour options.
  • This has no effect on the text or line colour choices.
  1. Solid
  • Background colours are enabled.
  1. Shading “Pattern” (25%, 50%, 75%)
  • Background and Pattern (foreground) colours are enabled.
  • The shading terminology is directly related to the Pattern colour choice. For instance, if you leave the Background “colour” as White, and select a Pattern colour, 25% shading means exactly what I would expect: a 25% of the colour you choose.
  • You can select two colours (one background, one foreground) to create a new colour (think of your primary school colour wheel experiments: red and blue make purple!).
  1. The other patterns
  • Background and Pattern (foreground) colours are enabled.
  • The Background colour is a solid colour of whatever colour you select.  The Pattern colour is the foreground colour of the pattern - for instance, the lines on the diagonal pattern.

Back to my regularly scheduled article!

Here is the rest of my article, with the now-redundant pieces removed!

Starting simply with the colour options, you can select a default colour from the list. The Sample box shows you visually what it might look like.  Often I’ll increase the font size just to get a larger sample preview when playing with colour options.  You can click on the More Colors button to get a broader palette to choose from and to go even further you can define custom colours.  If you want to use your corporate colours for some titles, you simply need to know the equivalent HSL or RGB values of that colour. To save the colours you want, click on Add to Custom Colours and they appear in the bottom of the More Colors list.

TIP: Typically corporate colours are most commonly one of two types of values – a Pantone colour reference (PMS 109) or if it’s from a website, a Hex value like FF6633 (a beautiful colour of orange!).  Use your favourite search engine to look up “Pantone to RGB” or “Hex to RGB” and you’ll find a bunch of websites that help you find the right values.

Now that you know the colours, the trick is you select the radio button of the thing you want to change first.  It defaults to Font (or Line), so if you haven’t picked anything and changed the colour, you just changed the colour of the line or text.  The background option is the background of that specific object, not the page background.

Here is an example of an object with a red background and a blue Up Diagonal pattern – the diagonals lines are blue since the Pattern colour is the foreground colour.

Drawing Options pattern example


The last of the sections is the Alignment section.  If you have used this before, you will know that the alignment doesn’t affect all types of fields.  Also, data fields visually in Report Writer do not change when you change this setting, you have to run the report to see the change.  Often data fields have their own alignment in the formatting section of the Report Field Options window which will override what the Drawing Options setting is.  For text fields and some data fields, simply choose Left, Center or Right justified.

Line Sizes & Colours

The one option that is greyed out when you are looking at Text drawing options is Line size.  Once you select a Line, Box, Circle or similar graphic, the Line section is enabled. There are four thicknesses of lines available.  You can also select colours for lines but Background and Patterns are greyed out.

General Notes on Layers, Boxes & Backgrounds

Design-wise I tend to avoid using backgrounds on text and insert background boxes if I would like a shaded background.  This allows me to size the background as appropriate without also altering the dimensions of the text field(s).  One tip if you are going to do this, remember your layers!  Under the Layout menu, there is a Send to Back and Send to Front command.  This works well to hide or unhide things as you can easily put in a box, “send to back” so it’s behind the text you have.  If you do this, use a “clear” background on your text not a solid colour.

Below is a quick example of the output of a few changes (most of which will be changed back to normal when I’m done!).  I’ve got the “approval” section in colour, to highlight it easily for readers.  The Batch ID and Batch Comment both have a background colour of Black 25% shading.  For comparison, the Batch Total and Trx Total section I put a box behind those two fields with the same colour.  Personally, that looks better to me than the background colour on a text field.

Drawing Options result

Next time?

I hesitate to promise more in the Report Writer series but in re-reading my series of articles, I do see some more topics that I can cover… hopefully those won’t take another year to complete!

Until next time…

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