Printing in Calc, Part 2: Print selection and printer options

by Bruce Byfield

In part 1 of this entry, I discussed how to use Calc's page styles to control how spreadsheets print. However, although page styles are one of the most useful tools for the task, they are far from the only ones. How you setup pages for printing and the printer or export options are also part of the arsenal. None of these tools is useful on every occasion, and you may have to mix and match them to get the results you want, but, the more you know about them, the less of a nightmare printing a spreadsheet becomes.

Selecting what to print

When you print from Calc, you have several options for selecting the contents: doing nothing, printing a selection, setting up a print range, or adding manual row and column breaks. In each of these cases, you may want to keep track of the total column width and the number of rows likely to be printed on each page. For instance, if you are printing to US Letter size page with a portrait orientation and a one inch margin on every side, you'll have 6.5 inches for column widths. Assuming that you have no outsized cells, with the same paper, you'll have 50-55 rows.

Many people choose the least complicated, and do nothing. The problem with this choice, as you can quickly learn if you haven't already, is that it is almost never satisfactory without careful calculations of width, and, even then, only when the number of rows per page is irrelevant. In most other cases, rows and columns are cut off, separating information that you want to keep together, and making pagination haphazard at best.

A more satisfactory choice is to select what you want by highlighting it with a mouse. If necessary, you can use the Format menu to hide cells, columns, and rows as you need, or else press the Ctrl key when selecting cells to print non-adjacent cells. This method works well for one-time printing, but if you want the option of printing the same selection in different sessions, use Data > Define Range to create a named range. Then, when you want to print, you can either select Data > Select Range or else select the named range from the Navigator floating window when you press F5.

By contrast, a print range is saved with the file. A print range is exactly what it sounds like: a selection of cells that you want to print. Print ranges are defined from the Format > Print Ranges sub-menu. Use the Define item to create a print range of adjacent cells, and Add to select other cells for the print range, including non-adjacent ones, and Edit to define the repeating headers on each page -- a touch that makes the printout much more usable.

The fourth method, manual page breaks, shares the precision of defining a print range. By selecting Insert > Manual Break, and selecting either a row or a column break, you have the power to determine exactly where you want pages to end and start. The first time, some people may be confused by when to choose a row or a column break, but, after the first few efforts, they can usually catch on. The major drawback to manual page breaks is that, in a long document, they can be laborious and time-consuming to insert, and require frequent use of Page Preview to keep you on track. The effort is really only worth your while if you plan on printing the spreadsheet regularly.

Column and row breaks are marked by blue lines on the right (for a column) or the top (for a row) of a line of cells. However, this indicator can be easy to miss in a complex spreadsheet -- it might as well be as invisible as a print range. Should you be feeling lost, you can view both breaks and print ranges by selecting the incompletely named View > Page Break Preview. When you are finished, select View > Normal to return to the usual display of the sheet.

Selecting printer options

When you select File > Print to print, or File > Export to PDF, you can set options for printing. These options are mostly routine, but some special considerations apply when you are printing spreadsheets:

  • If you are printing a manual selection or a print range, be sure that you choose Print range >Selection or Pages > Selection in the Export to PDF window. Otherwise, the print range is overridden, and the point of defining one is lost.
  • If you only want to print only some sheets, select them before opening the printing or export windows. Press the Ctrl key to make multiple selections. When you open the Print window, select Options > Sheets > Print Only Selected Sheets to limit what is printed. Note that, by default, all sheets in the spreadsheet are printed.
  • Options > Pages > Suppress output of empty pages prevents the printing of any page that does not include cell contents or objects. Formatting options such as a background graphic or a colored border do not count as contents.
  • You may want to change the paper orientation for the printer so that no rows or columns are cut off. Use File > Page Preview to decide if a change is needed.

Putting it all together

Readying a Calc page for printing or exporting requires 3 steps:

  1. Create and apply page styles to control how printing is done.
  2. Select what to print using the methods described in part 2 of this entry.
  3. Set the printer options or the export options.

In many cases, you might want to skip one of these steps. After all, spreadsheet printing is hardly an exact science. However, if you include all of them, you increase the chance of printing the spreadsheet correctly -- if not the first time, then maybe the second and third.

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes primarily for the Linux Journal and NewsForge sites.

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