Alternating Background Colors in Reporting Services

In most Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) implementations, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of reports available for viewing. These reports provide glimpses into the sea of data that the organization collects. From these reports hopefully trends can be discovered and better decisions can be made. At least that’s the goal.

Don’t neglect presentation

There are many attributes of a good report. Broadly speaking the report must be based on accurate data, it must be delivered in a timely fashion, and it must be presented in a way that is easily consumed and interpreted by the users.

Unfortunately, many report developers focus exclusively on the first two elements – making sure the data is right and that the report doesn’t take too long to run. Those are important, of course, even essential. But often the presentation of the report is relegated to an afterthought. Data is slathered on a report form for the user to do with what he pleases.

Using alternating background colors

The topic of report presentation best practices is a broad one, far too broad to cover in just one post. Perhaps, I’ll tackle some of these issues in a series of posts in the coming months. In the meantime, there are minor and easily implemented improvements that can be added to reports that will make them immensely more readable.

For example, consider a report based on a table data region with row after row of information. Let’s say it’s an employee phone list report as shown below.

To make the report a little easier to read horizontally, we’d like to change the background color of every other row. To do so, let’s highlight the detail row of the data table in the layout tab.

In the properties window, find the BackgroundColor property for the highlighted row and choose <Expression…>. Add the following conditional formatting statement in the Edit Expression window.

Click Ok, and preview the report.

And there you go, a report that alternates the background color for each row. This makes it much easier to read.

But a word of caution: give some consideration to what the users will do with this report. If it’s likely to be printed, the alternating background color will consume additional toner or ink making the report more expense to print. In that case, consider using a single underline between each row.

What tips do you have for make reports easier to read?


5 Responses to Alternating Background Colors in Reporting Services

  1. John Jenkins says:

    Thanks for posting this, Joe. Not sure if you knew, but I am a graphic designer/advertising creative director. I had to take a peek when I saw you were discussing color. What you have touched on is a very basic concept(s) that many people do not understand. Again, thanks for posting.

  2. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for Alternating Background Colors in Reporting Services « WebbTech Solutions [] on

  3. John (not Jenkins) says:

    Was searching the SQLforums for this very reason BUT with a twist. Is it possible to do similar on a Matrix report?

    I posted the following:

    Thanks for your help and advice on this blog.

  4. Pingback: Dew Drop – October 7, 2009 | Alvin Ashcraft's Morning Dew

  5. Stacie says:

    Thanks for discussing Alternating Background Colors in Reporting Services | WebbTech Solutions.

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