How to fix common printing problems in Microsoft Excel

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Printing Microsoft Excel spreadsheets can be tricky, but you can avoid most printing problems by following these tips.

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Image: iStockphoto/filmfoto

You’ve just sent an Excel spreadsheet to your printer, but when you check it, you discover that the spreadsheet didn’t print right. Maybe it printed in portrait mode when it should’ve printed landscape. Perhaps a certain section of your spreadsheet never printed or the spreadsheet took too many pages to print. Whatever went wrong, you can avoid many printing problems in Excel by following certain tips, such as tweaking the margins, setting the print area, scaling the sheet to print, and choosing the right sheet options.

For these steps, I’m using Excel 365 as part of an Office 365 subscription, but most of the advice here applies to the past couple of versions of Excel as well.

LEARN MORE: Office 365 Consumer pricing and features

How to check the orientation before printing Excel spreadsheets

This may seem obvious, but check the orientation before you print. That usually—but not always—means landscape mode. To check this, select the tab for Page Layout and click the icon for Orientation (Figure A).

Figure A

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Next, look at your page margins. From the Page Layout Ribbon, click the icon for Margins. To minimize the number of printed pages, choose the option for Narrow, or select Custom Margins and set up your own. Remember to leave at least a little space for margins to give your printed spreadsheet room to breathe (Figure B).

Figure B

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How to clear or set the print area before printing Excel spreadsheets

If your Excel spreadsheet isn’t printing properly, clearing or setting a print area can often help. Sometimes the wrong print area has already been set, in which case you want to clear it. To do this from the Page Layout Ribbon, click the Print Area icon and select Clear Print Area. If you now want to redefine the print area, select the cells that you want to print. Click the Print Area icon and select Set Print Area (Figure C).

Figure C

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How to set a page break before printing Excel spreadsheets

If your spreadsheet contains a lot of rows or columns, it may break at an inappropriate place when you print it. To fix that, you can manually set a page break. To set a horizontal page break, select the row where you want the printed page to break. To set a vertical page break, select an entire column. At the Page Layout Ribbon, click the Breaks icon and select Insert Page Break (Figure D). To remove the break, select the same row or column, click the Breaks icon, and select Remove Page Break. If you’ve created multiple page breaks that you want to remove, choose the option to Reset All Page Breaks.

Figure D

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How to check preview before printing Excel spreadsheets

Now might be a good time to see check how your spreadsheet will look when printed. Press Ctrl+F2 to jump into Print mode where you can preview the spreadsheet. You can then bounce from one page to another (Figure E). When done, click the left arrow at the top to return to regular view.

Figure E

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How to scale to fit before printing Excel spreadsheets

Another way to control the printing on multi-page spreadsheets is by setting a certain width, height, or scale. At the Page Layout Ribbon, click the dropdown box next to Width—from here, you can set a specific number of pages to print across. For example, if you want to squeeze a wide two-page spreadsheet onto one printed page, select the option for 1 page. Click the dropdown box next to Height. If you want to squeeze a long two-page spreadsheet onto one printed page, select the option for 1 page. If you want to shrink your spreadsheet to a certain percentage both in width and height, click the down arrow next to Scale or type a specific number, such as 75% (Figure F).

Figure F

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How to set advanced options before printing Excel spreadsheets

You can tweak your printed pages further by delving into the full Page Setup dialog box. To get there, click the small square in the lower right corner of the Page Setup section of the Page Layout Ribbon. At the tab for Page, you can adjust the scaling to a certain percentage as you did from the Ribbon. But you can also set a specific number of pages for both the height and the width (Figure G).

Figure G

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Click the Margins tab to adjust the margins or center the rows or columns for a small spreadsheet. Click the Header/Footer tab to create, revise, or remove a header or footer. Finally, click the Sheet tab. Here, you can set the print area and print titles. You can opt to print or not print gridlines and other visual marks. And you can choose the order of pages to print, either Down Then Over, or Over Then Down (Figure H).

Figure H

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