In the past I have created some lovely worksheets in Excel rammed with figures and charts and then some bright spark will inevitably say 'great! Can you print that for our meeting at four?' That's when I gave them a blank look and thought 'not sure, its huge and it won't fit on A4.' There are however, some simple things you can do to plan out the printing of a worksheet. This article will explore some of those options.

If you know that you will need to print data from Excel then there are a few things you can do to manage the page before you print. The first is to make the data as concise as possible. If you have a table, make sure that only relevant data is present in order to fit as much data on one page as possible. Find out what people really need to see on the print out. Avoid bombarding them with lots of data. The chances are they will only be interested in a few key things and sometimes charts to show trends are better than tables of data which would have to be analysed. The next is to separate out tables. Try and group data together logically and split it into several smaller table so that you can print one on each page rather than trying to fit it all onto one page with a font too small to read.

When you have done this you might look at the page and think 'how can I choose exactly what to print on what page?' Sometimes there are lots of blank cells which are appearing as part of the printed page which you want to remove from the print area. One method is to use page breaks. To add a page break, go to the Page Layout section on the ribbon. Highlight the cells, rows or columns you wish to add the break on. Click the Breaks button and choose Add Break. You can also remove the break in the same way if you wish. This means that when printing, Excel will automatically start a new page where the page break exists. This is very useful if you have a large number of tables on one worksheet that all need to be printed.

If you have a large amount of data and only need to print part of it then you can create a print area which will tell Excel to only print the cells you specify. To set a print area, got to the Page layout section on the ribbon, highlight the cells that you want to print and choose the Print Area button. You can clear the print area in the same way by selecting Clear Print Area.

There are various options to set before you print in order to customise the way Excel will print the page. On the Page Layout section of the ribbon click the Print Tiles button. If you have set a print area then these cells will automatically appear on the options and you will only be formatting these cells rather than the entire worksheet. Options include printing the row and column headings on each page and printing the gridlines. All these options will help you format the look of the finished page and should be carefully considered. A table without gridlines for example, may look confusing to people. If you have comments on cells which would not normally print, you can choose to print them at the end of the sheet.

One of the most important sets of printing options is on the Page tab of this section. On this tab you can choose landscape or portrait and can choose to fit the data on one page only which may automatically reduce the font size or a number of pages if you prefer. On the Margins tab you can centre the data which will look better if you have one table. You can choose to specify margins which will be useful particularly if you are printing on headed paper.

I recommend that you make use of the Print Preview before printing a final version. This will show you the pages that you are printing exactly as they will print. This will give you an idea of the look and feel of the page and will allow you to go back and make changes if required. The amount of paper you will save since you will not be using the trial and error approach is a definite plus!