Friday, 27 May 2011

SSRS: Use multiple fonts, sizes and colors in a single text box.

SSRS: Use multiple fonts, sizes and colors in a single text box.

Over the past few years I have seen a lot of forum posts from people looking to make a single word bolder or a different color to highlight something inside a single text box.  Most efforts in this area have resulted in frustration and work arounds.  Starting with SSRS 2008 there something I consider a little known feature that brings most of this frustration to an end.  The feature is called Create Placeholder, and it allows many new formatting options for a single textbox.  The first time I went looking for it, I couldn’t even find it, but I kept poking around and eventually realized my simple error. 
Start with any textbox on a report.  It can be a standalone textbox or part of a tablix.  The mistake I initially made was right clicking ON the textbox as though I was going to create an expression or modify the textbox properties.  What you need to do is click IN the textbox as though you are going to type directly into the textbox.  Then right click and you will see an option on the menu for Create Placeholder.  (This is a natural spot for a picture.  Sorry I can’t seem to grab the popup menu with a screen capture.) 
The dialog box that opens is very much like the textbox dialog, minus a few items that logically belong to the outer textbox object: Border, Fill, Visibility, and Sort.  All the existing options are remarkably similar to the Textbox dialog box with only a few differences.  One of the more interesting differences, Markup Type, is right on the General tab.  It allows you to put HTML style and formatting tags in your placeholder by choosing HTML.  If you choose the None option, anything you put in the value will be interpreted as plain text only.  However all your normal number, and font options remain.
Create Placeholder Dialog General tab

The Alignment tab is also pared back somewhat for this new object.
Alignment tab
Let’s try a few tweaks in a textbox.  Start by typing some text.
just text
Now right click next to that text and choose Create Placeholder and try a few font options.  Be sure to give your Placeholder object a Label and a Value as well as setting up the options.  You can also put multiple Placeholder objects in a single Textbox. 
Placeholders in Design Mode
As you can see in my sample the text you type in the Textbox can be mixed with Placeholders.  In Design Mode, the placeholders show their label names.  In preview mode the Placeholders show their values.
Preview Placeholders
This kind of formatting within a textbox opens up a lot of ways to enhance your reports in both very obvious ways and very subtle ways.  One thing is for sure, when used properly this object can increase the readability and impact of your reports. Using a Placeholder object can help you draw the eye to words and numbers you want to emphasize.  I think you can even use this to create a more dashboard like feel to some really basic text reports.
I hope you find this to be a useful tip.  Thanks for reading.

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