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Crystal Reports: Background Colors

Control those background colors on a section (All versions).

In the section expert, you can set a background color on a section. This can be an effective way to highlight a colored band for column headings.

But one effect you may not want is that the band goes all the way across the page. If you want a colored band across the report, but would like it to be narrower, we have a solution.

  1. Create a second section and move it the above the original section.

  2. Set this new section to “Underlay”

  3. Make the section slightly larger than the subsequent section

  4. Insert a box in this section, change the Border Style to “None” and set a fill color

This can be a very effective formatting technique to add some color to your report.

You want to use the formatting to accomplish such goals as:

  • Present a clean but compelling appearance.
  • Guide the reader's eye to what's important. That means very little highlighting or bolding.
  • Separate information or visually group it.
  • Make the report consistent with other company literature. For example, use company colors, company logo, and the official font (if there is one).
  • Create a different flavor or appearance for each type of report. For example, financial reports have a green border, sales reports have a salmon border, production reports have a blue border, and so on.
  • Show what has changed.
  • Highlight problem areas.

Choosing colors

How do you get colors on a computer screen? Whatever colors you see on your monitor are the result of combining different values of Red, Green and Blue. Website designers choose from a palette of colors, typically using a graphical UI that represents a numerical system.

It is this numerical system you'll have to use if you want to specify a color within a formula. You can specify colors using the  Color (red, green, blue) function. Each of the arguments of this function is a number between 0 and 255. The higher the value for a particular color, the more of it is used.

But what are the values for a specific color? You can look this up in an unrelated design program, if you happen to have such a program. You can also look them up online, though that has proven to be an exasperating exercise for many who try it.

To the rescue is Crystal Reports' Custom color palette can help. In addition to providing a way for you to select a color graphically, it tells you what the RGB values are for that specific color.

We could, for example, select one color with a value of Red=105, Green=015 and Blue=199. We could select a second color with a value of Red=250, Green=115 and Blue=050. We could use those numbers in a conditional formatting formula to give us an "If X, then Color A else Color B" color indicator.

On this Website, we have other articles about colors and formatting. If you are feeling artsy and want to ensure your work gives a professional look to your reports, see those other articles.

You'll find tips like these:

Avoid common color usage errors

  • Don't just add colors gratuitously. Think of colors in reports as a chef thinks of spices in food. Colors need to bring out the flavor of the report, not overpower the message. Colors need to work together. Some spices clash when used together, and so do some colors.
  • A common mistake with colors is to use large blocks of colored text on the page. For example, some people use yellow on a black background and that's fine for a small area.

    But it's not very scalable. You get maximum readability with black text on a white background. You can use colored text to emphasize or to bring out headings (or subheadings). Color used for the main body of the text detracts from the report.
  • Don't use colored page backgrounds. First of all, you're back at that readability issue we just discussed. But also you get printing problems when trying to pass an ink-saturated page through an ink-jet printer. With duplex printers, the problem is twice as bad. For laser printers, you might get away with this kind of thing but you're still violating a usability principle.
  • Use contrasting colors. It's hard to ee the difference between two closely related colors. Making readers work at getting to the information is not good report design. Don't use light blue on blue (this annoying scheme just refuses to die, but we hope it will meet its demise permanently very soon).

    Variations in printing also cause confusion, when you use closely related colors.

    Then there's the issue of referring to the color. Bob in Accounting is discussing the report. He can easily ask Beverly compare the total that appears in dark blue text to the total that appears in dark brown text. But how can he refer to the total in tan versus the one in light brown?
  • Avoid red backgrounds. These irritate the eye. They will probably also irritate your boss.
  • Remember, color costs money. Use it where there's a return on that investment (no need to calculate ROI). Sure, it's not a lot of money but waste is waste.
  • If there's no particular reason to use color, don't use it. That makes it special when you do use it.

This article is copyrighted by Crystalkeen, Mindconnection, and Chelsea Technologies Ltd. It may be freely copied and distributed as long as the original copyright is displayed and no modifications are made to this material. Extracts are permitted. The names Crystal Reports and Seagate Info are trademarks owned by Business Objects.



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  • Crystal Reports is a subsidiary of Business Objects, which is owned by SAP.