Convert Excel to PDF Using a Keyboard Shortcut

When you need to convert an open Excel file to PDF, a super-fast way to do this is by using the CTRL-P keyboard shortcut.

Technically, this takes you to the more commonly used Print Preview area of the Backstage, but you can select Microsoft Print to PDF from the list of available printers.

Selecting the Print to PDF option in the Print section of Excel's Backstage

Once Microsoft Print to PDF has been selected, your next decision is whether to print the current (i.e., active) sheet(s), the entire workbook, or a pre-selected range of cells on a single sheet.

Excel Print Settings - selecting what part of an Excel file to print.

Export Excel Data to PDF

Our second method for exporting Excel data to a PDF format is to use the Excel Export feature.

The Excel Export feature is located by selecting File to open the Backstage view, and then clicking Export.  The option to Create PDF Document resides on this Export page.

Export page in Excel's Backstage area to export as a PDF (Create PDF/XPS Document).

Just as when you are saving a normal Excel file, give the PDF a name and a desired save location, then click Publish.

Save Excel Data as PDF

The third method for exporting Excel data to a PDF format is to use the Save As… feature.

In the same way you would save a new Excel file, you can change the save type to a PDF file instead of an Excel file.

To do this, select File to open the Backstage view, then click Save As.

Below the field where you give the file a name, click the dropdown to display a list of alternate save formats.

Using the Save As area to select PDF as a save option

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Convert Excel to PDF – Best Practices

Converting Excel data to PDF, and printing in general, can be a frustrating activity for users.  The 16-thousand-column by 1-million-row environment doesn’t translate easily to an 8½ by 11 (or A4) environment.  Excel has many customization controls that can take a problematic print/export and turn it into perfect output.

The following are some settings in Excel’s various Print and Layout controls that will help you get the best possible printouts and PDF exports.

Print Area

When you don’t wish to send the entire Excel sheet to a PDF, rather need to limit your PDF export to a specific range of sheet data, select the data range, and click Page Layout (tab) – Page Setup (group) – Print Area – Set Print Area.

Print Area controls on the Page Layout ribbon of Excel

This will restrict the PDF export to only contain data from the selected range.

If your data spans multiple pages in either the horizontal or vertical directions, but only by a few rows or columns, consider confining the range to a single page.  This is achieved by selecting Page Layout (tab) – Scale to Fit (group) – Width and Height.

Page Layout ribbon to use the page width and height controls in Excel

The results should be more pleasing.

Report on a single printed page


You can also define the Orientation individually for each sheet, to best display the type and amount of data it contains. For example, one sheet could be printed/exported/saved in Portrait mode while another sheet in Landscape mode.

Excel Page Layout menu with the Orientation expanded to show Portrait and Landscape options.

Page Numbers

Adding page numbers is high on the list of needed customizations.

There are several ways to add page numbers to the header or footer area of an Excel file.  One way is to navigate to the Page Layout view by clicking Insert (tab) – Text (group) – Header & Footer.

Insert ribbon of Excel to access the Header and Footer button

This will switch Excel to the Page Layout view and position the cursor in the Header area.

Header area in Excel's Page Layout view

From the Header & Footer ribbon, you can select from a library of built-in headers and footers or use the Elements section to create a custom Header and/or Footer.

Header and Footer Ribbon controls in Excel

Repeating Header Rows and Header Columns

If you need to have a heading that is displayed either across the top of data or the left side of data, instead of manually repeating those rows or columns, Excel can automatically re-print selected top or left data when a new page is started.

To set this behavior up, select Page Layout (tab) – Page Setup (group) – Print Titles.

Page Layout Ribbon and Print Titles button in Excel

On the Sheet tab of the Page Setup dialog box, click on either the “Rows to repeat at top” or “Columns to repeat at left”, then select the rows or columns you wish repeated on each new page.

Print Titles controls in the Page Setup dialog box of Excel

TIP: The selected rows or columns do not have to start with Row 1 or Column A.  However, selections need to be contiguous; you can’t select non-adjacent rows or columns.

Data spanning two pages with no repeated row headings
Repeated row headings in Excel

Setting Page Breaks

In the previous example that utilized repeated headings, notice that the data is unevenly split between the two pages.

Suppose a Page Break was used to place the “January” data on Page 1, and the “February” data on Page 2.

To do this, select the column that you wish to begin on a new page, then click Page Layout (tab) – Page Setup (group) – Breaks – Insert Page Break.

Steps to add a manual page break in Excel

When printed or exported, the report becomes more visually balanced.

A more balanced printout using manually positioned page breaks

PRO TIP: If you place yourself in the Page Break Preview mode (located on the View ribbon), you can see the page breaks and easily adjust their positions using a drag-and-drop technique.

Page Break Preview display in Excel

Other Assorted Controls for Correcting Excel Printouts & Exports

As stated earlier, there are dozens of controls available to take control over the way printouts and exports are conducted.

The Page Layout ribbon and Print Preview area have many of these controls, but many more can be accessed by digging into the “deep dive” area of controls.

These can be accessed by either clicking one of the “deep dive” buttons in the Ribbon groups…

Access buttons for the Page Setup section of Excel

…or, by selecting the Page Setup link in the Print Preview section.

Accessing the Page Setup link in the Print Preview window of Excel

From the Page Setup dialog box, there are many controls to explore and experiment with to help you render that messy printout/export into a perfect printout/export.

The four pages of controls for the Page Setup dialog box in Microsoft Excel

You’ll find even more tips about printing Excel files in my other posts:

Properly Print Excel Files with These Tips

Properly Print Multiple Sheets in Excel by Repeating Headers on Every Sheet.

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Leila Gharani

I'm a 6x Microsoft MVP with over 15 years of experience implementing and professionals on Management Information Systems of different sizes and nature.

My background is Masters in Economics, Economist, Consultant, Oracle HFM Accounting Systems Expert, SAP BW Project Manager. My passion is teaching, experimenting and sharing. I am also addicted to learning and enjoy taking online courses on a variety of topics.