Power BI Slicers and Filters both perform similar functions. They are both ways to filter Power BI visuals and report pages. The biggest difference between Slicers and Filters is how report viewers interact with a report, and how much control the Power BI report developer wants to grant them.
We’ll explain the difference between slicers and filters and explore use cases where you might want to choose the use of one over the other.
Giving users the ability to slicer, filter, and drill into the data they are most interested in is a key function of Power BI. It’s one of the biggest differentiating features of it when compared to other reporting solutions like Microsoft Excel.
Let’s take a look at these powerful and essential features!
Table of Contents
What are Power BI Slicers?
Power BI Slicers are on page filters that report viewers can interact with. Report developers control the placement of the slicers, and which visualizations they interact with. Slicers can either filter a specific visual, an entire page, or be linked across multiple report pages. They are an essential feature of Power BI and enabling self service reporting that users can filter and drill into on demand.
Slicers can be created in a variety of styles, which include:
- Date Range Selectors – Multiple styles available and dynamically scales to size of the visual
- Dropdowns – Dropdown list of all values
- Tiles – Buttons that dynamically re-size or can be defined number of buttons or tiles on a visual
- Vertical Lists – A long list of values that can be single or multi-selected
The below screenshot is of the 4 primary types of slicers that can be added to a report.
Slicers are highly customizable. Power BI allows you to adjust text color, background, color, the number of values users can see at a single time along with a number of other visualization options.
Power BI also gives developers a lot of control over which values can be selected. Slicers can be filtered to only shows specific values. They can also be setup to allow for single select, multi-select and can even be combined with multiple fields to create a drill-down hierarchy for end users to interact with.
You may have even seen or used slicers without knowing it. The filter panel on the left side of this financial dashboard is made up of customized slicers.
Slicers are a design friendly way to add filters into a report that naturally blends in with the other visuals. For more options than will fit nicely on a page, Power BI gives users access to Filters.
What are Power BI Filters?
Power BI Filters allow end users to interact with a filter panel on the right side of a published report. The filter menu is typically collapsed by default. Report viewers can click on visuals and filter them on demand using the filter panel. Developers have the option to allow end users to modify filters, or to restrict them.
The screenshot below show the Filter Panel on the right side of the screen on the Power BI Service. This report has already been published. A report viewer can click on any of the visualizations on the page and modify how each field on the visual is filtered.
The Filter Panel can be expanded or collapsed on demand.
Filters are often used in report development to hide values from users that are not relevant, such as being outside the relevant date range or removing blank or null values from specific visuals. In many cases a Power BI developer will apply a filter than lock it down so they end user cannot access it or change it.
The Power BI Filter Panel is also available in Power BI Desktop to the right side of the page. It’s typically collapsed and can be expanded by clicking on the Filters button towards the top right side of the report builder screen.
The filter panel will show you all of the fields available. Filters can be applied on a visual, page or report level. Filters. Specific filter options depend on the type of data being filtered. Dates can be filtered by date ranges, and most other values can be filtered by the following.
- Advanced Filtering – Filter based on contains or using modifiers like and / or.
- Basic Filtering – A selectable list to select specific values to filter on, or to de-select specific values to filter out.
- Top N = Limits a list of values to the Top N number of values, such as top 10 or top 25.
- Date Range – Dates can be filtered dynamically or to a specific date range.
Filters can be modified by clicking on a field in the filter panel, expanding it and selecting a filter type. The interface will change slightly depending on the type of value being filtered.
If a field does not exist in the list, you can add the field to a filter list in Power BI Desktop to give people even more options than would otherwise be available.
Difference Between Power BI Slicer and Filters
The biggest difference between Power BI slicers and Filters are the ways that users will interact with them. Filters are presented on the right side of a Power BI report as a collapsed panel. The panel can be expanded and dynamically adjusts to the visual that’s selected. Users can filter on any field available in the list.
Power BI Slicers are more curated. Power BI developers can add slicers selectively, adjust their formatting and embed them into a report to match the design aesthetic of the report they are creating. Slicers can give developers more control over how users see and interact with the report.
Filters are a good way to present a large number of possible filters that would otherwise look crowded if added to a page as slicers.
It’s important to acknowledge that slicers and filters are not mutually exclusive. There are cases where you could have slicers on a page and allow users to also access the filter panel to make adjustments on demand.
When using a combination of slicers and filters it can create unintended interactions within the report causing visualizations to break or report to fail to display the desired information.
When to Use a Slicers vs Filters
The following table should provide some insights as to when you should use a slicer or a filter. While the biggest difference comes down to a design choice of where the filter shows up there are some additional considerations to keep in mind.
|Feature / Aspect||Power BI Filters||Power BI Slicers|
|Location||Usually collapsed or hidden||Prominently displayed on dashboard|
|Scope||Can be applied at report, page, or visual level||Usually at page or visual level|
|Types||Basic, Top N, Relative Date, etc.||List, Dropdown, Hierarchy, etc.|
|Data Density||Better for large numbers of filters||Better for curated filtering|
|Customization||Limited||Extensive (e.g., colors, layout)|
|Search Capability||Yes for most filters||Depends on slicer type|
Slicers are More User Friendly for Power BI Novices
A big difference between Filters and Slicers comes down to the user base at your organization. Business users who are new to Power BI or used to consuming most of their reports in Excel or PDF format may find it difficult to utilize the filter panel. Not because it is difficult to use, but because most report viewers are unaware that it exists.
Slicers can be much more prominent and can be placed in a location where a report viewer is guaranteed to see it. Because of this, we recommend most report viewers add slicers to their reports to augment the functionality that is available in the filter panel.
Power BI Developers may also want to seriously consider disabling filtering options to the end user if they want to provide a more curated report and have it setup to tell a specific story.
How to Add a Power BI Slicer
Slicers are added to Power BI reports the same way that visualizations are added to reports. The Slicer is listed under the default visualizations options in Power BI and is notated by a small filter icon next to a report. Once the slicer visual is added to a report, you can drag and drop specific fields into the Slicer values, and they become the field that the report is filtered based off of.
The following example is a slicer that has been added to a page with the Account Description Field assigned to it. Values are represented as a vertical list. Users can hold down CTRL + Left Click to multi-select values if the options is enabled.
The style of slicer can be updated under visualization format options.
For more ideas, the following video from Guy in a Cube explains how to build a Power BI slicer panel giving report viewers even more options.
How to Filter a Power BI Report
Filters are controlled in Power BI on the Filter Panel. It’s normally collapsed on the right side of the report viewer screen. Click on the Filters bar on the right side of the screen to expand it.
After the Filters pane is expanded it will show you the filtering options for the page that’s currently selected, the full report, or an individual visualization if you select it.
Filtering options vary based on the visual or data type being filtered, and additional fields can be added to the filter pane by dragging and dropping them from the data panel.
Power BI filters and slicers are both vital components of building Power BI dashboards. Which one to use and when largely depends on the end user experience. Slicers can be curated and brought to the forefront of design by embedding them into a dashboard along with other visualizations.
Filters on the other hand, give end users a lot more options than what would be feasible to fit on a page with slicers. The trade-off is that filters can almost give users too many options and increases the chance that they choose a filter combination that will result in no values being displayed.
New Power BI users may also not know that the filter panel exists, leaving them to wonder why they are unable to view the exact report that they want to see. This issue can be mitigated by end user training, but we find that some carefully curated slicers are usually the most effective.