Definitive guide to choosing Slicers or Filters in Power BI

Generated using Microsoft Designer (first attempt only)

Deciding whether to give users slicers or filters to interact with data in a Power BI report is more than a design or style decision. How users filter data affects the user experience in many ways, including performance and predictability of behavior. As a Power BI expert, you should be able to make informed recommendations and explain the tradeoffs.

In this article, I will help you compare slicers and filters based on objective and subjective criteria, and suggest some best practices for using them effectively. Learn how to choose the right option for your data and your users.

Criteria Slicer Filter
Type of data Field Parameters, tables that exist to drive UI behavior, something that is forced to always have one value selected Reporting data
Distinct values Small number of distinct values Any number of distinct values
Scope of filter Selected pages containing that slicer (which may be hidden on the interface), selected objects on the page with the slicer Whole Report, one Page, one Object (including slicers, ironically)
  • Customizable: list, buttons, dropdown, slider
  • Values can be sorted, like other visuals
  • List only
  • Values sort alphanumerically only (so most recent dates will be at bottom of list)
Interface footprint
  • Jumps off the page at users
  • Competes with visuals for space (you can set up show/hide using bookmarks)
  • On a pane that can be hidden
  • The number of filters can be large (searchable by field name)
Effect when filtering
  • Other slicers respond by showing only the related values (as supported through the data model relationship directions)
  • Slicer syncing setup is not visible to users
  • Lists of values do not update based on selections
  • Filter pane shows which filters are being applied
Performance Each slicer generates its own query when viewing lists of values, which can add to overall calculation times No performance impact based on number of filters included
Behavior options
  • Single selection only
  • Search (must be enabled; text fields only)
  • Relative Date/Time
  • Can be nested, like a hierarchy, when multiple fields are added to a slicer
  • Single selection only
  • Search (always on; text fields only)
  • Relative Date/Time
  • Advanced filtering (multiple conditions with and/or, contains/starts with/ends with/blanks/etc.)

Nested values from adding multiple fields to slicer

More tips for using slicers and filters effectively

  • Choose report filters when you want to apply a selection to the whole report. Whether slicers are filtering pages when the slicer is not visible is ambiguous to users (and developers who may be maintaining the solution).
  • Avoid using the same field as both a slicer and a filter, which can generate confusing results when the selections conflict.
  • Use the dropdown option for slicers to improve performance. This will prevent unnecessary queries from running until you view the values. You can also find more settings to optimize queries on the Optimize ribbon.

Why to use filters for reporting data (usually)

The biggest reason I encounter that people want to use slicers to filter regular reporting data is that they don't want to have to teach users to get accustomed to the filter pane. This is shortsighted thinking.

  • If you have too many filters to fit on the page as slicers, they will have to learn to use the filter pane, anyway.
  • If using Power BI will be a semi-regular occurrence, and you're not building the only solution they'll ever use, they will have to learn to use the filter pane, anyway.

Think of a slicer as a way to visualize the list of available values in a field. Do you need to display the field’s discrete values? If not, use a filter instead and save space for other visuals.

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