Slicers vs. Filters: The Difference and When to Use Them in Power BI

Slicers and filters in Power BI may look like they do the exact same thing, and in many cases, they can accomplish the same task, but understanding the subtle differences between the two can bring your dashboards to the next level, especially if you are sharing them. 

In this blog, I’ll briefly define slicers and filters as well as describe when to appropriately each one, and I’ll also provide a simple example of how to configure them for your dashboards.

What are Slicers?

First and foremost, a slicer is a user-friendly way of refining the data on the canvas by a dimensional column. Users of the dashboard select a value(s) from a list by which to “slice” the data. Another thing to note about slicers is that they are also a visualization type, which means two things. First that they need to be added to the canvas from the visualization panel. And second, because they are visualization, the data behind the visualization will be updated upon refreshing the dashboard, which could have performance implications depending on the dataset.

How to Add, Configure, and Use a Slicer

1. Select the Slicer visualization from the visualization panel. This will create an empty visual on the canvas.

2. Add a dimension from the field list on the right to the newly created slicer. The example uses Category for the dimension.

3. Configure the slicer type as a list or a drop-down by clicking the down arrow that appears in the upper right corner of the slicer when hovering over it.

4. Use the slicer by clicking on the values. The default will be to ctrl + click if you want to select more than one. This can be changed in the Selection Controls format panel. The example below has been changed to also include the Select all option.

What are Filters?

Filters also refine the data; however, they are designed as a tool for developers to configure visuals before the dashboard is provided to consumers. There are three different kinds of filters, all of which are configured using the Filter’s panel to the right of the canvas and include: visual level filters, page-level filters, and filters that apply to all pages.

Visual level filters allow developers to apply a filter to a single visual on the dashboard canvas. To configure this kind of filter, ensure that the visual you want to apply the filter is selected. You can always add an additional dimension to filter without adding it to the visualization. Page-level filters are filters that apply to ALL visuals on the page that you are currently working on. Filters on all pages apply to all visuals, across all sheets, within the same file. 

How to Configure Filters

Configurations for filters are the same for each of the three kinds of filters. However, they are different depending on the datatype. Select the filter type by clicking on the dropdown box in the filter panel.

Filter types for string values:

  • Advanced filtering: filter based on custom string logic for the dimension. 
  • Basic Filtering: select which values of the dimension to include or exclude
  • Top N: filter the dimension to the top (or bottom) value of N, based on another field from the field list. N is a variable that you will specify.

Filter types for number values:

  • See the screenshot below for the list of customized logic that can be chosen when using a number value. Select any of these and then specify a variable to apply to the filter.

Filter types for date values:

  • Advanced, Basic, and Top N filtering are available for date values. 
  • Relative date: filter based on a set variable for the options in the screenshot below based on days, weeks, months, or years.
  • Relative time: filter based on a set variable for the options in the screenshot below based on hours and minutes.

In Summary

Slicers are visualizations on a Power BI canvas that allows users to refine the data for themselves easily. Filters are for developers to refine specific visuals, entire pages, or whole workbooks before sharing the dashboard(s) with end-users.

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