There are a large number of articles about how Pie Charts are Evil. Now evil is overstating it and there are times pie charts are appropriate. But the vast majority of the time when pie charts are used – they shouldn't be. (I think this is mostly due to people assuming pie charts are the standard way to display percentages.)
The same holds true for banded reports. There are cases where their use is appropriate, but that is a very limited sub-set of where they are used.
So what are banded reports? This is the approach used by Crystal Reports, SSRS, Pentaho, Jasper Reports, Actuate, etc. A report by definition is composed of a report header, a table, and a footer. The table component can have multiple levels of detail, with aggregation at those levels (this is where the term banded comes in).
When this fits the report you want, a banded report is a great solution. If the data comes from a single stored procedure, all you want to display is the data in the single table, and the detail levels and aggregation desired are easily set in the report designer – a banded report designer works well.
But when your needs are different, or more, then this locked in approach becomes a significant problem. Fundamentally banded reports are about limitations. Limitations that can be broached only with great effort and significant compromises.
So when should you look at an alternative approach?
The beauty of free-form (as opposed to banded) report design is you can do anything you want. You select the data you need within the report, you iterate over any data, in any way, across any part of the template. You insert sub-reports as desired and they become part of the template populated with the data you are iterating over. You include charts, gauges, bitmaps, hyperlinks, etc. wherever under any criteria you wish.
With free-form a detail sub-set can be any set of data you wish (even from another database) broken out over any part of the template you wish (not just rows). There is no such thing as a report header, table, and footer, there is just the template where you can place anything anywhere. With free-form, you can structure your report any way you can imagine.
For the cases where the strict structure of a banded report designer is difficult and/or limiting, please take a look at Windward Reports. With Windward you design your reports in Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. It provides you a totally freeform report designer, both for layout and formatting. Wicked fast, extremely easy, and very powerful.
So next time you want to tear your hair out over the limitations or difficulity in your banded report designer, take a look at a freeform alternative. It will turn something difficult/impossible into something very easy.