It can be a bewildering subject, figuring out which video formats are going to work in a presentation. It’s doubly difficult when a presentation is designed on one computer, then played on another. I can’t count the number of seminars I’ve observed where the presenter is humming and hawing about the video: “Well it worked in rehearsal…” Even Microsoft’s web site has inaccurate information about choosing a video format, so what’s a user to do?
Fortunately, we’ve done lots of research and testing on the subject. I’m focusing here on the use of video in PowerPoint and Keynote presentations to find what works reliably. But I make one assumption: that you are using current versions of the software and operating system. In Windows, you should be on Windows 7 or better and be using Office 2010 or better. In macOS, I regard El Capitan (10.11) as a minimum, running at least Keynote 6 and/or Office 2016 for Mac. You may be able to get away with less, but the degree of uncertainty and need for testing goes up.
Video Formats – Containers
The main reason why there is so much confusion around video formats is that each video has at least 2 types of format. One is the Container format and is denoted by the file ending of the video. MP4, MPG and MOV are Container formats. Most people refer to the container format, but most can hold a variety of video and audio streams that be differently encoded. An analogy might be a Word document that can contain a variety of languages. A .docx file ending doesn’t tell you if it’s an English text!
Video Formats – Codecs
The second format is the encoding, referred to as the Codec (short for Compression/Decompression). H.264 or MPEG-2 are both video codecs, but there are also audio codecs like MP3 and AAC. To ensure a video plays reliably in any given context, you have to have both the right container and codec formats. This is the source of the common complaint “Well, I used an .MP4 file, but it didn’t work.” The codec was wrong.
It’s not such a big issue when all computers in a company are one operating system. If you’re only using Windows, slap in a WMV file, it will work. Usually. But when a company has mixed operating systems, or when you’re designing one one operating system for use on another, you have to be much more selective.
So here’s my recommendation: stick with MP4 for a container format with H.264 for a codec. It is supported by most software, plus HTML5. An MPG container with the MPEG-2 codec is also reliable for desktop software. Using either of these 2 format combinations, the video will play in Keynote or PowerPoint in macOS and PowerPoint in Windows. Always.
But how do you tell what codec is used in a given file? The MP4 or MPG file ending gives nothing away.
Video Formats – Finding the Codec
In macOS, open the video file in QuickTime Player, then choose Window>Show Movie Inspector. The video and audio codecs will display beside the Format heading. Here’s what you’ll see with a usable MP4 or MPG file:
Windows users must install third-party software. You can use the VLC video player for this, but I prefer MediaInfo, which is focused on simply providing information. One note: MediaInfo shows the H.264 codec as AVC. These shots show the video format highlighted in yellow:
SuperThemes are a Microsoft-created theme format that includes more than one theme in the same file. You see them in action when you use a Microsoft theme in PowerPoint 2013 for Windows and PowerPoint 2016 for Windows and Mac. Opening a SuperTheme lights up the Design tab>Variants Gallery with design choices, like this selection used in Microsoft’s Ion Boardroom SuperTheme:
SuperThemes have 2 signficant advantages:
The design variants show right up front on the Ribbon, so users immediately see what alternate looks are available to them.
Including size variants ensure that the brand is never distorted by the user changing the slide size. The user can choose a slide size that completely fills any monitor, but the logos and artwork always remain at the aspect ratio you have set. No more graphic distortion
SuperThemes have been around for several years, but Microsoft has never released the specifications for creating them. Brandwares got to work on the problem and has reversed engineered the format. As I write this, we are the only company in the world that can create custom SuperThemes for you.
SuperThemes – How They Work
Micrsoft’s SuperThemes include 4 to 8 design variants plus size variants for 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios. But that’s just a starting point. Down at the lab we found we can create size variants for 16:10 monitors, 35mm film and all the other preset sizes that Microsoft includes in PowerPoint. Here’s a downloadable example you can try out: Test SuperTheme
This SuperTheme contains 2 design variants, one with a white background and a second with a grey background. It also includes 3 size variants, for 16:9, 16:10 and 4:3. After you download and unzip the file, copy it to the the Document Themes folder inside your Office templates folder. Under Windows, this will normally be in your user Documents folder under Custom Office Templates\Document Themes. Mac users will need to hold down the Alt key while clicking on the Go menu and choosing Library. This opens the hidden user Library. Once that’s open, look for Library/Group Containers/UBF8T346G9.Office/User Content/Themes and copy the .thmx file to that folder.
Now open PowerPoint, select the Design tab and drop down the Theme Gallery. Now there’s a new row called Custom and that’s where you’ll find the test SuperTheme:
Select it and you’ll see 2 variants appear:
Switching design variants will change all slides in the presentation to that design. Now try changing the Slide Size. There are 2 sizes immediately available, 4:3 and 16:9. Notice that the logo remains undistorted even when the slide size changes. You can’t do that with a normal theme!
But many monitors are 16:10 and using 16:9 leaves big black bars at the top and bottom of your show. That’s not a problem with this SuperTheme. Click on Slide Size>Custom Slide Size (Slide Size>Page Setup on a Mac). Change the Slide(s) sized for: dropdown to On-Screen Show (16:10). The presentation is resized without any distortion to the logo. (Since we’ve set up just 3 sizes, if you picked one of the other sizes like Banner or 35mm Film you would see logo distortion. So don’t do that!)
When PowerPoint is using a SuperTheme with size variants, the Slide Size button works in a different way than normal. Inside of actually resizing the slide, it calls the associated size variant. If there is no variant for the chosen size, then PowerPoint resizes as usual. When you change the slide size to a smaller canvas, PowerPoint will ask whether you want to Maximise or Ensure Fit (Don’t Scale or Scale on a Mac). In a SuperTheme where you are switching to a supported size variant, it doesn’t matter which you choose, because PowerPoint won’t actually be resizing the slides. It just applies a variant theme.
SuperThemes – What You Need to Know
SuperThemes are intended for use with PowerPoint 2013 and 2016. They can be used with earlier versions, but there will only be access to the primary theme. This is normally set to Widescreen, so a user of older software should switch the slide size from the default 4:3 10″ x 7.5″ format.
For a custom SuperTheme, you can supply separate themes for each design and size variant. Each design variant can be completely independant, using different font or color themes, if needed. Multiply the number of designs by the number of sizes to know how many theme to supply. The downloadable SuperTheme above uses 2 designs in 3 sizes, so 6 themes went into its making.
When designing for SuperThemes, consider what might happen to an existing deck if the user changes the slide size after inserting graphics. If content placeholders in your variant themes have different aspect ratios, photos will still get distorted. So part of your design would be to include picture boxes that have a constant aspect ratio in all themes. They can be bigger or smaller, as long as the ratio of long side to small side is the same.
For 16:9 themes, we do not recommend the older On-screen Show (16:9) slide size produced by PowerPoint 2007 and 2010. This creates a slide that is 10″ x 5.63″. It’s the right proportion, but when a user creates a new slide in PowerPoint 2013 or 2016, it defaults to the new Widescreen size 13.333″ x 7.5″. This means your theme graphics are scaled up and you lose quality. Instead, create 16:9 themes using the Widescreen size created by newer versions.
For 16:10, we’ve found that a 12″ x 7.5″ slide size works perfectly. Of course, 4:3 slides are still 10″ x 7.5″, as always. This means that you can keep the height constant on all size variants. Only the width changes.
Then email the themes to us and we’ll assemble them for you. Too complicated? We’re a full-service Office shop: we can create complete SuperThemes from an InDesign or Illustrator file. Just tell us which slide sizes you want to support and we’ll do the rest. When we create a deck, it’s always guaranteed to work as expected, since we know Microsoft Office at least as well as you know Adobe software. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Last time, I wrote about how to make great color themes. But what about if you (or your client) have discovered that an existing color theme has a problem. If you catch them early, most issues with color themes can be corrected using PowerPoint’s user interface. Say you’ve created a theme or template, but some of the tests in the last article show problems. Repairing color themes requires rearranging the theme colors, then recoloring any graphic elements on the Slide Master and Slide Layouts.
If you didn’t test the template or theme and you’ve already created a presentation before finding the theme problem, it’s more work to fix. Follow the same sequence: rearrange the colors in the theme, fix the Slide Master, then the Layouts and finally repair any element on each slide that still needs help.
But what about if there are multiple templates, or several decks that have been created from a faulty theme? Repairing color theme problems manually quickly becomes an ordeal. It’s time-consuming and error-prone to try to make all the changes by hand. Searching and Replacing using a text editor would be much quicker and more thorough. It’s time to hack some XML!
We’re going to fix all the color theme problems by searching for XML text and replacing it with corrected values. Professional test editors really shine for this kind of work because of their abilities to do search and replace on multiple folders full of files, saving you hours of work. NotePad++ for Windows and BBEdit for macOS are 2 excellent choices for this work, they both have multi-file search and replace.
If you’re using Windows, unzip the files in a separate folder. On a Mac, open the theme or template in BBEdit.
Start by correcting the color order of the theme file located in ppt\theme\theme1.xml. During design, you may have applied more than one theme and PowerPoint hoards them all. If you have more than one theme file, check the name attribute to ensure you’re changing the one actually used in your deck. (If the theme is called Office Theme, that’s a Microsoft default, you don’t have to update it.) You may also have more than one theme if your presentation contains more than one slide master. Here are before and after examples, showing only the first 4 colors:
This has blue in the lt1 (Light 1) slot and white in the dk2 (Dark 2) spot. One symptom is inserted SmartArt that shows blue text instead of the expected white.
If a presentation uses Chart Templates, you may also see files in the Theme folder like themeOveride1.xml. This override component allows a chart template to have a color theme different from the presentation into which it’s placed. All chart templates created from a template contain this themeOverride component, which is simply a copy of the main color theme. If the template color theme is bad, then you’ll also have to open all the chart templates and update chart/theme/themeOverride1.xml.
Repairing Color Themes – The Slide Master
For our simple example, we can skip this step, but for more complex repairs, it may also be necessary to adjust the color map in the slide master. If the presentation was based on a color theme exported from Word or Excel, this is necessary. It’s also often needed for legacy decks that have been imported from PowerPoint 2003 and earlier.
The Slide Master has 2 parts. First is the slide formatting that displays in the Slide Master view of PowerPoint. It’s tagged with <p:cSld>. Immediately after that are parameter storage sections holding references to the slide layouts, title, body and other text formatting, etc. The very first section <p:clrMap is what we’re looking for. The full default color map looks like this:
You can see that the dark colors dk1 and dk2 are mapped to the background instead of the text, while text is formatted with lt1 and lt2. The color theme hasn’t been altered, just the way it is mapped to the presentation elements. There is nothing in the program interface to fix this, you must edit the XML. Mental organization becomes very important when changing both the theme and the color map, you can easily get confused.
Repairing Color Themes – Search and Replace
The above steps are preparatory to making the actual changes. Now we need to change the color tags attached to all affected elements in the Slide Master(s) and all Slide Layouts and Slides. Let’s use the example of switching the blue and white. The blue was in the lt1 slot, which is mapped in the Slide Master to bk1 by default. The white was in the dk2, mapped to tx2. After switching the color order, we need to change all bk1 color tags to tx2 and all tx2 tags to bk1.
Wherever a tag is used as an attribute, it has straight quotes before and after. Include these in your search terms so you don’t mess up the color map in the Slide Master. It’s simplest to run this on all files in the archive:
Find what: “bk1” – Replace with: “tx22”
Find what: “tx2” – Replace with: “bk1”
Find what: “tx22” – Replace with: “tx2”
That should do it! Zip up the files with the same file ending as the original, if you’re using Windows. On the Mac, just save the file. Test in PowerPoint.
This is the simplest repair scenario. Sometimes you have to move more colors around, particularly if the creator was someone unfamiliar with PowerPoint. Make notes ahead of time, to make sure you’ve got the right colors moving to the right slots. And always work on a copy of the file, not the original! If it gets too complicated, just send it to us, we do this kind of thing all the time.
Next time, I’ll be discussing PowerPoint SuperThemes. Brandwares has cracked the construction of these, so I’ll cover what you need to know.
Great color themes in Office are not a random collection of swatches. Each spot in a color theme has a job. Once you learn those functions, great color themes will roll out from your office.
I’m always astounded to hear a Office “professional” who says “I don’t use themes.” I’m amazed because in modern versions of Office it’s impossible to not to use themes. If you haven’t set a theme for your template, then you’re using the default Office theme. Whether you like it or not! Themes are an integral part of Office, so you’d better learn how they work.
Almost every slot in a color theme has a PowerPoint function, a job that it fulfills for the program. If you don’t know what these are, you’ll place the wrong color in the slot and get a result that looks weird in the program interface. Needless to say, this doesn’t help your professional cred with your client.
Here’s the Color Theme editing dialog as seen in PowerPoint 2016 for Mac. In Office for Mac, you can only create color themes in PowerPoint. In Windows versions, you can create them in any Office program, though there is a good reason why you should still use PowerPoint.
The following advice covers standard presentations that have a light background and dark text. If you’re going for the mysterious Mafioso look with a dark background, then reverse the following instructions putting text colors into the light slots and backgrounds into the dark ones. Oddly enough, when PowerPoint imports a theme exported from Word for Excel, it will default to the Mafioso look. This is the good reason why you should always export theme files from PowerPoint, where your choices for background and text are explicit and that information is preserved in the theme.
The first 4 colors are for text and backgrounds. Although all 4 are called Text/Background, that just to accommodate the occasionally light text on a dark ground, as mentioned in the previous paragraph. In reality, Dark 1 is the main text color. If you have black text in the deck, leave this set at black. You should only change this if you have no black text (Please dont’t tell me you’re doing that trendy look of black text that’s dark grey and makes it look like your printer ran out of toner. Eww.)
You may have a secondary text color for headings. That must go in the Dark 2 slot. Not in Light 1! Not in Light 2! All text colors go in the dark slots!
Light 1 is for background colors. Most of the time, this is white, so leave Light 1 set at white. If the design calls for a different background color than white, set it here.
Light 2 is the only slot in the theme that doesn’t have a secondary job. You can make this slot any color! It doesn’t matter! Woo-hoo! Let’s hold off, this is a good spot for an extra color that doesn’t fit elsewhere.
Accent 1 is the default color for inserted SmartArt, Text Boxes and Shapes. Almost all the time, you will make Accent 1 the primary corporate color. For our company, PMS 481C is the code color, so Accent 1 is the RGB equivalent in all our company themes.
If the company has a secondary brand color, Accent 2 is the logical position for it. So what about Accents 3 to 6? You’re thinking “Hey! 4 empty slots! Throw some colors in, we’re done!” Not so fast, junior.
Great Color Themes: Chart Fills
The set of Accent colors have a huge responsibility of their own: chart fills! I’ve created a color sequence to show how these are applied by PowerPoint.
Office programs fill charts using these 6 six colors in sequence. So when you’re designing, it’s best to know what that sequence is. The colors will be used in the same order:
If there are no additional colors in the design standards, we create a pair of lighter and darker variations of the brand colors for Accents 3 to 6. But don’t just create a pretty series of swatches! Is the chart readable when printed on a black and white laser? Can color-blind people read it? You’re a Designer! You’re supposed to be thinking of these things! The rule of thumb is to alternate darker and lighter colors in a sequence so they can be distinguished from one another even in monochrome. Not sure? Test it!
Of the 12 colors in the theme, only the first 10 are accessible to the user in color picker dialogs. The last 2, Hyperlink and Visited Hyperlink, are applied automatically when the user inserts a hyperlink in the document. I usually use 2 of the theme colors for these, rather than Microsoft’s standard colors. If there’s a blue, that’s a good choice for the hyperlink, it’s a visual cue. The followed hyperlink can be a lighter grey or other tint, if there is one in the palette.
Great Color Themes: Recognizing Trouble
Before shipping the deck, here are a few quick tests you should be performing to show any color theme problems:
If either of these look odd, you probably have a color theme problem. If the text or background of either the chart preview or SmartArt don’t match the background of the deck, you’ve probably inserted a dark color into the Light1 slot
Most of the autogenerated table combinations in this example are hideous and unworkable, sure sign of a bad color theme. You may also see a table style preview that looks different from the actual table. If the table preview shows a different color for table text (it will just show colored lines, not actual text), then the colors in Light2 and Dark2 have to be switched. Another problem indicator is if it appears you are selecting one color in the picker, but the actual color applied is different.
If you see any of the above symptoms, take the time to fix them and do it right. Your client will notice these glitches and you won’t be able to ‘splain them away.
The general method to fix these issues is to put the theme in correct order, then go through the entire deck starting with the Slide Masters, correcting the colors back to the designed appearance. This effort isn’t too bad if it’s a single template or theme you’re correcting. Groups of finished presentations are a different matter that need a more automated approach. Next time, I’ll be writing about how to repair presentations with a bad color theme, using XML Hacking.
Recent colors are handled inconsistently by Microsoft Office programs. Word and Outlook only retain recently used colors only as long as the program is running, and those colors are visible in every document that’s open. By contrast, PowerPoint and Excel both include them in the document. As soon as you open a different file, the previous colors disappear from the color picker. Return to the first document and there they are again.
If you’re creating files for clients, you may generate quite a few colors in the design process. Your work will look a little more professional if you purge the Recent Colors from the PowerPoint or Excel file before sending it on.
The row of Recent Colors that PowerPoint and Excel include in the file is a distraction for your client.
Recent Colors Removal Steps
Under Windows, begin by unzipping the file. On a Mac, open it in BBEdit or other advanced text editor.
If this is a PowerPoint deck, look in the ppt folder for the presProps.xml file. The recent colors begin on the third line of a prettified (human-readable) file. Simply delete the entire clrMru section:
After editing, rezip the files if you’re using Windows or save and close in your macOS text editor. Test that the file opens as expected and no longer has Recent Colors in the color picker, that send it off to the client.
A more presentable dialog for your client.
Don’t Reuse Recent Colors
Occasionally an artist will try to include special colors in the Recent Colors section, to give the client some additional color choices. This is a bad idea because the Recent Color section is dynamic. When any new color is created, it’s added to the left end of Recent Colors. If the row is full, the oldest color gets pushed off the right end. A better solution is to create Custom Colors. Here’s my how-to on the subject. Custom Colors don’t move or change and can be named, which is a little extra help for your client.
If you believe the user interface, there are only 7 PowerPoint numbering styles:
In fact, there are 41 numbering styles available. About half of these apply to languages using other alphabets. These language variants become available to the user interface when the presentation text and keyboard input method is set to a relevant language.
Microsoft uses “Arabic” for both western European numbers and for numerals in the Arabic language. In this article, I refer to Western numbers for the European/American numbering system.
There are a dozen hidden PowerPoint numbering styles that you can only use if you hack the XML. This subset includes the ever-popular circles within numbers format. Here’s how to implement these.
Hacking PowerPoint Numbering Styles
Here’s a typical listing of a style using numbering. Bold text is the numbering style type.
If we examine the dialog displayed by the program, the styles available from the upper left are arabicPeriod, arabicParenR, romanUcPeriod, alphaUcPeriod, alphaLcParenR, alphaLcPeriod and romanLcPeriod. You can see the full list of styles at Datypic.com.
The illustrated XML is from the bodyStyle section of the slideMaster1.xml, but you can use exactly the same syntax for the otherStyle section of slideMaster1.xml, to format table text, or for p:defaultTextStyle in presentation.xml to handle text boxes.
PowerPoint Numbering Styles – the Complete List
Here are examples of all 41 numbering styles. The text of each line is the XML parameter to use. Uc = Upper case, Lc = Lower case, Db = Double byte, Plain = No character following the number/letter, Period = Following period, ParenR = Following parenthesis, ParenBoth = Parentheses before and after. Please note there are only a few Plain styles and those are mostly for Western numbers. PowerPoint does not have any ability to create custom numbering styles (I’ve tried!), so you’ll have to live with these.
When you choose fonts for Office, it takes a different approach than selecting typefaces for an InDesign document. One obvious difference is that you only need to install the font for a design document on the computer where it’s being created. Using the same font in an Office program will require the font to be installed on every computer using the document. Clearly, this is a much more costly solution. Aside from that, let’s look at the pitfalls of choosing fonts for Office templates.
Choosing Fonts for Office – Designer Vanity
Designers from different geographic areas spec fonts differently. As one example, Toronto designers tend to focus on the practicalities of electronic document distribution. As a result, they will often choose Arial or Times New Roman for the user-filled portion of a template. By contrast, designers from New York focus on creating a distinct visual appearance. They choose unusual designer fonts. This creates logistical problems for their clients. They must spend money licensing for all workstations and then take time to install the fonts for each user.
Test fonts from small foundries to licensing a lot of copies. I’ve written about this issue before: Cross-platform Fonts from Small Foundries: Beware! In a mixed Windows/OS X environment, a poor quality font will not display correctly in documents that move between Mac and PC. One typical symptom is Italic text that displays as Roman or Bold when viewed on a different OS, or some similar weight/style mixup.
Choosing Fonts for Office – Collaboration
If the client uses Office documents for collaboration (Don’t know? You should be asking these questions!), you should seriously reconsider a “designer-y” font choice. When the documents arrive at your client’s client, that computer will not have the fonts and the document appearance will change drastically. Unlike web pages, Office documents do not have a font fallback setting. There is no practical way to preset which font will be substituted when the original is missing.
I know what you’re going to say next: “What about if we embed the fonts?” Here’s are several reasons why that probably will not work.
Embedding only works with TrueType and TrueType-flavored OpenType. But you shouldn’t be using PostScript or PostScript-flavored OpenType for Office anyway. Microsoft’s support for that format is going away.
Embedding doesn’t work at all in Office for Mac. OS X users cannot embed fonts in documents. Neither can they see the correct fonts in documents where the font is already embedded.
Most typefaces have restrictive embedding permissions. So even if you can embed the font and your client can see it, they will not be able to edit the document using the embedded font. You can get around this if you contact the foundry and request a version with Editable or Installable permissions. Expect to pay a surcharge for this. Some foundries charge a lot for this service, because they’re concerned about losing sales to possible piracy.
Choosing Fonts for Office – Font Families
Designers are used to Single versions of fonts. The is where each font variant appears as a separate entry in the font list in Office. If you want to change to bold or italic, you select a different font from the list. Office doesn’t usually work this way and Office users are not used to this method.
Instead, Office users are familiar with Family fonts. This is where where a group of (usually 4) fonts is linked. To get bold or Italic variants, they click on the Bold or Italic buttons, leaving the font name the same. The foundry usually creates the font families, though there are some type utilities available that let you make a family out of single fonts. RoboFont is one that works. Some other popular utilities do not do this correctly. Use them and you’ll end up with a family that only works on Windows or OS X, but not both.
In OS X, it’s not obvious when you are using single versus family fonts. OS X creates family groupings on the fly. In Windows, it’s easy: install the fonts, then look at the font menu in an Office program. A font family will only have one entry for the family, while singles will list every font variant. In this screen shot, the Arials are families. Arnhem and ATC Arquette are collections of single fonts:
The logical conclusion to the font family approach is that your client should almost never be licensing just one or two typefaces. If four family members are not installed, Office will fake them by stroking the font for bold and slanting it for italic. As you might guess, this looks ghastly and completely off-brand.
The exceptions to this rule are:
If the document is a fillable form in Word or Excel. Those documents are typically locked so the user can’t change the font or its attributes.
The the font is used only for Headings. These are usually bold and stay that way, so there is less chance of a user applying attributes.
In either of these 2 situations, you should be able to get away with licensing a single typeface instead of a complete family.
If your design calls for an unusual mix of weights, like Light and Demibold instead of Regular and Bold, contact the foundry to request a custom family. There is normally a small charge for this service. However, if the licensing deal is large enough, the foundry may waive this.
Choosing Fonts for Office – 2 Solutions
To sum up, for each different font used in your design, your client should be licensing a complete family of 4 typefaces in TrueType or Truetype-flavored OpenType.
Brandwares is a font reseller and we’ve been speccing type for Office for years. If you choose us to create your templates, we can also source your client fonts in the correct format and family. This service includes free tech support. We’ll help your client with any installation or usage issues and communicate with the foundry, if necessary.
Working on your own? A simple way to eliminate all these issues is to design with the fonts that are already installed by Office. There are many faces more interesting than Arial and Times New Roman in this collection. The fonts that come with Office don’t require any additional licensing fee. They are already installed and they have relaxed embedding permissions to make collaboration easy. They are all high-quality typefaces licensed from major foundries like Monotype. Here is a list of the families that are useful for business communications (we left out Comic Sans!). For maximum compatibility among all versions of Office, use a font that is checked in every column.
This list is available as a free PDF that shows character listings for every font by clicking on the font name. Email me to get a copy: email@example.com
It’s a challenge to create the absolute best quality logos for client files in Microsoft Office. Most artists choose bitmap formats for logos, usually JPEG format. Apparently this is some kind of received wisdom from artist to artist, because JPEG format is close to the worst possible format for logos. But I’ve already covered this subject in JPEG Logos? Fail! back in 2013.
Brandwares has used indexed-color PNG format for most line art (a term for non-photographic art that is mostly flat color areas). Most logos qualify as line art. But there are a couple of disadvantages to using any type of bitmap format for branding information.
With Office files, Microsoft is determined to foist image “compression” on us. I put compression in quotes because Microsoft’s solution is really downsampling by another name. Whatever the name, the results are blurry and absolutely do not reinforce the brand. All bitmap files will be downsampled unless the user chooses only a single file. You can’t protect the company logo, even with XML hacking. Let’s face it, sooner or later, bitmap logos will look like mush.
The other persistent problem with bitmap formats is what happens when you create a PDF from a document. Acrobat’s default settings assume you want to create a small file to post on a web page. This was a serious problem 20 years ago. So, once again, a software company’s helpful authoritarianism leads to default settings that cream the logos in any Office file.
Vector Formats for Best Quality Logos
For many years, we at Brandwares were aware that a vector format was a potential way out of this. Vector formats are naturals for line art, because they easily handle geometric shapes with simple coloring. But there are relatively few vector formats from which to choose, and the available formats didn’t seem up to the job.
One grandaddy of vector formats is the EPS file. Well-known to designers, the EPS doesn’t get great support in Office programs. Printing them at high resolution requires PostScript support from the printer, which is dicey in most business offices. Office programs can’t ungroup them, so adding theme color support in an Office file is out of the question.
CGM was an early contender, and is still used in technical applications. But it never got support in common file formats. SVG is making inroads on the web, but Office is only beginning to support the format.
Let’s be honest, Microsoft offers the best support to the formats it invents. For vector graphics, that is WMF and EMF. WMF is a 16-bit format that was invented in the ’90s. In practice, it’s not too useful today. All too often, WMF files do not render the inside curve of shapes like O or D. In addition, Adobe Illustrator’s WMF export is horrendous, turning every curve into a series of angled straight lines. Corel Draw does a better export, but the format is limited by its 16-bit capacity.
The format we’re left with is EMF (Enhanced MetaFile). Brandwares has developed a method to create the highest quality EMF files possible. Whatever you do, do not use EMFs exported by Adobe Illustrator! Illustrator’s curve accuracy goes down the toilet when it exports as EMF. Here’s what you’ll get, versus the type we produce:
We create robust logos with a tiny file size and razor sharpness at any resolution and transparent backgrounds and they will never get downsampled by Office or Acrobat!
Best Quality Logos In Use
Once we’ve placed our EMF logos in your presentation, they can be ungrouped in Windows versions of PowerPoint, then you can key part or all of it to a theme color. If your presentation contains multiple color themes, changing theme colors will change the keyed logo element automatically. This can be a slick trick for presentations with different sections in different code colors. If you’re working with a Mac, let us know and we can ungroup and key the logo parts for you.
The layout for these slides is identical. Each uses a different color theme that varies one code color.
Transparency is not supported in most EMF exports, but by importing and ungrouping the logo, you can add transparency back in. In PowerPoint, choose Drawing Tools>Shape Fill>More Fill Colors…, then set the Transparency slider. This works the other way around from Illustrator, but the units are the same. If the Illustrator file used 40% Opacity, set 60% Transparency in PowerPoint.
From L to R: each character has 10% more transparency. You can’t get this by adding transparency in Illustrator, you must re-create it in Office.
EMF are not a great candidate for objects like disclaimers. Each letter includes one or 2 complex curves, so a paragraph of text will be much larger that the same disclaimer rendered as an indexed-color PNG or even a JPEG of the same text. But for logos, they’re pretty great. You get the same small file size and pin-sharp appearance regardless of how much you enlarge it. Applying image compression or printing to a low-res PDF leaves EMF logos in pristine condition. It’s by far easiest way to create the best quality logos for Microsoft Office.
I wrote about how to create a basic font theme in 2015: XML Hacking: Font Themes. Thanks to everyone for the comments and feedback that have allowed me to refine the article and make it more helpful.
That article covered a bare bones font theme for European languages (referred to as Latin fonts in Microsoft-speak). International and multilingual users require a theme that can work with a greater variety of languages and fonts, so in this article I’m going to cover how these work and how to create them.
A More Complete Simple Theme
There’s more we can do with the very basic theme from the previous article. In the listing below, a font has been specced for only Latin fonts.
In both the Major (Headings) and Minor (Body) categories, there are also ea (East Asian) and cs (Complex Scripts) entries. These theme entries are inactive until text is formatted as a relevant language. As long as your text is marked as US English (either by using the Review>Language>Set Proofing Language, or by setting the language in a Style), only the Latin theme fonts will be active. But if you mark text as Chinese, the Office program will check the theme and use the font in the ea tag instead. Likewise, Persian text will activate the cs theme font.
What will not work is to try to set an East Asian or Complex Scripts font in the Latin tag. Depending on the version and platform of Office, you’ll only get European characters showing, or the program will completely ignore your theme. Here’s a simple font theme that will work with Japanese, Arabic and European languages:
Depending on which ea or cs font you choose, it may support one or several languages. As an example, CJK fonts will support Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Of course, in a collaboration scenario, the fonts chosen should be available on both Mac and Windows, or the display of one of the langauges may get mangled with a font substitution. The best idea is to stick with fonts distributed by Microsoft with Office.
Complex Font Themes
When you crack open the XML on a document or theme, the font theme information is contained in theme/theme1.xml. This illustrates a font theme that is ready to take on the world:
For brevity, I’ve omitted the Minor font section. Instead of setting the ea and cs fonts, this font theme has entries for more tightly defined language groups and different fonts assigned to each one. This level is detail is necessary for a font theme that can be used around the world. Since I copied this listing from theme1.xml, it doesn’t have the XML opening that a standalone font theme would have.
Setting up and testing a complex font theme like this is not a simple task. The font switching is automatic and is triggered by the language input setting on your computer, the language set in your template styles and the language set in the text being edited. Please post your comments, let me know of any hiccups or problems you notice and I’ll try to answer your questions.
PowerPoint was built so that a completely new users could build a presentation without knowing anything about the program. A quick look at the typical presentations out there will quickly confirm how little most users know about the program. But there is a design, an internal workflow that was built into the software. Creating a file that uses this workflow will make your templates and themes easier to use. Users will be able to build presentations faster and suffer fewer WTF moments. The deck will simply work better when you use these PowerPoint construction best practices.
Your New Mantra: Theme>Master>Layouts>Slides
This is the order in which you should approach PowerPoint construction. The best practice is Theme>Master>Layouts>Slides. First, create a Theme. Then apply that to a Master Slide, then format the Slide Layouts. Then last of all, make the Slides. The best presentations follow this order. The worst decks are created by trying to reverse the order. A surprising number of people start with the Slides, then try and fix the Layouts on which they’re based. Finally they end up at the Master and never quite discover the Theme. These are the problem decks that I get called on to repair, since they just don’t work anymore.
PowerPoint Construction Best Practices: The Theme
The basic design building block of all Office programs is the Theme. Themes nominally have 3 components: the Font theme, the Color theme and the Effects theme. However Effect themes are not editable in the program interface. All a designer can do is choose one of the presets, and the presets available change with each version of Office. Since effects are only used with tacky effects like 3D lozenges and shadows, most designers will simply ignore the Effects theme. If I’m able, I’ll apply the Office 2010 Couture effect theme, which has minimal gimmicks.
That leaves the Font and Color Themes. Color themes in Mac versions of Office are editable in PowerPoint. To create custom Font themes, Mac users must build them manually in a Text Editor. No need to get nervous about coding, they’re very simple files that you can create in TextEdit. I covered the technique in this article: XML Hacking: Font Themes. To create a Color theme that will work the best for your client, please read Office Charts: 6 Colors Maximum! This article is important because the order of colors in a theme determines the automatic color order of charts.
You don’t have to use a custom theme, but you also can’t have a theme-free file. If you don’t customize, your template will use the default Office theme. Then users will start to use the theme fonts and colors, because they’re obvious in the interface. And then your client’s presentations will be off-brand. Is that what you want? I didn’t think so…
A clear advantage of using a theme is that applying a new custom theme instantly updates the appearance of legacy documents. This feature alone takes most of the pain out of brand updates, but the underlying templates must have been built with theme application in mind.
I have Themes in my Theme!?
As usual for Microsoft, they use the same word in two different senses, just to make sure you get confused. In PowerPoint, a Theme and a Template can both contain an entire presentation in addition to the Color, Font and Effects Theme parts. By contrast, if you save a Theme from Word or Excel for Windows, the Theme file contains only the Color, Font and Effects parts, but no content or pages. So when you’re talking Themes with an expert, you need to make it clear whether you’re talking about a Font or Color Theme subfile, a Word or Excel style Theme that combines the Colors, Fonts and Effects, or a PowerPoint theme that includes all of the above plus Masters and Layouts.
PowerPoint Construction Best Practices: The Master
In PowerPoint, when you choose View>Slide Master, you’ll see a list of thumbnails at the side of your screen. The larger thumbnail at the top is the Slide Master (outlined in red):
The slide master never appears in a presentation. For this reason, some designers falsely conclude it is unnecessary and make a mess of it by ignoring it, deleting all placeholders, or otherwise mistreating it. The clients of these designers live in PowerPoint hell, with layouts and slides that just don’t work the way they should. It’s a shame that a designer who doesn’t know what they’re doing can’t spend a few dollars to bring in a professional to assist them.
A critical function in PowerPoint templates and themes is Inheritance. Inheritance is what we use when we create a typestyle, then apply that style to text. The text is said to inherit the characteristics of the style. The style is the parent and the text is the child.
The Slide Master inherits the fonts and colors of the Theme. Then the Slide Layouts inherit their formatting from the Slide Master, and finally the Slide inherit their formatting from the Layouts. The Slide Master is a crucial link in the chain. Ignoring it or formatting it incorrectly will cause inheritance problems in the rest of the presentation.
The correct way to format the Slide Master is to include as much formatting as possible that can carry over to the Layouts. Leave all placeholders in place, do not delete any. Perhaps you don’t think users will need a date or footer field, but deleting them will create problems for the users that actually do need them. You will also create problems in the future, when today’s decks become tomorrow’s legacy presentations that need to be updated with a new theme.
Analyze the design sample slides for where bulleting is needed and where it isn’t. A default Microsoft design uses bullets for every text level, but your template will be more useful if it includes a mix of bulleted and non-bulleted levels. The bullet scheme you apply on the Slide Master is automatically inherited by all the slide layouts.
On most presentations, there is a company logo that appears on most or all slides. Include that logo on the Slide Master (Of course, that logo is an indexed-color PNG right? You’re not still using JPEGs for logos, are you?). Important: Don’t touch a Slide Layout until the Slide Master is complete!
PowerPoint Construction Best Practices: The Layouts
When the Slide Master is complete, then and only then, move on to the Slide Layouts. Why? Because editing the Layouts breaks the inheritance from the Master of the edited feature. As one example, if you create a unique bullet setup on a Layout, then go to the Master and create the same setup, the edited Layout will remain out of sync. Subsequent changes to the bullets on the master will never show on the Layout, because you broke the inheritance. Any changes to the Slide Master also have be duplicated on the Layout. Even though the bullets are identical, you created twice as much work by editing the Layout before the Master.
I’ve seen some designers who delete everything on the Master so they can create Layouts that differ from each other. This, too, is a mistake. The Slide Master should be formatted to look like a typical or common slide in the presentation. Then, for any layout that has different graphics or background color, right-click on the Layout, choose Format Background and turn off the background graphics with the Hide background graphics option. This leaves the placeholders in place and they still get their formatting from the Master. Then create a different color background and/or include different graphics. Presto, a different appearance, while maintaining inheritance from the Master.
I really don’t like the Layout titles that Microsoft has assigned. First, there is the Title slide, then you have Title and Content. Except the word Title refers to 2 different things. The first layout is for the title of the presentation, which could just as easily be called the Cover slide, while the second refers to the Title placeholder on the slide layout. Most of the layouts have titles, why do only some include Title in the layout name?. I’d love to fix this, but then I would create another problem:
People will make presentations with your template. Someday those decks will be “legacy content” that needs to be updated with the next template that will inevitable follow yours. When those presentations are updated, PowerPoint will find a Cover layout in the old file and a Title layout in the new one. PowerPoint doesn’t know these are intended to be the same layout. So instead of replaced Cover with Title, it keeps both. The old deck now has a new Title layout, but it doesn’t get applied to the title slide, because that is linked to the Cover layout. The user screams. Why didn’t all the slides update with the new theme? Well, it’s your fault, because you thought you were more clever than Microsoft and you changed the layout name.
Deleting layouts isn’t so much of a sin. The Two Content and Comparison layouts are mostly redundant, your client may need one or the other, but not both. The Content with Caption and Picture with Caption layouts are fairly useless in their default form, but they’re worth reformatting if your client’s content requires something similar. Someone connected with Microsoft told me that the last 2 layouts with rotated text (Title and Vertical Text and Vertical Title and Text) were intended for use with Asian languages. Could be, so I leave them in for world-wide companies that might need Far Eastern text but delete them for smaller and local clients. Just remember: if you keep the layout, keep the name. New titles for new layouts only!
Custom Slide Layouts
I assumed everyone already knew this, but you can also create custom layouts in Slide Master view. Start by duplicating an existing Layout or creating a new one. Then choose the Insert Placeholder command to add an all-purpose Content placeholder, or one of several types of content-specific placeholders. You can add many placeholders to a layout, it’s a very flexible system.
A question that comes up frequently is whether to use Picture or Content placeholders for a photo slide layout. These 2 types of placeholders act differently, so the choice depends on what kind of action is most suitable. When you insert a picture into a content placeholder, the placeholder fits itself to the photo proportions. If the photo has a small physical size, the Content placeholder shrinks to fit the photo. The photo’s aspect ratio is always preserved.
By contrast, a Picture placeholder stays the same size. Placed photos are enlarged or reduced to fit the placeholder, and are automatically cropped to make the photo fit the aspect ratio of the placeholder. Knowing this, we can state that where a particular layout is locked down, you should use a Picture placeholder. An example might be a photo page where there is an exact 1/4″ gap between photos on all 4 sides. A Picture placeholder will maintain this layout:
Picture placeholders are better for rigid or exact layouts.
If the slide contains a single picture and the entire picture must show in its original proportions, a Content placeholder is more suitable:
A flexible layout when the entire photo must show is better with a Content placeholder.
Lazy Designer Syndrome and How to Avoid It
I’ve repaired lots of presentation that show these symptoms: in a series of placeholders on a custom layout, you’ll enter text or content. You switch to a different layout, then switch back, but now the content is in different placeholders than you used originally. What’s happening? Usually, there was a lazy designer who, while editing a layout, copied and pasted formatted placeholders rather than using Slide Master>Insert Placeholder. While they were saving themselves a few minutes, they were sentencing their users to much more time rearranging slides after switching layouts.
The reason is that PowerPoint keeps track of each placeholder by its ID number in the XML. But when you copy and paste placeholders on a layout, PowerPoint does not assign a new ID number. It only does that when you choose Insert Placeholder. The result is a slide with placeholders that PowerPoint can’t tell apart. When it has to assign a piece of content to the duplicated placeholders, the result is random placement of the graphic or text.
To be fair, you can also get a similar effect when switching between layouts that have different numbers of placeholders. If the first layout has 10 placeholders and the second has only 2, PowerPoint will place the first 2 items in the right place. The remaining 8 items will still be in placeholders, but since there is no layout information, they’re plunked wherever PowerPoint wants to put them. When you reapply the original layout, all placeholders will pop back into place, with each kind of placeholder going where that type is on the layout. Unfortunately, during this process, PowerPoint re-writes the ID numbers and some pieces end up in a different order. The effect is less chaotic than lazy designer syndrome. This is also a bug you can help fix! I’ve created a suggestion at Microsoft’s PowerPoint User Voice forum explaining the issue. Please take a look and add your vote: Microsoft uses this feedback to prioritize their programming.
PowerPoint Construction Best Practices: The Slides
Now you’re finally ready to make slides, or hand the template off to your users so they can get creative. And this is the place where a well-constructed template or theme can either save your users time, while a sloppy one will keep them working ’til midnight. Do it right and the slides will be easy to produce, and they’ll work the way they’re supposed to. Just follow your mantra: Theme>Master>Layouts>Slides and all else will be bliss!