The Best Practice is to NOT use Text Effects in Office. Ever.
That could have been my shortest article ever, but I guess I should explain the reasons. I’m referring to the graduated fills and lines, the glows, reflections, shadows and 3-D effects you can add to text. In the past these effects have caused some problems with ordinary shapes, but with text, they’re a disaster.
Clearly, it’s not enough for most users that these effects are visually hideous. That just a natural result of the low value we assign to arts education. In many years of working with competent graphic artists, I’ve never been asked to create any template that uses these effects. Designers understand the need for restraint, users don’t. And so we get the appalling appearance of most Word and PowerPoint documents.
But the functional problem with these effects is how they affect PDFs created from Word, PowerPoint and Excel. Microsoft has no clue how to export true PostScript of the fancy effects. So they adopt a simplistic approach: flatten them to graphics. Unfortunately, this means the text vanishes, leaving behind only a pretty picture. Well, not even that. All kinds of PDF functions are impaired: Text to speech is impossible, accessibility goes right out the window, reimporting the PDF to Office is brain-dead.
I tested PDFs created in 3 ways: saving to PDF in Office, printing to Acrobat and printing to the Microsoft Print to PDF print driver that comes with Windows 10. When saving to PDF, all text with applied effects was flattened. When printing to either Acrobat or Microsoft Print to PDF, Gradient Fills, Gradient Lines and 3D Effects were flattened, while Shadows, Reflections and Glows remained as live text.
The moral is clear: when the client asks for Text Effects, just say NO!
There are more AutoShapes in Office than appear in the user interface. Over time, Microsoft has quietly added to the collection stored in Office. Many of the more recent shapes are used in SmartArt files, while others have no current use that I can detect. But for anyone who hacks XML or codes VBA will find this week’s download or every autoshape a useful reference.
I’m preparing to start a series on custom SmartArt files. This is a deep topic: SmartArt XML is a programming language with a Frankenstein syntax. But the starting point for any language is to get the names right. SmartArt and VBA both reference the AutoShapes collection in Office, but they use different names for the same objects. Many of the same shapes are seen in the Shapes dropdown of Office programs, but those names are also different. The main source of the VBA names are from this page: MsoAutoShapeType enumeration (Office), while the XML names come from this out-of-date listing: SmartArt AutoShapes.
So, for my own sanity, I created a Word document showing an example of each shape, along with it’s name in XML, in VBA and in the user interface. This has smoothed out my workflow, and it may help you as well.
For any non-interface shapes, you can insert them into a document with code analogous to this. For PowerPoint:
Sub MakeShape() ActivePresentation.Slides(1).Shapes.AddShape msoShapeTrapezoid, 24, 24, 144, 144 End Sub
Change the bolded word to the shape name in the VBA MsoShapeType Name column.
Some shapes have specialized VBA commands, like callouts:
Sub MakeShape() ActivePresentation.Slides(1).Shapes.AddCallout msoCalloutTwo, 24, 24, 144, 144 End Sub
Callouts led me to a discovery about legacy versions. msoCalloutOne gives exactly the same result as msoCalloutTwo in current versions of Office.That seemed odd, so I ran the same macro in PowerPoint 2003 (I still have it installed for its macro recorder). In that version, msoCalloutOne creates a callout with a vertical leading line that can be moved up and down, but not at an angle. Presumably, MS found that useless and deprecated it.
Download the Word document showing every autoshape here.
We’re proud to be hosting a free e-book Open XML Explained. Finding readable explanations of how Office Open XML works isn’t easy. Outside of the very dense published ECMA standards, most of the information exists only on the web in help pages and blog posts. Back in 2007, a developer in the Netherlands, Wouter van Vugt, published a well written PDF that goes into details about the XML formats used in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. This was originally posted on the openxmldeveloper.org website run by OOXML genius Eric White.
Eric’s site closed down some years ago and much of the content disappeared. But I’ve been able to track down a copy of Wouter’s book and have his permission to give it a new home here at Brandwares. Download Open XML Explained.
The e-book covers Excel, Word and PowerPoint in depth, covering otherwise obscure topics like table formatting, bullets and charts. It’s an excellent companion to my book, covering the theory behind my practical techniques. OOXML hackers will appreciate the explanations of all the major XML parts in an Office file, while coders will find this a useful resource in learning how to programmatically create and modify documents, workbooks and presentations.
I should note that Open XML Explained was written in 2007, so while it covers all the OOXML basics, it doesn’t have any information about newer features like the Backstage or SuperThemes. Reader David Wiggins was kind enough to find the sample files that accomapied the book. The download page has a link to them as well. Enjoy!
SOLD OUT! The paper copies of the book are all gone, but the ebook version (with an additional 40 pages of new content) is available here.
After years of original research, you can finally buy the book! Filled with unique information not found anywhere else, online or in print, this manual shows you how to build SuperThemes 3 different ways, how to create custom Effects Themes, how to edit the Ribbon in macOS, and much more!
The book expands on many of the brief articles on this site, putting them in logical order and expanding the number of examples. Author John Korchok explains how Office Open XML files work, shows you where to find each XML part and how each part can be modified. With these tools, you can provide unique services to your clients or users that you can’t find at the average Office template service bureau. To give you a better idea of what it covers, here is the Table of Contents:
All techniques are covered in both Windows and macOS. The book includes a link to a downloadable text file with all the hyperlinks, XML and VBA listings, so you don’t have to retype anything from the printed page. At this time, only print copies are available, ebook versions will be here in several months. To buy the book, click here.
This October 6 – 9 in San Antonio, the world’s top presentation experts will be meeting at the Presentation Summit 2019. This is the place to learn how to make amazing presentations that sparkle, or network with pros who can make you shine.
For the first time, Brandwares will be a sponsor. I’ll be attending with my new book OOXML Hacking. In addition to expanded versions of my online articles, put in a logical sequence, there are new chapters from our original research. I show you three ways to build SuperThemes, how Effects Themes work and how to create them, plus much more information that can’t be found anywhere else, in print or online.
Indezine.com, the media sponsor for the Presentation summit was kind enough to interview to find out more. Here’s is the result:
A client sent a design for a Word template that had lots of boxes and photos with uniform rounded corners. Not an unreasonable request, but Office doesn’t do that well. In PowerPoint, Word and Excel, rounded corners are proportional to the size of the shape. Making them uniform manually is picky and time-consuming. But with a dash of VBA, we can make the job easy.
As a round-cornered shape gets larger, the corner radius increases as well, in proportion to the shape size. Since we want to keep the radius the same size, we need to create a formula that makes a smaller number as the height and width increase. We need an inverse number! The simplest way to create an inverse is to divide 1 by the measurements. Then, we need a number to set the radius size: a constant. The formula looks like this: (1 / (Shape.Height + Shape.Width)) * RadiusFactor. And you thought you’d never need that high school math!
Here’s VBA code that will work in Excel, Word and PowerPoint on a selection of round-cornered boxes:
Sub RoundedCorners() Dim oShape As Shape, RadiusFactor! RadiusFactor! = 50 For Each oShape In ActiveWindow.Selection.ShapeRange With oShape If .AutoShapeType = msoShapeRoundedRectangle Then .Adjustments(1) = (1 / (oShape.Height + oShape.Width)) * RadiusFactor! End If End With Next oShape End Sub
Uniform Rounded Corners for the Whole Document
To run this on a whole presentation, document or workbook, we need to customize the routine for each Office program. Here’s the Excel version:
Sub RoundAllXLCorners() Dim oWorksheet As Worksheet, oShape As Shape, RadiusFactor! RadiusFactor! = 50 For Each oWorksheet In ActiveWorkbook.Worksheets For Each oShape In oWorksheet.Shapes With oShape If .AutoShapeType = msoShapeRoundedRectangle Then .Adjustments(1) = (1 / (oShape.Height + oShape.Width)) * RadiusFactor! End If End With Next oShape Next oWorksheet End Sub
To do the same in PowerPoint
Sub RoundAllPPCorners() Dim oSlide As Slide, oShape As Shape, RadiusFactor! RadiusFactor! = 50 For Each oSlide In ActivePresentation.Slides For Each oShape In oSlide.Shapes With oShape If .AutoShapeType = msoShapeRoundedRectangle Then .Adjustments(1) = (1 / (oShape.Height + oShape.Width)) * RadiusFactor! End If End With Next oShape Next oSlide End Sub
And finally, for Word
Sub RoundAllWDCorners() Dim oShape As Shape, RadiusFactor! RadiusFactor! = 50 For Each oShape In ActiveDocument.Shapes With oShape If .AutoShapeType = msoShapeRoundedRectangle Then .Adjustments(1) = (1 / (oShape.Height + oShape.Width)) * RadiusFactor! End If End With Next oShape End Sub
The Word version is a little simpler because a Word document is one big object, while Excel and PowerPoint both have multiple objects for each worksheet and slide, respectively. But the similarites point out that when you’re searching online for VBA code, finding something for a different program and modifying it can be a huge time-saver. By far, Excel has way more code written for it, so Excel VBA sites can be a fruitful source for Word and PowerPoint code ideas.
These macros have been tested under both Windows and macOS and work well under both.
To use these macros with other shapes, please see my article Every AutoShape – Cool Code for a downloadable reference file showing all AutoShapes along with their XML and VBA names. Then replace msoShapeRoundedRectangle with the mso shape name you need.
Back at the dawn of time, when PowerPoint was first being programmed, a fateful and incorrect decision was made. Placeholder content would always appear in front of static content, regardless of how placeholders and other content were stacked on the layout. This has led to countless bald designers, from them tearing out their hair because there’s no way to place logos over photos.
The Locked Graphics Workaround
One way to circumvent this design flaw is to place a picture placeholder on the layout as usual. Then create a sample slide from it. Place the logo over the photo and lock its position in the XML. Here’s my article on how to do that: OOXML Hacking: Locking Graphics. This allows the user to replace the photo while keeping the logo in front.
The disadvantage is that you can’t create a new slide from the layout. Instead, the user must copy and paste the sample slide to create another one.
The Background Picture Fill Workaround
If the photo is a full-screen photo, there’s another method. This time, don’t place a picture placeholder on the layout. Instead, just place the logo there. In use, the user right-clicks on the background and chooses Format Background. On the Format Background task pane, choose Picture or texture fill, then click on the File button and choose the background photo. The logo will stay on top.
The disadvantage to this technique is you have to include instructions to the end user, who may never have used a picture fill previously. My thanks to Jaakko Tuomivaara of Supergroup Studios in the UK for this tip.
The Holey Placeholder Workaround
For simple logos, or logos contained in a simple shape like a circle or square, create a logo-shaped hole in the placeholder. Here’s a Windows-only version.
- On the layout, create the picture placeholder.
- Insert the logo as an EMF vector file, then ungroup it twice, confirming with PowerPoint that you want to do this. This changes it from a placed picture to a set of vectors embedded on the layout.
- With the logo parts selected, hold the Shift key and click on the placeholder.
- Choose Drawing Tools Format>Merge Shapes>Subtract.
- Fill the background, or a shape placed behind the logo hole, with the logo color.
If the logo is in a shape, you can use similar steps on both Windows and macOS computers. Using Mac command names: Place the logo over the placeholder, then draw a Shape exactly the same size as the logo, placed over the logo precisely. Select the shape and the placeholder, then use Shape Format>Merge Shapes>Fragment, then delete the shape to reveal the logo-sized hole in the placeholder. For some reason, Merge Shapes>Subtract works differently on a Mac, deleting both the shape and the placeholder, but Fragment still get the job done. Thanks to Ute Simon for suggesting this method in the comments.
A variation on this that can be more detailed is to place a copy of the logo above the placeholder. Then, shape-by-shape, use the logo over the placeholder with the Combine variant of Merge Shapes to knock holes in the placeholder. Then add colored shapes below the placeholder to “fill” the holes. If you have compound shapes (like the letter O or A), you’ll have to release the compound shapes, then connect the inner shape with the outer one. Here’s what the end result looks like in Illustrator.
Logos Over Photos: The Placeholder Picture Fill Workaround
This works with any size photo, it doesn’t have to be full-frame like the previous hack. No copy and paste, no instructions required. I heard about this one from Joshua Finto (Make It So Studio in Austin, TX).
On the layout, insert a picture placeholder to hold the photo. Then add another placeholder on top, sized to exactly the same size as the logo. I use Online Image placeholders because they are rarely used, using a common placeholder type risks content being placed in it if you change layout types. Remove bullets, if there are any, and type a space character so no placeholder text appears.
In the Format Picture task pane, click on Picture or texture fill, then on the File button and fill the placeholder with the logo. Create a slide, place a photo and voila! The logo appears over top of the photo! After creating this, it’s wise to lock the placeholder in XML on that layout, to prevent distortion by the user playing with it. OOXML Hacking: Locking Graphics. EMF, SVG and transparent PNGs are all good logo formats for this application.
Microsoft maintains Feedback forums to collect feedback from users. I’ve created a suggestion there that the placeholder/shape stacking order on the layout should be respected on slides. Please add your vote here: Placeholders Should Not Pop to the Front. Perhaps we can persuade Microsoft to fix the mistake so we don’t need these time-wasting workarounds.
Thanks to my readers who have added some useful suggestions! Please read the comments for additional ideas and tips.
A bug in PowerPoint Online can wreck presentations edited there. This article describes the symptoms and how to do a notes page repair – if you use Windows. Mac users cannot fix this issue because of sloppy Microsoft programming in the macOS version.
PowerPoint Online can resize the Notes Master page of a presentation. It can also resize elements on the Notes Master, leading to a really wacky combination of large and small placeholders. Almost always, the page size is made much smaller, often into a thin but tall rectangle. The exact cause hasn’t been determined yet, but it may be caused by editing Notes. PowerPoint Online can’t display either the Notes Page or the Notes Master for a presentation, so this problem goes undetected until the presentation is downloaded and viewed in the desktop version. Do a quick Google search on notes page wrong size site:microsoft.com to see lots of examples.
There are three steps to a notes page repair, and it starts with an XML hack. Open up the presentation in BBEdit or OOXML Tools (macOS) or unzip it (Windows). Find the presentation.xml part. In human-readable form, the 13th line will be the Notes Master page size. This example shows the normal values:
<p:notesSz cx="6858000" cy="9144000"/>
The hack involves resetting these values to normal, then saving and closing, or rezipping the files. But that’s just 1 of 3 steps. The next 2 steps can be done in the program.
Open the presentation in PowerPoint, then choose View>Notes Master. Very likely there will be wrong-size shapes or missing elements. To fix this, uncheck, then recheck each of the 6 elements (Header, Slide image, Footer, Date and Time, Body and Slide Number). This restores them to the designed co-ordinates.
The third step notes page repair is to reset each Notes Page to follow the Notes Master. This is where the Mac version runs into trouble. In the Windows version of PowerPoint, open the Notes Page for each slide and right-click on the background. This is the context-aware menu you’ll see:
Click on Notes Layout, then on Reapply master. The Notes Page reverts to correct formatting.
Now let’s look at the same operation on a Mac. Right-click on the Notes Page and what do we see?
This is not a “context-aware” menu. This is exactly the same menu that you get if you right-click on a slide. The available commands make sense for a slide, not for a notes page. There is no option to reset the page to the Notes master. The Mac programming team got lazy and just reused the same menu.
As a result, Mac users can’t complete a notes page repair. They can’t reset the page back to the original format.
But wait! What’s that? I hear you say, you read about a macro that can reapply the Notes master. Yup, it’s here on Steve Rindsberg’s awesome PPTFAQ site: Reapply the Notes Master to each Notes Page in a presentation. Except that macro raises an error on Mac version of PowerPoint, because the control ID can’t be found.
Microsoft has f***ed this one badly. First, through the PowerPoint Online bug that creates this, and remains unfixed until the date of this post. Second, because of the sloppy “context-aware” menu programming. And third because they can’t provide PowerPoint for Mac with a complete list of controls in the VBA object model.
As a last resort, create a new blank presentation from the same template as was used for the original file. Then copy and paste the slides from the damaged deck into it. Thanks to Christa Barnes for this suggestion in the comments.
Since I first wrote this article, John Wilson in the UK has written a pair of Windows-only repair utilities to fix this problem. Here’s the page where you can download both, one to fix the Notes Master and another to reapply the master to the Notes Pages. Give them a try, it’s a little easier than revising the XML.
As always, if you’re new to this topic, please review the page about editing OOXML files. Mac users should also read XML Hacking: Editing in macOS. I value your feedback, please leave a comment about any concerns or questions.
Bad design decisions haunt our lives. One poor choice was Microsoft’s selection of the text baseline for vertical bullet alignment in PowerPoint. Bigger bullets move up, smaller bullets move down, without any control in the user interface. I’m sure you’ve seen this effect as you change bullet size relative to text:
Fixing Vertical Bullet Alignment with VBA
There are a couple of ways to fix this issue. One is to download and install this free Add-in by John Wilson of PowerPoint Alchemy: Bullets Move Up and Down. The VBA code behind this add-in looks something like this:
Sub fixBulletAlignment() Dim oDes As Design Dim oMast As Master Dim L As Long Dim oCust As CustomLayout Dim oshp As Shape For Each oDes In ActivePresentation.Designs For Each oCust In oDes.SlideMaster.CustomLayouts For Each oshp In oCust.Shapes If oshp.Type = msoPlaceholder Then Select Case oshp.PlaceholderFormat.Type Case Is = ppPlaceholderBody, ppPlaceholderVerticalBody, ppPlaceholderObject For L = 1 To oshp.TextFrame.TextRange.Paragraphs.Count With oshp.TextFrame.TextRange.Paragraphs(L).ParagraphFormat .BaseLineAlignment = ppBaselineAlignCenter End With Next L End Select End If Next oshp Next oCust Next oDes MsgBox "Masters and layouts fixed", vbInformation, "PowerPoint Alchemy" End Sub
When this runs, it adds an over-ride to the text level definitions on each slide layout that has multi-level text (any layout containing a Content or Text placeholder).
<a:lstStyle> <a:lvl1pPr fontAlgn="ctr"> <a:defRPr/> </a:lvl1pPr> <a:lvl2pPr fontAlgn="ctr"> <a:defRPr/> </a:lvl2pPr> <a:lvl3pPr fontAlgn="ctr"> <a:defRPr/> </a:lvl3pPr> <a:lvl4pPr fontAlgn="ctr"> <a:defRPr/> </a:lvl4pPr> <a:lvl5pPr fontAlgn="ctr"> <a:defRPr/> </a:lvl5pPr> </a:lstStyle>
This is adequate for most purposes. With correctly aligned bullets, we now get this effect when we change the bullet size:
There are a couple of downsides to the VBA approach:
- You have to remember to apply it to each presentation or template.
- If you add a new layout, or add a new text or content placeholder to an existing layout, you’ll have to re-run the macro.
- Table text and text box text does not benefit, their bullets will still be wonky.
Fixing Vertical Bullet Alignment with XML Hacking
With XML hacking, we can fix this problem once and never have to think about it again. Start by unzipping a new blank template, then editing ppt\slideMasters\slideMaster1.xml. There are 3 sections to be edited: p:titleStyle (for all title placeholders), p:bodyStyle (for all text or content placeholders) and p:otherStyle (for table text).
The editing is the same for all sections: for each a:lvlXpPr section, where X is the level number, add fontAlgn=”ctr” to the definition. Here’s what it looks like before…
<a:lvl1pPr marL="0" indent="0" algn="l" defTabSz="914400" rtl="0" eaLnBrk="1" latinLnBrk="0" hangingPunct="1">
…and after editing:
<a:lvl1pPr fontAlgn="ctr" marL="0" indent="0" algn="l" defTabSz="914400" rtl="0" eaLnBrk="1" latinLnBrk="0" hangingPunct="1">
There are 19 level definitions in slideMaster1.xml to change. When you’re done that, open ppt\presentation.xml and make the same edit to the 9 levels of the p:defaultTextStyle section that controls formatting for text boxes and notes and handout pages.
When you’re done, rezip the XML files and rename the template blank.potx. Place it so it works as your default template, here’s an article from Steve Rindsberg with the details for each Office version. For PowerPoint 2016 and 2019 for Windows, follow the PowerPoint 2013 directions. For 2019 for Mac, use the Mac 2016 directions: Create your own default presentation.
Now that this is set in your default template, every new file created when PowerPoint opens will have the correct vertical bullet alignment. Please note that in PowerPoint for Windows, if you choose File>New>Blank Presentation, this autogenerates a new file that is not based on your default template. Such a file will have incorrect vertical bullet alignment.