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.
PowerPoint VBA to Remove Recent Colors
There’s a simple alternative if you’re using PowerPoint for Windows: you can run a macro to remove the recent colors. It’s dead simple, here’s the code:
Unfortunately, PowerPoint for Mac VBA is missing the .Clear method, so you’ll have to hack the file. There’s VBA no equivalent in Excel for Windows or Mac, you’ll have to edit the XML to get rid of them.
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.
As an alternative to hacking the XML, you can select text and run a VBA snippet to set one of these styles:
.Type = msoBulletNumbered
.Style = msoBulletArabicParenBoth
Edit the .Style = msoBulletArabicParenBoth line to one of the style names below, adding msoBullet to the front of the name to get the VBA parameter. So thaiNumParenBoth becomes msoBulletThaiNumParenBoth in VBA. Thanks to John SR Wilson for the VBA.
Brandwares can help set up complex numbering and bulleting schemes for PowerPoint and Word. Contact me at email@example.com with your project needs.
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 – Fake News
Most of what you see on the internet comparing font formats is wrong. Almost all modern professional fonts are OpenType format. There is PostScript-flavor OpenType, favored by Adobe and ending with .OTF And there is TrueType-flavor OpenType, Microsoft’s choice, ending with .TTF. It’s the continued use of the .TTF file ending that has misled many into thinking that they’re old-fashioned TrueType fonts. They’re not.
To verify this in macOS, open FontBook and examine a font with a .TTF ending. Make sure choose View>Show Font Info. Now look at the Kind parameter. Old-fashioned TrueType fonts would say TrueType here, but more likely you’re seeing OpenType TrueType.
In Windows, if you right-click on any file ending in .TTF and choose Properties, Type of file is reported as TrueType font file (.TTF). But this is illustrative of Windows’ relatively brain-dead design rather than any real information about the font.
Confirming this in Windows requires a few more steps. Start by opening the C:\Windows\Fonts folder. Set the View menu to Details. Now right-click in the row that displays the categories like Name, Font Style, etc. A list of avilable categories display. Choose Font Type. Now you can see that almost all the fonts are OpenType. You’ll only see TrueType if you’ve installed some old fonts from the 90s.
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 are several reasons why that might not work.
Embedding does not work at all in Office 2011 or earlier for Mac. Users of these versions can neither embed fonts, nor can they view fonts that have been embedded in Windows.
Embedding doesn’t work in Word or Excel for Mac, in both the 2016 and 2019 versions. PowerPoint 2016 for Mac users must have at least version 16.11 to view embedded fonts. The 2016 retail version (as opposed to the Office 365 subscriber version) cannot embed fonts in PowerPoint. Mac users must have at least Office 2019 retail or Office 365 version 16.17 to save embedded fonts in a PowerPoint file.
Many 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. As I mentioned earlier, Microsoft hasn’t figured out how to consistently display an .OTF font family correctly. Symptoms vary but are along the lines of you choose Bold and you get Bold Italic, or a similar variant. The wrong font is shown and printed. Typocially this will manifest when moving a Windows-created document to macOS or vice versa.
In macOS, it’s not obvious when you are using single versus family fonts. MacOS 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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. Important Note: If you copy and paste these samples, you must change the non-breaking space characters to ordinary spaces. I need to use non-breaking spaces to format an HTML page, but Office will refuse to display your font theme if you don’t search and replace them with regular spaces.
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 of 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.
For a complete list of all 4-letter script/language codes, search online for ISO 15924 Code Lists.
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.
Brandwares creates font themes to help global corporations support every language. Send me a message for ensure your files have worldwide useability: email@example.com
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 – 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. For more information about creating templates and themes that work with legacy slides, please see my article Legacy Slides – Best Practices
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. However, there is a potential problem if you do this to try to replace deleted default layouts.
The default layout name alone is not enough. We’ve worked on templates where the designer deleted all the default layouts, then inserted new layouts using the default names. Unfortunately, PowerPoint sees all created layouts as the custom layout type. You can call it Title Slide, but it does not have the Title Slide layout type, it has the Custom layout type. So when a user pastes in a legacy title slide, it will not map correctly to the layout called Title Slide. Instead, it will bring in its old slide layout, inheriting what it can from the Slide Master. The resulting slide usually looks close to the design intent, but not exactly, and your presentation now has an extra layout called 1_Title Slide, which will confuse users.
The best practice for widest compatibility is to leave all default layouts in place with their original names. The vast majority of decks out there have been created with Microsoft templates supplied with Office. Keeping the default layouts ensures perfect copy and paste operations from such presentations. For more information about creating Microsoft-compatible templates and themes, please refer to my post Microsoft-Compatible PowerPoint Templates – Best Practices. The only 2 layouts we commonly delete are Title and Vertical Text and Vertical Title and Text. These are intended for use with Asian languages, so we 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!
The layout type is not visible anywhere in the user interface. We find the layout type by running a tiny macro that displays the layout type for each slide:
Dim SlideObj As Slide
For Each SlideObj In ActivePresentation.Slides
The output is the numeric slide type, which you can look up on this Microsoft page: PpSlideLayout Enumeration (PowerPoint)
PowerPoint Construction – Custom Slide Layouts
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.
Placeholder Content Rotation 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? Sometimes, 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. Most of the time, when you copy and paste placeholders on a layout, PowerPoint assigns a new ID number. But occasionally, it fails and the shapes have duplicate ID numbers. 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.
You can minimize this problem when designing the template or theme. Create each placeholder on each custom layout in the order in which they are to be filled. For feft-to-right languages, this will usually be from the upper left corner to the bottom right, either in rows from top to bottom, or columns from left to right. Assuming that the source slide and destination slide have layouts that follow this, the content will be placed in order from top left to bottom right.
PowerPoint Construction – 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!
Brandwares employees collectively have decades of PowerPoint construction knowledge, and we’re for hire! Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with details of your project.
My last post began the subject of styled text boxes. There I covered the parameters contained in the first line of each level definition. Today’s entry continues by introducing the XML elements inside the level definition that format text. As a reminder, a level definition is the equivalent of a PowerPoint style. Since a text box can have up to 9 text levels, we can format 9 unique styles.
Styled Text Boxes – Child elements
Child Elements are XML parameters that are within an a:lvl#pPr level definition, as opposed to the first line values covered in my last post. Here is a super simple level with only 2 enclosed parameters, shown in bold:
In order, this block sets line spacing of 125% (or leading, for the designers), 12 points of space before and space after of 5 points. Finally, three left-aligned tabs are set. The units are EMUs, so these tabs are spaced 1/2″ apart.
Child Elements – Bullets
Out of 16 possible child elements, 11 are for bullet formatting. Creating bullets by editing XML is an exercise in frustration. It’s far easier to create bullets using the program interface and then transfer that XML to the p:defaultTextStyle section of presentation.xml.
Sure, you could do all of the above in a text editor, if you wanted to prove your coding prowess. But time is short and there’s a faster way to get this job done using PowerPoint’s program interface. This leverages the fact that the structure for list level text is exactly the same for p:titleStyle, p:bodyStyle and p:otherStyle as used in slideMaster1.xml, p:txBody, used in many slide layouts, and p:defaultTextStyle as seen in presentation.xml.
My preferred method is to start by making a copy of the Content with Caption slide layout, then deleting the title and content placeholder, leaving only a text placeholder preformatted with small text. Then I make 9 levels of text and format each to match a design or client specs for what the text box styles should look like. Do all your bullet formatting here. Save the file and exit PowerPoint.
Now expand the file and look in ppt/slideLayouts. The Content and Caption layout is usually slideLayout8.xml. If you duped it as suggested, open slideLayout9.xml and format the code to be humanly readable. Just below <a:lstStyle> are 9 level definitions with all the formatting you created in the program interface. Each level starts with <a:lvlXpPr where X is the level number. Copy all 9 level definitions, but not the starting <a:lstStyle> or closing </a:lstStyle> tags.
Now open ppt/presentation.xml, select all 9 level definitions (starting just below </a:defPPr>) and paste in the 9 levels from slideLayout9.xml. Save the file, zip everything back into a presentation. Each inserted text box should now have up 9 levels of styles that match the formatting you created on the duplicated layout. Delete the extra layout and you’re done.
Styled Text Boxes – What about the Font?
If you’ve tried these steps out, you might notice one glaring omission in the XML. When you format a slide layout and copy the XML, there is no font information in the level definitions. This is because the layout gets its font info from the slide master. There are 2 ways to fix this:
If all levels the text box are in the same font, open the presentation, create a text box, set the font, right-click on the text box and choose Set as Default Text Box.
This action fills an objectDefaults stub at the bottom of ppt/theme/theme1.xml. It looks something like this:
In this case typeface=”+mn-lt” sets the text box font to the Minor (hence mn) or Body theme font. The Heading theme font would appear as +mj-lt.
If there are different fonts for different levels, apply those fonts when formatting the duplicate slide layout.
Interesting fact: If a level is set by default to a theme font, clicking on the font dropdown and re-selecting the same theme font breaks the font inheritance from the slide master and specifies the theme font in the layout instead. Here’s the default XML from the layout level 1 again:
I believe this hack vastly increases the utility of the text box. In effect, it becomes a text placeholder that a user can easily add to any slide. Accessing the styles works exactly the same as a text placeholder. Use the Increase List Level button (Indent More on a Mac) to move through the levels.
Here’s a visual comparison of a text placeholder and a styled text box:
Styled Text Boxes – Other Issues
I’ve run across a couple of minor problems that you will need to keep in mind.
Picture bullets aren’t going to work. These require building an XML relationship to the bullet image stored in the file, which is very hard to do manually. Don’t bother.
Similar to the theme font issue mentioned above, default paragraph spacing in the layout is inherited from the slide master. This means your text box paragraphs will be missing any space before or after that displays in the layout. To fix this, set the paragraph spacing for each level in the layout. It doesn’t have to change, but you still have to set it to include the spacing in the layout XML.
PowerPoint’s text boxes could really use styles. But wait: they already do! Text boxes styles are built right into the file format, but there is no access to them thorough the program interface. Formatting text boxes using PowerPoint’s user interface is primitive compared to the styling that can be applied to placeholders in PowerPoint. There is no master where you can format text box defaults. The program interface only allows you to set one style, then right-click and choose Set as Default Textbox. And even this default disappears if you click on the Clear All Formatting button (Home>Font group, look for the icon with an eraser over 1 or 2 letters).
Text Box Styles XML
First, let’s clarify our terminology. Text styles in PowerPoint don’t work like any other program, because there’s no Style menu to apply to selected text. Instead, there are levels that you get to by clicking on the Increase List Level (Windows) or Indent More (Mac) buttons. Each level can have a different style.
Fortunately, with some judicious XML editing, you can create 9 preformatted levels of text for your text boxes. They can become nearly the equivalent of a text placeholder that you can add to any slide. This formatting includes line spacing, bullets, indentation, alignments and many other parameters, so this will have to be a 2-part article.
These text box styles will be saved in a theme, so they can be used in other presentations. However, if the theme is applied to Word or Excel, those programs ignore the custom styles and use their standard single-style text boxes. I guess we could expect that when all these settings are storing in a component called presentation.xml. If you’re new to this subject, read XML Hacking: An Introduction. If you’re using a Mac, you should also read XML Hacking: Editing in OS X.
The XML component that contains the text box text levels is ppt/presentation.xml. This component also contains presentation parameters like slide size, slide master ID and a list of slide IDs for all slides in the deck. Below those items is a tag called <p:defaultTextStyle> that contains 9 levels of text formatting. This structure is nearly identical to the text formatting used for default table text, covered in this article: XML Hacking: Default Table Text
Each of the text levels is identical except of a single digit in the name tag, so we can extract one level for an example that will work for all levels. When this is set up, you’ll be able to insert a text box, then click on the Increase List Level button (called Indent More in OS X) to move between styles, just like a text placeholder. Here’s a sample default level:
This contains 2 different sections: the first line, called an element, with a string of parameters, called attributes, plus the list of additional parameters on separate lines below, called child elements. It’s important to create the right data in the correct location, so for this article, I’m only going to cover the first line.
Text Box Styles: Attributes
From left to right, the default attributes are:
marL – Sets the left margin for that text level in EMUs. 914,400 EMUs equal 1 inch, while 360,000 EMUs equal 1 centimeter.
algn – Horizontal alignment. A value of l means left aligned. You can also use r for right aligned, ctr for center aligned, just for justified text and dist, which distributes text evenly across the line width, kind of like an extreme form of justification.
defTabSz – Default tab size, again in EMUs.
rtl – Is the language right to left? 0 means no.
eaLnBrk – East Asian Line Break: East Asian languages have rules about where a line break occurs. The 1 value turns this attribute on. A 0 breaks the line wherever needed, without consulting the rules.
latinLnBrk – Similar to the eaLnBreak, a 0 will not break the line without a hyphen, a 1 will break the line wherever needed without a hyphen.
hangingPunct – Theoretically, this forces puctuation to be on the same line as text or allows it to drop to a spearate line. Online documentation for this is poor and I couldn’t detect any difference in setting this to 0 or 1.
Those are the defaults. Then there are several optional parameters that you can add manually:
marR – You can set the right margin of text, in EMUs.
indent – Set the first line indent of each paragraph, in EMUs.
fontAlgn – Vertical alignment. Acceptable values include auto and base which both set text on the font baseline, which is the default. You can also use b to align with the bottom of the descenders (like the bottom of a g or y), t to align with the ascenders or ctr to center text vertically. This latter setting solves the issue that when you increase PowerPoint bullet size, you also increase the bullet elevation above the baseline. Using fontAlgn=”ctr” forces the bullet to stay aligned with the text whatever size it is.
lvl – Determines the numbering level for this text level, independent of the level’s position in the hierarchy of text box styles.
The picture below illustrates 5 levels of formatting in a text box. There is no local formatting applied, all I did was type the text and click on the Increase Indent button to move between levels, exactly as with a text placeholder.
5 levels of text box text formatted with only the first line <a:lvl#pPr> tag.
Text Box Styles: Obscure Gotcha
This XML group is called p:defaultTextStyle for a reason: it’s for other items besides text boxes. If you save you template and a PowerPoint theme (File>Save As>Save as type>Office Theme (*.thmx)), the slide master and layouts are saved in the file. Double-clicking on the theme creates a new presentation. But Handout and Notes masters are not saved in a theme, only in a template. PowerPoint creates new Handout and Notes Masters on the fly using its plain vanilla defaults. The Header, Footer, Date and Page Number placeholders are recreated from the p:defaultTextStyle levels. If the first level uses bullets, the placeholders will have bullets as well!
To get around this, format the first level without bullets, or distribute a template instead, which includes Handout and Notes masters that you can format to the design specs. I prefer templates, because you can also include sample slides.
We’re here to help. Brandwares can improve your PowerPoint project: We teach the pros! Contact me at email@example.com.
Multiple color themes in the same PowerPoint template are useful for companies with several divisions or for presenters who need color-coded sections. Here are 3 ways to add that capability to your presentations.
Multiple Color Themes: Using Super Themes in PowerPoint
PowerPoint 2013 and 2016 for Windows and Mac all feature a new theme format developed by Microsoft: the Super Theme:
The user sees a preview of the color palette that will be used, then picks the variant they want to use. It’s an elegant, attractive interface and makes the design variants plainly visible on the Ribbon. Super Themes also allow the inclusion of size variants, so that resizing a deck doesn’t distort the logos.
Brandwares now creates custom Super Themes, so we can make these for you. However, the technique is tricky, so if you’re an independent designer without the budget for professional assistance, you’ll have to find another way. Fortunately, there are other methods to add multiple color themes.
Multiple Color Themes: Hacking XML
This technique works to add multiple color themes to PowerPoint. You can also add them to Word and Excel files, but those programs will simply ignore them. These extra color themes will travel with a theme saved from such a Word or Excel file, but you already knew that PowerPoint is the program to use for creating theme files. To hack the XML, start by reading XML Hacking: An Introduction. If you’re using a Mac, you should also read XML Hacking: Editing in OS X.
Now, expand your Office file to see the XML. Open the ppt folder, then open the theme folder inside that. PowerPoint saves every theme that’s ever been applied to the presentation, starting with theme1.xml, so you’ll have to check the theme name in each variant to get the right one. If you’re trying this with Word or Excel, look in word\theme or xl\theme respectively, where you will find only one theme1.xml file.
Format the XML to be readable, then go right to the bottom of the listing, where you’ll find the self-closing stub called <a:extraClrSchemeLst/>. First, open up the stub:
The syntax is exactly the same as for the clrScheme listing that every theme includes as its main color theme, so you can simply copy and paste the whole block of XML. The theme file can hold any number of extra color schemes. When you are using the final file, you can change the theme colors by choosing View>Slide Master>Colors in PowerPoint (actual menu names change in different versions of Office).
Clicking on the Colors dropdown shows the extra color themes.
When you choose a new color theme, all elements keyed to the color theme will change throughout the presentation.
Multiple Color Themes: Multiple Masters (PowerPoint only)
For Word and Excel, a document can have only one color theme applied at a time, and that theme affects all pages in the file. PowerPoint allows more flexibility, since it can have multiple master slides and each of those master slides has its own color theme. This means that different parts of a PowerPoint file can have different color themes. This is often used to color-code different sections of a presentation.
In its most basic form, this is the simplest technique. No XML hacking required:
In PowerPoint, choose View>Slide Master to view the masters.
Right-click on the Slide Master (the larger slide at the top of the left-hand display) and choose Duplicate Slide Master. The new master is added below the slide layouts for the first master. (In Windows versions, right-click and check that each Master has the Preserve Master attribute checked, or they’ll vanish later.)
Select the new master, then choose Color>Customize Colors.
Revise the color theme, or apply a color theme you created earlier. OK out.
Repeat the steps above for each different color theme you need to include. In the program interface, the user will see a group of slide layouts for each slide master. Here is a presentation where only one colors changes in each color theme:
While this is the simplest method to use, it’s not self-evident to all users that you change color themes by choosing a different set of slide layouts. So you’ll probably have to include at least an explanatory note with the template when you distribute it. But what if you want a premium solution for a high-end client? Read on…
Multiple Color Themes: XML Hacked Multiple Masters (PowerPoint only)
A solution that is simpler to use is to combine techniques 2 and 3. Create multiple masters, each with a different color theme. This will create a theme#.xml file in ppt/theme. Open all the theme#.xml file and copy the clrScheme for each to an extraClrScheme tag in all the others. So if you have 3 masters and color themes, copy the clrScheme tag for theme1.xml to an extraClrScheme tag in theme2.xml and theme3.xml. Then copy the clrScheme from theme2.xml to extraClrScheme tags in theme1.xml and theme3.xml.
The result is that it doesn’t matter so much which master you choose, you can change the color theme later. Of course, changing the color theme affects all slides based on the same master. This is an easy-to-use method for providing presentation with sections in different colors.
My thanks to Timothy Rylatt for his assistance with fact checking and corrections in this article.
Brandwares employees are world experts in PowerPoint template and theme creation. Send me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance with your project.
Locking graphics in Office documents must be #1 on most designers’ wish lists, judging by the number of requests we get. While Word and Excel already do a fairly good job of locking, they can still benefit from this technique. PowerPoint remains wide open. If you can see it, you can move, resize or delete it. Placing items on the Slide Master or Layouts helps, but this is minimal protection against a savvy user. Your users love to be “creative”, so how can we protect the brand from their enthusiasm?
Fortunately, it’s possible to provide protection for important logos and maintain slide layout integrity by editing the template XML. But this power comes with a responsibility to design the protection carefully. It can be a very thin line between a deck that is protected and one that is unusable. If you decide to protect your presentation, it is incumbent on you to test it repeatedly to ensure your users can still get work done with it.
Locking takes place mostly in the Slide Master and Layouts. A minimal approach is best, as each additional locked item will create more feedback from your users with the potential to increase tech support costs. On the Slide Master, you will probably only lock a company logo.
Locking Graphics: Logos
Start by placing a logo on the Slide Master. Of course, you’re not using a JPEG file, because you already know that’s the worst format for line art. If you still think JPEGs for logos are a good idea, please read JPEG Logos? Fail! and Logo Production Secrets. After the logo is in place, expand the presentation to view the XML. Open ppt\slideMasters\slideMaster1.xml. All the placeholder coding comes first, so scroll down about halfway until you see XML that looks like this:
Test this out by re-zipping the files and opening in PowerPoint. Try to select the logo. noSelect=”1″ has the effect of making it unselectable, so the user can’t do anything creative with it, even if they open the master.
This is a super-simple technique, but it has a potential down side. Many add-ins and VBA macros work on a presentation by going through every shape on a slide until it finds the one it needs to revise. The noSelect tag can play havoc with code like that and possibly cause the programming to fail for no apparent reason. So here’s a more professional lock that has the same effect, but won’t disrupt any add-ins:
Different graphic objects use a slightly different syntax. The noSelect=”1″ parameter remains the same, but you have to expand a tag and add a new line to include it. For all AutoShapes except lines, the default XML will resemble the following:
Placeholders are the boxes on slide layouts that can hold different types of content. The layouts are found in ppt\slideLayouts. They are numbered in the order that they appear in the left-hand list of layouts in Slide Master view. By default slideLayout1.xml is the Title slide. The XML tag is <p:sp> instead of <p:pic>, but otherwise the syntax is the same for locking. Placeholders do not inherit the lock parameters, so locking a placeholder on the master doesn’t affect the layouts and locked placeholders on the layouts have no effect on the slide placeholders.
You can see what other parameters are possible for the spLocks tag at Datypic’s a:spLocks page. There are options here to prevent grouping the image, rotating, moving or resizing it, changing it’s aspect ratio and several other less useful options. Let’s use some of the other parameters to lock down the shape. Here is the start of a Title placeholder:
Don’t expect that slides based on this will still have unmoveable placeholders. The lock parameters are not included when a slide is created from a layout. This locking ensures only that the layout remains the same, so when a slide is reset, it will always return to the correct format.
If the placeholders must remain in place on the slides, then you must first create the slide, then edit the XML before distributing the deck. For this, look in ppt/slides. The files are numbered in the order they appear in the presentation, so slide1.xml is usually the title. Here is the XML for a locked title placeholder:
When the user clicks on this, all the adjustment handles have a diagonal through them and the user is unable to change the shape size or position:
Locking Graphics: Other Objects
By default, the picture and placeholders already include a p:locks or sp:locks tag, which is where we add the locking information. But what if you insert a text box on a layout for a legal disclaimer and want to make it ineditable? The text box XML initially looks like this:
To lock this, we need to expand the <p:cNvSpPr txBox=”1″/> tag. In case it’s not obvious, to expand a closed tag, you must first delete the slash at the end that closes it. Then you create a new closing tag and put the <a:spLocks>> information between the two. The noTextEdit parameter should mean the text can’t be edited, and to a limited extent it does that. A single click on text box text does not put it in edit mode, as would normally happen. But if you double-click, you can still edit the text. So this parameter on its own is not enough to do the job, it will only provide a little discouragement.
PowerPoint users who can’t afford a graphic designer love the Design Ideas feature in PowerPoint. As I write this, this feature is only available in Microsoft 365, the subscription version of Office. Microsoft uses AI technology to present the user with designs that Microsoft thinks are relevant to your content. Any company with branding guidelines should turn this feature off for their users.
Many Design Ideas have shapes that are locked in the XML. When Microsoft locks a shape, they throw the kitchen sink at it:
Some of those locks don’t even make sense for most shapes, like noChangeArrowheads. The only lock they don’t apply is noSelect, avoiding the macro problem I mentioned earlier. To turn the lock shape into something you can copy, paste and revise, just delete all the attributes:
Locking Graphics in Word and Excel
The principles are very similar to locking in PowerPoint. This can give you locked graphics and/or ineditable text boxes in both those programs without have to apply any document protection.
In Word, picture locks must be applied to the graphic frame that holds the picture, not the picture itself. This works:
After a few months of practical testing, some real-life limitations on shape locking have become evident. Adding the noChangeAspect=”1″ has the same effect as checking the Lock aspect ratio option on the Size pane of the Format Shape dialog. But just as when you check this option manually, clicking on the shape and dragging the adjust handles will still distort the shape. On top of this, I found this page on MSDN: 2.1.1255 Part 4 Section 22.214.171.124.34, spLocks (Shape Locks). The pages states that “Office ignores attributes noChangeArrowheads and noRot when applied to a shape. PowerPoint additionally ignores the attribute noAdjustHandles when applied to a shape and noChangeShapeType when the converting the shape to a freeform.” So a user can circumvent noChangeAspect by dragging on the handles and you can’t prevent the handles from displaying either. Office simply doesn’t implement Microsoft’s own spec completely. There’s nothing you can do about this. It should be noted, that the accuracy of Microsoft’s information is not the best. Their statement that Office ignores noRot=”1″ when applied to a shape is not true, you can successfully prevent rotation with this parameter. You really have to test everything to really know what works and what doesn’t.
Locking Graphics: The Designer’s Responsibility
Powerful? Yes. But with power comes responsibility. Company presentation templates need to be revised, but after you lock items in XML, those shapes can no longer be revised through the program interface. So it’s essential that if you use these techniques, that you document your changes when you send the file to your users. Using these methods secretly to get repeat business from captive clients is dishonest and is definitely not a best practice.
Brandwares knows every detail about shape locking and we can do all this for you. Email me with the details of your requirements at email@example.com.