Most of what you put on a slide will be text or images. On this page we take a proper look at both, starting with the principles of text, and how to add non-placeholder content. Then we look a bit more at slide backgrounds, before taking on the topic of images more generally, including where to find them. We also consider diagrams and charts.
Chances are you're going to need some text on your slides. Let's take a look at what's involved.
There are four main font categories:
Serif fonts, with their traditional, formal overtones, are often used in print. They're typically avoided in online contexts because display resolutions have historically not really been up to displaying them with sufficient clarity to be properly accessible.
Sans-serif fonts like the ones we usually use on these pages are considered more modern and less formal, and their relative simplicity means that they display better in digital media (like a web page or a PowerPoint slide). You should generally favour fonts like these in your slides.
Cursive fonts mimic handwriting. Some look like wedding invitations and aren't very readable at all. Some, like Comic Sans, are designed to be accessible for children, but that carries negative connotations in other uses.
Then there's decorative fonts. Informal; fun; good for accents. But you wouldn't want a whole presentation like this.
In terms of font selection, University-managed computers have a broad range of fonts. If you're on your own computer and want a better variety of fonts, there are a number of free fonts available online. We got the fancy font above ("Audiowide") from Google Fonts, and there's also Font Squirrel. As always, use caution if downloading fonts from unfamiliar sites.
As any optician's chart will demonstrate, size of font is important.This is 24pt and you probably wouldn't want to go much smaller than that on a slide (though it depends on where you're presenting and the size of the screen) — if you're struggling to fit things on at that size, maybe you're trying to squeeze too much into one slide?
As we've already seen, the convention with slides is to add text to a placeholder on a pre-configured layout. But further text can be added to a slide using text boxes or shapes.
Text boxes can be inserted via:
Insert > Text > Text Box
Insert > Text box
In PowerPoint, adjusting the width of a text box will cause the height to automatically adjust to match the length of the text content.
In Google Slides, the text will overspill the bottom of the text box if it exceeds the current height.
Any shape can be used to hold text. The size will remain as set, and text will overspill if too long for the shape to contain.
Shapes can be found at:
Insert > Illustrations > Shapes
Insert > Shape
There's several shapes to choose from. With more complicated shapes, you may find the margins restrictive, and it may sometimes be easier to overlay a transparent rectangle to accommodate text.
Having selected the shape you want, drag to draw it onto the page (hold shift to create a regular shape). Select the shape and you will be able to start typing into it.
There is another form of text entry: WordArt. It can do some nice things (PowerPoint's WordArt can write in an arc; Google Slides' version is a lot more basic), but be careful: WordArt can easily end up looking a bit... well... naff.
Where you configure text depends largely on what you're wanting to achieve:
The text boxes and shapes used for text can be configured in various ways to help with presentation.
As with the background of the page itself, the background of a shape (its fill) can be a solid colour or graduated. In PowerPoint it can also be patterned or even a photograph or other image.
You can also set the transparency level of a fill, which allows some of the slide background to show through.
A shape's border — its outline — can be solid or patterned, and can be of different widths.
Once a shape has been drawn, its attributes can be changed from:
...the Shape Format > Shape Styles ribbon group;
...the Formatting toolbar:
A number of special effects can be applied from:
Shape Format > Shape Styles > Shape Effects
Format > Format options
Of these, the most commonly used with text boxes is the drop shadow.
Employed with care, it can appear to lift the shape slightly off the page:
When you first create a shape containing text, there will be a margin around the text so that it does not sit tight against the edges. All four margins can be changed independently if required.
Textbox controls are rather straightforward for rectangular shapes. For other shapes you may find that the writing area is a little restrictive, even with margins set to zero. You may find it simpler to overlay a transparent rectangular shape to hold your text.
When we look at a slide, we're likely to read its content from top left to bottom right. But that isn't a firm rule, and things like animation may complicate matters. In the case of assistive technology such as a screen reader, it can't make such sweeping assumptions as to the logical order of text on the page. It needs a bit of help to determine the reading order.
By default, the order in which you add objects to a slide determines their place in the reading order. If you're having the content of a slide read aloud to you (i.e. by assistive technology), or you're navigating the content of the slide using the 'Tab' key (keyboard navigation), the contents of the slide will be activated from the first-added item through to the last.
It's therefore important that the items on your slide are layered in an appropriate reading order (including any images with alt text).
There’s nothing wrong with designing on a plain white background, but if you intend to use colour or an image behind your content, you must make sure it doesn't make it more difficult to read.
The main options for background are:
A background itself need not govern readability. Text can be presented in boxes with a different background style. Here's some examples of options for backgrounds and text:
Allowing the background or image to show through a text box risks making it more difficult to read. Both dark and light backgrounds could have text in a container with a light or white fill, aiding readability. However, a little transparency can sometimes work well for tying elements of your slide together.
If you're wanting to set the same background for every slide in your presentation, you should use the slide master.
For changes to individual slides you can set the background by going to:
Design > Customize > Format Background
Slide > Change background
In both cases, the option can also be found on the right-click context menu when clicking on your slide's background.
Solid fill is simply a matter of picking the colour, but you can lighten it further by setting transparency.
For gradient fill, you have the option of setting:
We've already looked at how effective the full-screen image method can be. The same approach could also be used to apply branded backgrounds.
Background images don't include alt-text. If your image contains something important (rather than merely decorative / reinforcing), insert it in its own right rather than as a background (we'll look at these principles more below).
Apart from setting an image as a background, what other things can we do with images and charts?
In PowerPoint, the content placeholder is designed to aid the addition of tables, charts, images and other media. Alternatively, in both PowerPoint and Google Slides you can add the image/media directly to a slide.
To insert an image...
An alt text description should not duplicate existing text on a slide. If you've already described the content of the image in the body text, you don't need to repeat that in the alt text; include only that which is necessary to give the same understanding of the slide to a person who can't see it. If nothing more needs to be added, don't add it.
Having inserted your image, you may need to drag it to a new position. Watch the mouse pointer shape: it shows four arrows at the tip when you can drag the image around.
For finer positioning, make sure the image is selected, and use the cursor keys.
When you add an image to a PowerPoint slide it will automatically be rendered at its 'actual' size (the size that is equivalent to the best quality that can be achieved), unless it is larger than the slide, in which case it will be resized down to fit. Google Slides usually does the same.
You should be able to drag by any of the four corner 'handles' to resize your image — don't use the side handles unless you really want to squash or stretch the image.
If the corner handle isn't maintaining the original proportions, you can force it to do so using the "Lock aspect ratio" setting at:
Picture Format > Size > Size and Position (corner toggle)
Format > Format options > Size and rotation
In the same locations you'll find controls to set a precise size by enter the dimensions as numbers.
If you're increasing the size of the original image beyond its original limits, bear in mind that it will only be able to withstand so much enlargement without starting to look fuzzy and rubbish.
To focus on what's important, it's a good idea to crop close in to the main subject of the picture, and you do this using the cropping tool:
Select the image and choose Picture Format > Size > Crop
Select the image and choose the Crop icon on the icon bar, or select Crop image from the right-click context menu.
Using the handles on the edges, drag to indicate the image area you want to be visible:
Both programs include some basic image editing tools. PowerPoint's suite of tools is particularly impressive: in fact we often use PowerPoint for making quick tweaks or applying basic effects to an image for use somewhere other than PowerPoint.
Both PowerPoint and Google Slides allow you to make an image semi-transparent:
Select the image and choose Picture Format > Adjust > Transparency
There's a "Transparency" slider under the Adjustments section of the "Format options" side-panel.
You can make corrections to the colour, contrast, and brightness of your image in both programs. PowerPoint also has a selection of Artistic Effects you can apply. Some of these effects can look a bit naff, but others are actually quite effective.
When designing a slide, you should always bear in mind how that slide is going to be disseminated: for instance, will it be projected, shown on a big screen, or shown on a standard monitor? This will have implications for the sizes of image you should use in your presentation.
Always bear in mind that published images are always subject to copyright law, so you can’t just use any image you want.
Fortunately, there are plenty of free-to-use images out there (for instance, we got a lot of the images on this page from Pixabay):
Some images are 'public domain' and don't require attribution (though it can still be nice to attribute, especially if you're giving references anyway). Others may require you to credit the author in a sufficiently prominent way.
For more information and advice, take a look at:
Diagrams and charts constitute a special category of image. Since a lot of information may need to be conveyed in quite a simple design, it is especially important that such images are crisp and clear.
Diagrams and charts may be created in PowerPoint and Google Slides, or can be imported from other applications.
There are plenty of applications for creating diagrams and charts. Take a look at our Data visualisation Skills Guide for some suggestions.
When exporting from another application, there are two filetypes to consider:
Portable Network Graphics (.png) images have a better image quality than a JPG because they use lossless compression. Never use a JPG for a diagram unless you absolutely have to: it will not give crisp lines. But a PNG will. What's more, parts of a PNG image can be 'isolated': in other words, parts of the image can be transparent (or even semi-transparent) — something which has its uses for images generally, but can be especially useful with diagrams.
With a PNG, you'll need to ensure that your image has sufficient resolution for the size it's meant to be on paper.
All the images we've looked at so far have been made up of pixels. But that's not the only type of digital image. Simple images and diagrams can also be created using vectors. These vector images are essentially made up from points, lines and curves using a set of geometric instructions. And because they're constructed from geometric instructions they have the advantage of being scalable to any size without distortion.
The most common vector files are Scalable Vector Graphics (.svg). These can be imported into PowerPoint, and can often even be converted to PowerPoint shapes, which can then be deconstructed, recoloured, etc, as well as resized without loss of quality (all that dots per inch stuff becomes irrelevant!). For this reason, SVG is by far the best filetype to use for comparatively simple diagrams.
Copying and pasting an image into PowerPoint or Google Slides is always an option, though pay attention to the quality of what gets pasted (before doing anything with the image. If you try a 'copy and paste' and it seems to work, make sure you also save the diagram in the other application so you can edit and re-insert it if necessary.
Spreadsheet applications can produce good quality charts and graphs — take a look at our Essential Spreadsheets guidance for more details. Charts in Google Sheets, for instance, can be downloaded as SVG or PNG files from the Download option on the three-dot menu (⋮).
By virtue of them being part of their respective suites of office tools, PowerPoint and Google Slides can also integrate directly with their spreadsheet counterparts, Excel and Google Sheets:
The drawing tools in PowerPoint and Google Slides are great for diagrams and flowcharts, but make sure you make good use of the various sizing and alignment tools (under Shape Format in PowerPoint and Arrange in Google Slides):
Some basic principles apply:
To draw a shape or line:
Insert > Illustrations > Shapes
Insert > Shape or Insert > Line
Hold down shift while dragging to draw squares and circles rather than rectangles and ellipses;
For perfectly horizontal/vertical lines, hold down shift after you've started holding down the mouse button.