episode 11: What is the Best Font Size?


  • Listing what size font to use is a classic presentation “rule” that is never really agreed upon or followed when it is set. This episode, the hosts talk about their guidelines for font size, including when to follow a font size rule, why a font size specification is difficult to turn into a rule and discuss some tips for what everyone should consider with font sizes and presentation design.


Let’s define “presentation.” How a presentation is used is going to affect any design specifications, including what font size is best.

  • Nolan: I always say there are two types of presentation: on-screen and print. If something is going to be print (PDF is included), it’s going to be read by a single individual about 18 inches from their eyes, that means the text can, and should, be far smaller.
  • Sandy: A presentation can be delivered, in the traditional sense, on-screen, via webinar or in print.
  • Troy: There are projected presentations – and then really big projected presentations. A common example is, webinar presentation vs. stage keynote address presentation.


Not all fonts are created the same. What is 30 pt in one font may be huge, but 30 pt in another font can be considerably smaller.

  • Sandy: For example, Times Roman vs. Arial. Times Roman is much smaller.
  • Troy: Swingdancer is a cursive font. In a recent award show, the first name was in the Swingdancer and the last name was in the Sans Serif Verdana. Verdana is considerably larger than Swingdancer, so if the rule for awards show winner name is 100 pt, the first name would be too small.


Different slide layouts have different uses. Can font size vary within a presentation based on the layout?

  • Troy: I think a 28 pt font may be too small for the title or section divider slides, but a good size for content slides.
  • Sandy: And that same 28 pt font might be reduced to 16 pt in a print environment.


Screen size can also impact font options.

  • Nolan: There is an old graphic designer’s trick for when a client says “give more emphasis” to an element on a layout. The trick is to make the item smaller. You would think that the way to give more emphasis is to make it bigger, but reducing the size and increasing the white space gives more focus and emphasis.
  • Troy: On a recent 16×9 presentation, all looked great and was approved when reviewed on computer monitor. But at the event, with its almost 40′ wide by 20+’ tall screens, the content became super intimidating. The solution for this venue was to revise the presentation with a smaller font and adjusting all layouts to be friendlier.


Can fonts be too small?

  • Nolan: Yes. I hate to put any type of rule to things like this, but if you are using 5pt type because you need to in order to fit everything on the page, you have too much on the page. Very often, we’ll see 5 pt or even smaller type for legal language and disclaimers. Even if they are non-legible, legal presentations require them…
  • Troy: Yes, there is too small. I would put the minimum at 10 pt for an Arial or Calibri style font, which is really too small. But I regularly deal with the small data source references at the bottom of the slide in 8 pt. No one can read it, so like Nolan, I feel this should be in an appendix, in the presenter notes or off screen – but they persist on the slides.
  • Sandy: For financial presentations, it is much the same. The legal text cannot appear to have a different treatment than the body copy, and this does create design problems.


What about font sizes in charts and tables?

  • Nolan: I think you can actually get away with smaller type here, mostly because you have other information and visuals that are helping communicate the message, whereas with just a block of text, you have no other indicators.
  • Sandy: I agree with Nolan, but I start monitoring if things get into the 16-18 pt. range.
  • Troy: If the chart or table has a focus point, such as a callout with next year’s projected numbers, then smaller font size data becomes irrelevant to the audience because of the larger font items are identified as important and everything else is ignored with confidence by the audience.


What are your rules for deciding on font sizes for a presentation?

  • Sandy: When building a template using san serif fonts, I’ll design a headline at 30-32 pt and body copy at 22-24 pt. I’ll set the bullet points for each level in decreasing sizes, sometimes as small as 16 pt. I’ll set the default text box at 18 pt. considering that this will typically be used for labels and captions next to an image or other content. If I’m creating a more freestyle presentation, I’ll tend to use larger font sizes.
  • Troy: After I know how the presentation will be used, and, if it is a live audience presentation, I know the staging and audience seating specs, I base my design – which is to say the font size rules for that project – on being large enough for the person in the last row or the furthest away person.
  • Nolan: That’s a variation on something I teach which is: Design for the 75-yr old in the back of the room, not the 25-yr old in the front of the room.
  • Sandy: Guy Kawasaki has a formula for the optimal font size: The age of the oldest person in the room, divided by 2. To that point, I think it’s scary to discuss font size rules in a vacuum. There are so many other factors to consider, like accompanying graphics, etc.


Are there any PowerPoint tricks for dealing with font sizes?

  • Sandy: ALL CAPS is a current design trend. It also tends to be more difficult to read in serif fonts and smaller sizes, so I limit all caps to larger font sizes. Consider the use of character spacing and line spacing with font sizes. And no matter what the size, avoid paragraphs of text.
  • Nolan: I will say that the thing I hate is text boxes with shrink text to fit. It leads to bad habits. When we make templates, we never shrink to fit, so if text starts running off the page, that’s a hint to the creator that maybe they’ve written too much on this slide.
  • Troy: I completely agree! My suggestion is, work from a professional template, created by someone that understands audience view, and use the template font size presets.


Pro Tips

  • Troy: Be careful note to update slides with a custom font replaced with a generic font because the custom font was not installed. To help everyone know they should have a custom font installed, I create a slide at the beginning of the presentation that says in big text “this presentation uses custom fonts.” Then a text box with the custom font name, in the custom font. Copy that text box and do a paste special .png so there is an image of the custom font and a message like “if the text on the left does not look like the text on the right, you are missing a custom font.”
  • Sandy: Use Arrange in the View Tab to quickly view 2 (or more) presentations side by side.
  • Nolan: Two ways to insert page numbers, with the Headers/Footers and with a real text box on the master slide setup with the Page # info.


Tech Tips

  • Sandy: Prisma is an iOS app that applies amazing treatments to photos.
  • Troy: Synchronize is a really helpful app for timezones. Its real feature is at the bottom where you can swipe the clock timeline and all of the locations show the new time.
  • Nolan: Waze – I’m a late adopted, but I’m a big fan now. It will take you through a McDonald’s parking lot….


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