episode 6: Print-only Presentations


PowerPoint was initially created to replace overhead transparencies and 35mm slides – that’s why we still call each page a slide. But today, PowerPoint is also used as a layout and desktop publishing tool. A lot of people shudder at the thought of that or try to deny that they’re doing it, but the fact is, PowerPoint can, and should, be used as a tool for creating documents and print-only presentations that will never be projected.


Why would you use PowerPoint for print, and not InDesign or Word?

  • Nolan: Editability and accessibility – virtually everyone has PowerPoint and can edit it, but InDesign is a specialty application not generally found on many users’ computers.
  • Sandy: Many clients are more comfortable with editing PowerPoint than they are Microsoft Word – and I tend to agree. I also like Microsoft Publisher, but it has never really become a big user base application.
  • Troy: InDesign is my preferred program for anything that has to do with precise layout and text formatting – it is just that good. But it has a large learning curve, is not installed on everyone’s computer, has a high cost and is a specialty software. PowerPoint, on the other hand, has the huge advantage of being installed on virtually every computer, has a low learning curve to doing the basics and can be used for much more than it was originally designed to do. I think the big question is “Why not Word?” For me, Word is one of my least favorite programs of all apps installed. It is universally available, like PowerPoint, but once you know what real desktop layout and design is, the shortcomings of Word just frustrate. Whereas PowerPoint’s open canvas for layout, image and text manipulation tools make it much more functional when thinking like a desktop publishing designer.


Best Practices

  • Nolan: Go vertical – meaning change the page orientation; use small type and columns; look at magazine and newspaper layouts for inspiration.
  • Sandy: I agree with vertical, or in the PowerPoint world – Portrait. The idea is to think brochure design vs. just printed slides. So, to Nolan’s point, small type and columns.
  • Troy: Not only vertical, but change the page size to an actual page size – 8.5″ wide by 11″ tall. I think this is a shortcoming in PowerPoint, all versions, where they label “US Letter” as 7.5″ tall by 10″ tall, not the actual 8.5″x11″ that U.S. letter paper is.



  • Nolan: For years, I have referred to PowerPoint slides used for print as “Print Presentations,” although in my trainings, I use the term “scannable.” Explanation of “scannable” vs “glanceable.” We can’t really talk about this topic without talking about Nancy Duarte’s book called Slidedocs.
    • Here’s a description directly from Duarte.com: Slidedoc (n.) a visual document, developed in presentation software, that is intended to be read and referenced instead of projected.
  • Sandy: Nancy’s Slidedocs book was a break-through for PowerPoint users to understand the difference between “projectable” slide best practices and “printed” slide best practices.
  • Troy: Slidedocs is fantastic, because if nothing else, it helps provide credibility to the concept of using PowerPoint for uses outside presentation slides. Internally, we refer to PowerPoint print layout projects as “PowerPoint Documents.”  Lots of design shops use PowerPoint for layout design under different names, it has just not matured into a standard yet.


What types of projects do you do that involve using PowerPoint as your print layout app?

  • Troy: I actually have ongoing client requests to use PowerPoint for document creation.  I think the first thing to mention is PDF documents may not be used for traditional offset printing, or even printed at all. A PDF document needs to look like a real print design job to be considered professional. So I have lots of projects that are print layout, using PowerPoint as the layout app, for PDF distribution.
    • Also, I categorize PowerPoint Document projects into 3 categories:
      • 1. Editable template, or template with editable regions, so a client can create their monthly department update, newsletter, or event info sheet that can be updated by the client for each different venue and date.
      • 2. Custom print layout, again almost all are distributable PDFs, not real print shop printing for an event. It’s common to take the assets from the website and PowerPoint template and develop an attendee info packet, event invite that is downloadable, or other print layout where moving to InDesign just does not make sense for the project.
      • 3. Last is the crazy bucket of anything a client asks for.


What’s the craziest print project you’ve done with PowerPoint?

  • Sandy: I have two, the first is a two page infographic flyer (link below) that was wonderful when completed. The second was a huge training program which consisted of slides, instructor’s guide and a participants manual. The participants manual was actually designed using a custom template for the Notes Page in PowerPoint (Yes, you can create a custom layout for the Notes Page). The instructors guide used PowerPoint’s Send to Word feature, after which we customized the Word doc for the instructors.
  • Troy: For one project last year, we designed these great narrated self-running presentations for a tradeshow booth. Lots of infographic style layouts all sync’d to a narration. Then, a very last minute request for large format posters using the same graphics. Of course, nothing was created in high-res or vector and there was no budget or time to recreate all in true print resolution. So at the request of the client we these as much larger PowerPoint slides, exported to PDF and handed off to client to print at the venue. He said all looked great – so, happy client. But definitely not something I recommend PowerPoint be the tool of choice for.
  • Nolan: At Edelman, we created an entire magazine for a pitch in PPT with spreads and bleeds; we also did a more traditionally designed pair of print slide decks, but had them hard-bound and placed in hand-made slipcovers.


What limitations do you find in PowerPoint? 

  • Sandy: No text flow slide-to-slide… it also very hard to get out of “slide-think” when working in PowerPoint.
  • Nolan: No text wrap around images; no paragraph styles (Keynote has them).
  • Troy: Limited typography controls compared to InDesign; dropped caps, real kerning, real line spacing, text reflow to separate boxes, and more. In addition, the whole no bleed, gutters, crop marks and other printer needs.


Professional Printing

  • Nolan: It is nice to have your print document professionally printed; create a PDF—unless you’re very friendly with your printer, they’re going to hate you for making them print from PowerPoint. Add in fake bleed for your PDF output to go to the printer.
  • Troy: Again, professional look, which can be accomplished in PowerPoint, and professional quality of a physical printed piece, are two different things. And being from a traditional print design background, I realize I am pickier than most, but the right tool for true offset printing is still not PowerPoint, it cannot create 300DPI print-ready files- which includes bleed, pagination in printer spreads, and other print specific needs. But professional “quick print” printing is possible, better paper stock, richer color, bindery options, etc.


Wrap up

  • Troy: PowerPoint is much more than presentation slides, it is just a versatile program that can do a lot. PowerPoint has evolved into a great, versatile application for more than the traditional slideshow use, and PowerPoint Documents is definitely one of those uses.
  • Sandy: I love figuring out work arounds to make PowerPoint work for print. Just remember to think beyond the slide, leverage the Notes Pages and Send to Word features (although both could stand a bit more support from the Microsoft folks).
  • Nolan: Point is – PowerPoint is an option, not that we do not know how to use other apps, like Indesign. It is often client need that dictates application choice.


Pro Tips

  • Troy: PDF files can be of slides, or presentation materials created in other applications. A PDF can be viewed full screen which is just the page, no user interface. When viewed full screen it can also be used like a slide show for a presentation, but with no animation, transitions, or video. Look for the ‘full screen’ open next time you have a PDF of slides open.
  • Sandy: The Selection Pane: When you add an object — picture, shape, and so on — PowerPoint assigns it a default name. These names aren’t descriptive, and if you have only a few, that won’t matter. However, if you have numerous objects, it’s helpful to give them names that mean something to you. That way, you can easily select them. To find the selection Pane, go to the Home Tab. On the far right of the Ribbon you’ll find the Select Tool within the editing group. Hit the More arrow and choose Selection Pane. The Selection Pane will open to the right of your slide. This tool is invaluable to complex layers and animation.

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