Widescreen PowerPoint presentations: should you switch from 4:3 to 16:9?

Since becoming the universal standard aspect ratio, we’ve seen 16:9 widescreen monitors, laptops, TV’s and projectors become commonplace. And with 2013, PowerPoint has jumped on board by setting their default aspect ratio to 16:9. With the push to go wide, is it time for you to make the switch from 4:3 to 16:9? Widescreen PowerPoint is here to stay.

The main reason for creating a 16:9 presentation is because that's the dimension of the screen on which your presentation will be shown. Widescreen monitors and TV/monitors are prevalent in today's marketplace and used in many business meeting rooms as well in conference settings. If your presentation is going to be at a conference, knowing the dimensions of the screens in the meeting rooms is key! Often large convention halls and larger meeting rooms have wide screens set up, where smaller breakout rooms use 4:3 screens.

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While many screens are now widescreen format, the 4:3 ratio still applies to the remaining 4:3 monitors, meeting room screens and projectors, as well as the iPad. While the growing number of tablets continue to battle over 4:3 and 16:9, it is important to recognize the 4:3 aspect ratio iPad and its dominance as the tablet of choice for business.

It would be ideal to have one master template that will accommodate both formats, but unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

A 4:3 ratio can be shown on a 16:9 screen or projector, but there will be black bars on each side of the slide. This is not an ideal way to showcase your content, but because the slide is full height the text on the slide will appear as it should. When a 16:9 presentation is shown on a 4:3 screen there will be black bars on top and below the slide. This happens because the entire height of the screen is not filled by the slide, and this will make the text on the slide smaller than planned.

Important tips for making the switch to widescreen PowerPoint

If you merely switch the page set up of your presentation from 4:3 to 16:9, template artwork will be stretched out of proportion. And nothing diminishes your professional credibility more than having your own company's logo stretched out of shape on all of your slides. You must have a new widescreen PowerPoint template constructed.

Similarly, all the slides will need to be reconstructed. Switching the page layout will not affect text, but it will stretch every other element on a page. Your new widescreen PowerPoint's slide content will need to be copied from the old slides and pasted onto the new slides. If you have photos on the slide, you will need to go back to the source image and re-crop to fit in the new layout. Most existing diagrams can just be placed in the center of the screen. Most charts and tables can be stretched without affecting the contents too much, especially trend data.

It is important that the widescreen PowerPoint dimensions are set to 7.5" x 13.3333". PowerPoint 2007's widescreen (16:9) settings are actually 5.63" x 10". That is much smaller than the standard 4:3 page at 7.5" x 10". To make sure that the elements from the old slides can be pasted into your new slides without too much shifting of sizes you need to keep the page height the same.

If you are finding that your presentations are being shown on a widescreen format and you are still using your 4:3 presentation, it may be time for you to create a 16:9 version of your widescreen presentation. In addition to fitting better in a widescreen and utilizing all of the available space, widescreen PowerPoint presentations come across as more “with the times”, they allow for a wider canvas for more impactful design. They also look much better when converted to video for sharing on YouTube, phones, or your website.

Need a great-looking presentation? The award-winning designers at Propoint are experts.

Elizabeth M.

Written by Elizabeth M.