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Templates, design themes, and master slides explained

November 11, 2013 Leave a comment

Even longtime Powerpoint users are often baffled by design themes, templates, masters, and layouts: What they are, how they work, and the ways in which they are related. So let me try and explain.

The design theme is a utility file saved in the working folders for Microsoft Office. It controls background graphics, color palette and the font hierarchy for any presentation based on it.

The template is a vehicle for the theme and master slides. This file is also stored in the working folders with the file extension “.potx.” Powerpoint also permits the user to save a copy in any location they choose. Opening a .potx file from any location will initiate a fresh Powerpoint file (a .pptx) that defaults to the properties designated in the design theme, with all the customized layouts in the template available.

The reason opening a template actually gives you a new presentation based on the template and not the template itself is so that the user does not unintentionally modify the template, which would affect any existing presentations based on it. To change the actual template, you must perform a save-as and choose the .potx format from the menu options.

Masters and layouts

The master slide controls the default properties and locations of the basic elements of each slide (title, body, footer, page number). The layouts are subordinate to the master slide and they represent variations on the master. Ideally, you have a layout not only for the basic title-and-content slide, but also for every instance where you deviate from the master scheme. These alternate layouts may be applied by using the Layout drop-down menu under the Home tab. This menu displays thumbnail images of the available layouts, making it fairly easy to determine the appropriate one.

By using the layouts already embedded in the template, you ensure that alterations you may need to make to the design properties of the entire presentation need only be made on the master and layout slides, saving you the trouble of repeating those changes on each active slide. If you need to shrink the font in the title and move it to the left, you do this once, on the master slide, and that change will cascade through every slide in your deck.

On the other hand, ignoring the masters and layouts leaves you with unique content on every slide, making global changes impossible.

If you find the layout options do not cover a slide you need to build, design the custom slide in the Master view as a new layout and then apply it to an active slide before flowing in your content. This way, the layout can be used again and changes made to it will cascade on all active slides it applies to.

A presentation that makes good use of masters and layouts may be completely reformatted with a couple of clicks, should you ever need to apply a different theme (or template).