PowerPoint format 4:3 vs. 16:9. The aspect ratio issue reloaded.

Nine questions to help you decide.

In a blog article written some two years ago, we expressed our preference for a 16:9 format. Since then, there have in fact been increasing discussions on this topic, and we have been constantly re-considering arguments we had mistakenly deemed to be less relevant at the time. So in view of all this, here is an update which attempts to weigh up as many pros and cons as possible, and provide a structured guide to assist in your assessment.

Why exactly?

Originally, there were 4:3 monitors. Then manufacturers realized that the 16:9 format actually covers the human field of vision a lot better. So devices changed, and, consequently, so did presentations.

But is that a strong enough argument to definitively set the course at your company? The following nine questions can help.

16:9 und 4:3

1) What is your main reason for creating presentations?

  • Primarily for sales?
  • For presentations at major events?
  • Perhaps more for internal meetings?
  • Or reports or handouts?

Or is it all of the above? The larger the company, the more varied the use of PowerPoint. Concentrate on what’s most important to you. That will serve as your basis.

2) What equipment do you use?

Based on your most important uses, work out which output devices are most prevalent in each case.

  • Does your sales department work primarily with Notebooks and projectors – i.e. more in the 16:9 format? Or are your staff on the road with tablets? – It depends on the model here; the iPad uses an aspect ratio of 4:3.
  • Do you use large monitors at events or trade fairs? What type? From extremely wide screens to upright columns, the possibilities are endless.
  • Are your projectors state-of-the-art (16:9) or does your equipment vary, and you still use a number of older devices (4:3)? Consider not only the head office, but also local branch offices, meeting rooms at factories etc.
  • Do you frequently print out presentations? Are they often distributed as handouts? This would tend to favor the 4:3, including for A4 or letter format.

3) What image do you want to convey?

Formats do contribute to overall image. Many users and viewers now see the 4:3 as being a little outdated, whereas the 16:9 conveys the notion that you’re ‘up with the times’. This argument can trump all other questions, such as those regarding equipment, technology or print-outs, and applies both to internal and external image.

4) Which PowerPoint format is better suited to your content?

Let’s get rid of one common claim for a start – the 16:9 does not offer more space per se than the 4:3. More space is created if the format is a good fit for the output device, and utilizes the device’s available space optimally. Along with the very crucial argument regarding adaptation to the output device, other factors can also play a role. If, for example, you use presentations for manuals in which you want to display a screenshot on the left and an explanation on the right, this can be better achieved with a wider format. When it comes to presenting detailed content, however, the good old 4:3 continues to be very suitable, as it provides roughly the same amount of space on all sides.

5) How many formats do you want to provide?

If you can’t decide, you’re best to offer all the options, right? Yes, you should. But in a thoroughly organized manner. If you offer everything without proper planning, you end up with chaos. Because everyone just uses their own preferred format. Try collating multiple staff members’ slides into one presentation adopting this approach. The result will be lots of time spent making adjustments, inefficiency, dissatisfied users, and damage to your brand. Opt for a base format and build on this by establishing clear guidelines as to which format will be used for which purpose. You’ll then be working with a tool that converts the slides to the desired format quickly, and with minimal loss, at the press of a button.

6) How do you convert?

You’ve decided you definitely want to change something, because you’ve considered each of the questions on their own merit. Our tip: Develop a migration plan of sorts. Bear in mind that each of your staff members will very likely have a considerable stash of old presentations they keep reusing or which serve as the basis for new presentations. As a result, conversions can quickly cause annoyance and problems. A conversion is most likely to be accepted if it occurs simultaneously with a general design conversion, brand relaunch or template conversion. No one questions these.
Most companies have more slides in circulation than they realize. Sometimes millions. The consequences, the time and effort involved, the costs, and the project are all hugely challenging, making the migration plan all the more important.

7) Which 16:9?

Did you know that PowerPoint has two different 16:9 aspect ratios? One known as ‘On-screen Show (16:9)’ in PowerPoint 2016, and the other known as ‘Widescreen (16:9)’, which has been the standard since PowerPoint 2013. The former is the same width as the 4:3 format (in the standard PowerPoint dimensions), while the latter is the same height. The space on the screen is exactly the same, though you do generally need a smaller font size for the older ‘On-screen Show (16:9)’, as you’ll otherwise not have anywhere near enough room vertically. The newer ‘Widescreen (16:9)’, on the other hand, usually works very well with the font size used in 4:3, as the vertical PowerPoint size does not change, and the text can simply run on longer across the width. This also makes it easier to quickly copy content from old 4:3 slides; while a few unsightly blank spaces still remain on the sides, the rough fit is good in terms of height. For this reason, we almost always recommend the ‘Widescreen’ option.

8) How do you handle a possible conversion?

“The faster the better” is always the rule. Long transition phases cause everyone to work differently, resulting in the need to revise and rework things all over the place. However, it is also worth thinking about the areas where a transition phase is indeed wise; after all, it’s equally unproductive to create work where it’s not needed.
When assisting customers with the conversion process, we try to get onboard as early as possible to ensure optimum preparation and user support:

  • Designing the new master(s) smartly – in terms of both the future and the conversion
  • Having as much useful material as possible in time for the go-live – Slide templates, modules, new corporate and sales presentations, tips & tricks
  • Tools to automatically covert old presentations
  • A conversion service for greater acceptance and efficient, professional conversion of important presentations

9) How much of the conversion can be automated?

Having discovered that all previous solutions available on the market (including our own) were unable to deliver what users really needed when it came to format switches, we have spent the last few months developing a completely new automation solution, incorporating not only our entire gamut of developer expertise, but also all our experience from countless conversion processes. The result was a conversion tool actually capable of automatically creating new, reasonable-looking presentations out of most of the old ones:

  • The presentation is set in your new target master from a pre-defined source master – with great precision
  • The layouts are re-allocated. In doing so, the tool utilizes the advantage offered by PowerPoint when users have worked with layouts and placeholders the way they should. But – and this is the smarter part by far – it can also handle the often much greater number of presentations in which layouts have been copied wildly and placeholders moved at random.
  • Next, the slide content is smartly adjusted to the new aspect ratio. This includes various methods for scaling and repositioning items on the slide. Text is scaled, and images are not distorted.
  • Depending on the requirements of the old and new masters, various corrections are then automatically performed to ensure the rest of the look also complies with the new specifications.

There is literally no ready-made solution for this. The conversion tool is configured individually for each customer – based on old and new masters, what the user does with them, and how the marketing department intends to use them.

This type of migration plan for PowerPoint conversions requires a holistic approach, lots of experience, and application expertise. In return, however, it promises a seamless conversion, a high degree of acceptance amongst users, a good reputation, and the speed marketing departments dream of. What it also needs is preliminary talks early on, the right questions, a reliable analysis, and intelligent, personalized implementation. The preliminary talks alone provide great food for thought which can also genuinely boost efficiency in cooperations with the brand agency hired.

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