Graphics Dos and Don’ts for PowerPoint

Vol. 16 No. 3


Lana Koepke Johnson is with the Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication Department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She can be contacted at

Making uninteresting, inffective slides for a PowerPoint presentation is easy. Making well-designed visuals to effectively and efficiently communicate your message is much harder but still a skill all professionals should learn. The following guidelines of graphics dos and don’ts will help you begin preparing great visuals for your next presentation.

Print is not projection

Graphics prepared for print do not project well. Simplify images with large text and appropriate colors to be readable. Design or redesign your information for your PowerPoint slides.

·         Make information legible and readable.

·         Text should be large enough to be read without effort. Titles should be 36–48 point and body text should be 24–36 point.

·         Use medium-sized lines on fonts and graphics, as fine lines tend to disappear when projected.

·         Use a combination of uppercase and lowercase lettering for easier reading.

·         Avoid underlining.

·         To emphasize a word or phrase, change the colors, type, size, and/or weight of the text.

·         Use drop shadows, particularly on text. Keep the shadow close to the text so it doesn’t appear as a separate line of text.

·         Use solid or gradiated blocks of color instead of textures and patterns to avoid interference with readability.

·         Proofread your visuals. And then have someone else proofread them for you.

·         Text and graphics color must be seen when superimposed on a background of another color. There must be enough contrast between the foreground and the background so the text and graphics are readable.

·         Use animations and transitions with care. Transitions that reveal bulleted lists are good to use when you have several points to make on one slide. Use no more than 3–5 animation series in a presentation.

Use good design

·         Use the appropriate page dimensions for your slides or information will be cut off.

·         Crop photos to fit the horizontal format.

·         Use no more than 2–3 typefaces and styles (bold, italic, etc.) per presentation.

·         Use sans serif fonts such as Arial and Helvetica instead of serif fonts. Serif fonts have thin lines on the letters that may not project well and will decrease legibility.

·         Use bulleted lists to group and arrange ideas. Avoid punctuation or whole sentences.

·         Avoid using hyphenation, as it decreases readability.

·         Use appropriate bullets in easy-to-see colors, sizes, and styles.

·         Format bullets with hanging indents.

·         Leave plenty of space around information to increase readability.

Limit amount of information

Focus on your primary ideas, and limit the amount of information on your visual. Each visual should be a hint, not the whole story.

Use graphic elements

·         Decide what graphs, tables, illustrations or photographs you can use to illustrate your points.

·         Use images only if they are pertinent to your message and support the information. Avoid graphic overload.

Use color

·         Use color to emphasize, highlight, organize, and prioritize.

·         Be careful which colors you use together.

·         Do not use medium-to-dark blue on black. It looks out of focus, and the colors are hard to distinguish.

·         Do not use red and green together for those who are red-green color-blind.

Make visuals simple and consistent

·         Don’t change color schemes with each slide. Keep the color scheme consistent throughout your presentation.

·         Keep visuals as simple as 
possible. Complex visuals 
decrease readability and increase confusion.

·         Keep page elements consistent. Use the same colors for each page element (background, title, and body text), and keep the page elements in the same locations from slide to slide.

·         References for illustrations or photos from another source should be written on the slide with only the author’s or artist’s last name and publication date.

For more information, see James W. King, Lana K. Johnson, and John H. Rupnow. Thinking Visually: Graphic Tips for Technical Presentations. Jan. 2001. Vol. 55, No. 1. FoodTechnology.

Lana Koepke Johnson is with the Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication Department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She can be contacted at


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