Slide aspect ratios: what you need to know

August 12th, 2009 by bluewave

Many PowerPoint presentations are formatted at the default 4:3 aspect ratio, which is the display size used by older TV screens and projectors.

Widescreen shows, with a 16:9 aspect ratio, are becoming more and more common. Keynote conferences and other high-end events will likely be displayed in widescreen environments. For smaller venues, widescreen HD-capable DLP chip projectors are now very affordable. Some companies use widescreen Plasmas or LCDs instead of projectors, or display on monitors or laptops. Many newer monitors and laptops use a widescreen 16:10 aspect ratio.

PowerPoint makes it easy to specify 4:3, 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratios. PowerPoint 2003 (File > Page Setup) provides 4:3 as default and you can enter custom dimensions for 16:9 and 16:10 layouts. PowerPoint 2007 (Design > Page Setup) offers 4:3, 16:9 and 16:10 from a drop-down list.

The illustration below shows common slide dimensions for each aspect ratio. You can also enter custom slide dimensions as long as the aspect ratio is maintained:

Determining the correct aspect ratio for your presentation should be top on your list before any slide development starts.

  • Will your presentation be projected at 4:3 or widescreen? If you change to another aspect ratio midstream, graphics will stretch or distort, type sizes may change, text boxes can move out of position, etc. Slides will need to be reformatted and all graphics resized and repositioned — a time-consuming job.
  • If widescreen, do the projectors display at 16:9 or 16:10? If your presentation is created with an aspect ratio different from that supported by the projectors, your graphics will either not fill the entire screen, resulting in black bars at the top, bottom and sides, or will be cropped.

You can probably get the quickest answers to these questions by consulting with your AV team or event site coordinators. Bluewave also has a lot of experience in this area, and we can help determine the optimum presentation settings.

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4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Pete Jacobs Jan 21, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    This is a very well documented and insightful explanation of PowerPoint slide use, from creation to display. My church uses PowerPoint 2007 slides created in the default format (4:3). When these are displayed on our video projector in 16:9 format images and text are distorted (the laptop supplying the signal can’t display in a 16:9 format). Today after some experimentation, away from church, I created a slide consisting of text and graphics using a custom format of 16W X 9H. When the creation was complete I went back to the ‘Page Setup’ settings and changed them to the default size (10W X 7.5H). The slides now look distorted but I believe that when I project them, they should now display undistorted on the projector screen. FYI. Thanks for the chance to share.

  • 2 randysch Mar 15, 2010 at 10:02 am

    Helpful! Thanks

  • 3 PicoSam Jan 18, 2011 at 7:43 am

    Bluewave,

    Thank you very much, I hadn’t concidered this and your information will make mmy Power Point Presentation more full screen and drematic.
    Thank again
    Zaak

  • 4 Jodi Nov 28, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    Why not use 16″ x 9″? I’m working on a PPT using a design created in another program at 16 x 9 and it would be much easier to use the same size and positioning they used.

    Is there any disadvantage to changing the dimensions? Why isn’t the preset actually 16 x 9?