Icons are a versatile tool for visual presentations, replacing boring bullets and playing an integral role in storytelling. Custom presentation icons are crucial to building a strong brand identity across presentations. But, if you don’t have access to a library of brand icons, they can seem out of reach. Here's how PowerPoint could be your secret weapon.
The design choices we make in our presentations – the colours, the icons, the photography and illustrations – all form a kind of shorthand through which our audiences recognise our brand and get a feel for the message we’re aiming to communicate. The same goes for the fonts we use. Fonts have as big an impact on design style as the visuals. Beautiful photography and well-designed icons can all be undermined by a poorly-chosen typeface. You need to use a font that aligns with the rest of your design style, and with the personality you’re trying to convey. You need a font with the right ‘voice.’
But how do we pick one? Before we get into our recommendations for 10 of the best presentation fonts, let’s run through some of the questions you can ask to help you decide.
Is it a Windows-standard font?
Before we get started this is probably the most important question to ask is if your font should be Windows-standard.
Free download: If you’re not sure what is Windows-standard and what isn’t, then download this list of Windows-standard fonts for your reference.
We’ll have a look at custom fonts later in this article, but one last question to ask is if the font you intend to use is Windows-standard. Why does this matter? Well, if you make a beautiful presentation using a custom font and then send it to your colleague who doesn’t have the font installed, their version of the presentation will be a huge mess of mis-sized default fonts that isn’t really fit for purpose.
So, if you’re going to be using your presentation on multiple machines, you need something that will work on all of them – you need a Windows-standard font.
And, in case you were wondering, the ten we recommend here are all on that list.
Are you choosing a font for headings or body text?
The first thing to consider is where your text will be used – does it need to be easily readable in longer paragraphs and smaller sizes? Or can you afford to go bigger? Are you looking for a larger, more impactful slide title?
Whether your font is for heading or body text will help inform your answer to the next question…
Serif or sans serif?
Serif fonts have little ticks or ‘wings’ at the end of their lines, and are usually associated with serious, business-like, intellectual content, whereas sans serif fonts – like this one – have no marks on the ends of their lines, and are usually seen as modern, sleek and clean.
General wisdom is that serif fonts are better for print and for body text, as the serifs lead the eye from one character to the next like joined handwriting. Alternatively, sans serif fonts are better for titles and text displayed on a screen. But these are not hard and fast rules! A popular idea is to choose one of each, perhaps titles will be sans serif and body text will be serif, but it’s up to you – choose what feels right for your brand. Do you want to appeal to tradition, to intellectual weight with a serif font, or do you want your text to feel modern, to speak of technology and progress with a sans serif choice? Which leads to the final consideration…
How much familiarity do you want?
Many of the most popular typefaces already have well established voices. Everyone knows Times New Roman is serious, respectable, reliable. Everyone knows Arial is clear, no-nonsense, professional. If you want your audience to feel the familiarity of these tried and tested fonts, easily done! Or do you want to escape the familiar, be a little bit unique and memorable with a font your audience hasn’t already seen that day?
Once you have the answers to these questions, and have decided on the ‘voice’ you want to convey, you are finally ready to start searching for your font! Read on for our recommendations of 10 of the best fonts you can use for your next presentation.
10 best presentation fonts
‘Garamond’ actually refers to a style of font, rather than one font in particular. Some examples you may have heard of include Adobe Garamond, Monotype Garamond and Garamond ITC. All of these fonts are slightly different, but all have their origins in the work of Claude Garamond, who designed the original punch cuts in the 1500s, making Garamond fonts some of the oldest around.
Prior to Claude Garamond’s work, fonts were designed to mimic the handwriting of scribes. Garamond’s typefaces however (there are 34 attributed to him), were designed in the Roman style, with the letters’ ascenders vertical and the crossbar of the letter ‘e’ horizontal, instead of slanted as in earlier calligraphic fonts. The letters were designed this way to increase legibility in print, which is what makes Garamond fonts such a great choice for body text. Such a great choice in fact, that the entire Harry Potter series is printed in Adobe Garamond. Outside of print, Garamond fonts have been used in the logos of numerous brands, including Rolex and Abercrombie and Fitch, and giants Google and Apple.
With their rich history and elegant readability, you can be confident that a Garamond font will bring a timeless sophistication to your slides, while keeping your text legible.
Palatino was designed by Hermann Zapf in 1949. Based on the type styles of the Italian Renaissance, Palatino draws influence from calligraphy, and is in fact named after master calligrapher Giambattista Palatino – a contemporary of Claude Garamond. Zapf intended Palatino for use in headings, advertisements and printing. More specifically, it was designed to remain legible when printed on low quality paper, printed at small size or viewed at a distance.
Palatino Linotype is the version of the font included with Microsoft products, and has been altered slightly from the original for optimum display on screens. Book Antiqua, also a Microsoft default font, is very similar, almost impossible to tell from Palatino Linotype.
Both of these fonts are good choices for body text – a little unusual, they will set your slides apart in a sea of Arial and Times New Roman, while with their airy counters and smooth, calligraphic lines, maintaining elegance and readability.
Verdana was designed by Matthew Carter for Microsoft in 1996, deliberately crafted for use on computer screens. The letters are widely spaced, with wide counters and tall lowercase letters, making this font extremely readable, especially when displayed at small sizes. Verdana is also nearly ubiquitous, it has been included with all versions of Windows and Office since its creation. One survey estimates it is available on 99.7% of Windows computers, and 98.05% of Macs. On the one hand, this makes it a very safe bet – you are almost guaranteed your presentation will appear as you intended on all devices, but on the other hand, you may not stand out from the crowd as much as you may like!
You can’t argue with its legibility though. Verdana is an excellent font to use for small text, for example, to keep your footnotes, references and disclaimers readable. Or, for a safer choice, Verdana’s unobtrusive, effortlessly legible characters will keep your audience’s attention on what you have said, not the font you’ve used to say it.
If you’ve used a Windows computer, used Skype, played on an Xbox 360 or just seen the Microsoft logo, you have seen a font from the Segoe family. Microsoft uses Segoe fonts for its logos and marketing materials, and Segoe UI has been the default operating system font since Windows Vista. This is all down to its beautiful simplicity, and on-screen legibility. Similarly to Verdana, Segoe fonts look perfect on screens and at small sizes, and are warm and inviting while maintaining the airy, aspirational feel of technology and progress. Unlike Verdana though – which has wide spaces and heavier letters – Segoe fonts are also a great choice for titles and headers.
Another fun bonus from the Segoe font family is the expansive set of symbols and icons it offers. From the insert tab in PowerPoint, click symbol, and change the symbol font to either Segoe UI Symbol, or Segoe UI Emoji, and marvel at the reams and reams of symbols to choose from. There are shapes, arrows, musical notes, mathematical notation, scientific notation, there are animals, buildings, food, Mahjong tiles, Fraktur letters, I Ching hexagrams… Likely any symbol you could possibly want is in there!
So for easy to read body text, light, elegant headers, or a quick and easy way to bring just about any icon you can think of into your presentation, the Segoe font family is a perfect choice.
5. Franklin Gothic
What is it that makes a font ‘gothic?’ There’s certainly nothing about Franklin Gothic that speaks of bats in belfries or doomed lovers wandering the Yorkshire moors! Well, confusingly, when describing fonts ‘Gothic’ can mean completely opposite things – it is sometimes used to refer to a Medieval-style, blackletter font, or conversely, it can be used as a synonym for the clean, geometric, sans serif fonts that began their rise to prominence in the early 19th century. And that’s certainly the category Franklin Gothic fits into.
Designed by Morris Fuller for the American Type Founders in 1902 and named after the American printer and Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, Franklin Gothic is a classic American font that has been described as ‘square-jawed and strong-armed, yet soft-spoken.’ With its wide range of weights and widths, and interesting design details (take a look at the uppercase Q and lowercase g for some beautiful, unusual curves, and the uppercase A and M for subtly varying line weights), Franklin Gothic will look strong and approachable as your headings, and classy and legible as your body text.
Candara was designed by Gary Munch, and released with Windows Vista in 2008. It is part of a family of six Microsoft fonts, all beginning with the letter C (Calibri, Cambria, Consolas, Corbel and Constantia), that were all optimised for use with Microsoft’s ClearType rendering system.
The most interesting thing about Candara, and what makes it such a beautiful font to use, is the influence of architecture on its design. If you look closely at the letters’ ascenders, you will notice an entasis at their ends, which means there is a slight convex curve towards the ends of the lines – a feature best known from classical architecture. Columns built by ancient Greek, Roman, Incan, Aztec and Chinese empires were built with this convex curve, a particularly famous example being the columns of the Parthenon in Athens. Historians believe columns were built in this way to give an impression of greater strength, to correct for the visual illusion that very tall, straight columns appear to bow inwards as they rise.
And the architectural influence doesn’t end there, Candara’s diagonal lines – best seen in the capital X, N and A – have been designed with unusual ogee curves. Most often seen in Gothic arches from 13th and 14th century Britain, an ogee curve is part convex, part concave, forming a shallow S shape as it rises. Two ogee curves meeting in the middle form an arch that rises to a point – like Candara’s capital A.
These entases and ogee curves are what makes this font pleasingly unusual. At first glance, it is a standard, easy-to-read sans serif that looks crisp and clear on screen, but on closer inspection, Candara has some interesting design details that set it apart. Candara is perhaps not the most serious looking font, but if you’d like something slightly unusual, but still professional and perfectly legible, consider Candara.
Similarly to Garamond, Bodoni refers not to a single font, but to a family of typefaces inspired by the centuries old work of a master typographer. Giambattista Bodoni was an extremely successful master printer who lived and worked in the Italian city of Parma through the late 18th and early 19th century. Along with a French typographer named Firmin Didot, Bodoni was responsible for developing the ‘New Face’ style of lettering, characterised by extreme contrast between thick and razor thin lines.
You will have seen this in action if you have ever glanced at a fashion magazine. Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle all print their names in a Bodoni font. In fact, these fonts are so prevalent in fashion graphic design that they have become a shorthand for the elegance and refinement the fashion world idealises.
The sharp lines and smooth curves of these fonts have been compared to the precise geometries of fabric patterns, and their delicate, graceful forms afford them a sophisticated femininity. This delicacy also make these fonts perfect for overlaying photographs. You will notice from the fashion magazine covers how the titles maintain their presence, but don’t overpower the photograph beneath. You can use this to great effect in your own designs; if you need to layer text over photographs, Bodoni fonts could be a stylish and sophisticated answer.
Best used in headings displayed at large sizes where contrasting line weights will have maximum impact, Bodoni fonts will instantly instil your design with an effortless, timeless elegance. Bodoni himself wrote that the beauty of type lies in “conformity without ambiguity, variety without dissonance, and equality and symmetry without confusion.” Bodoni fonts have all those things in abundance, and are some of the most beautiful fonts you can choose to use.
8. Bell MT
If Bodoni fonts are just that bit too extreme, try Bell MT instead. They have similar roots – both Bodoni and Bell fonts were influenced by the work of French typographer Fermin Didot, and have the same ‘New Face’ style contrast between thick and thin lines, just to a lesser extent with Bell fonts.
Designed in 1788 by the punch cutter Richard Austin, commissioned by the publisher John Bell, Bell fonts share similarities with Didot style fonts, but also with softer, rounder Roman fonts of the time such as Baskerville. The influence of flowing, cursive style fonts such as Baskerville can be seen in letters such as the uppercase Q and K, and the italic Y and z, which all have some beautiful, unusual curves. In fact, Bell MT is particularly attractive in italic, almost script-like while maintaining legibility. This makes it an excellent choice for sub-headings, as a softer counterpart to a sans serif heading. Or use it for quotes and testimonials, set in a beautiful Bell italic they will be inviting and authentic, as well as clear and readable.
Coming from an indigenous Salishan language, Tahoma is one of the original Native American names for Mount Rainier in the US state of Washington.
Tahoma the font however was designed by the British typographer Matthew Carter working for Microsoft, and was released with Windows 95. It is a very close cousin of Verdana, but though similar, Tahoma is a little narrower and more tightly spaced than Verdana, giving it a more slender, slightly more formal feel. It is another example of a font that was designed specifically for screen use, meaning it will look good at a wide range of sizes, and on a wide range of screens, perfect if you are making a presentation that will need to display properly on multiple devices.
In fact, perfect clarity is what sets Tahoma apart from some similar sans serif fonts. The image below shows the characters uppercase I (eye), lowercase l (ell) and number 1 (one) written in four popular sans serif fonts (from left to right) Century Gothic, Calibri, Gill Sans and Tahoma. Notice how in every font but Tahoma, at least two characters are indistinguishable. Gill Sans, for example, is a disaster here. It’s unlikely you’ll ever need to write these three characters in quick succession, but for scientific, technical or mathematical content, clear distinction between these characters can be very important – and Tahoma gives you that.
So with its easy to read, screen friendly design and readily distinguishable characters, Tahoma is an ideal choice for the slightly more formal, but still approachable, scientific or technical presentation.
Designed by Jeremy Tankard and released in 2005, like Candara Corbel was also designed to work well with Microsoft’s ClearType rendering system, meaning it is specifically designed to work well on screens. Tankard described his aim when designing Corbel as ‘to give an uncluttered and clean appearance on screen,’ and describes the font as ‘legible, clear, and functional at small sizes.’ All of these things are important boxes to tick when you’re looking for a presentation font!
Corbel is a little more serious than Candara, again in Tankard’s words: ‘functional but not bland,’ designed to be ‘less cuddly, more assertive.’ The dots above the i’s and j’s for example are square, not rounded. The tail of the uppercase Q is straight and horizontal, not a whimsical curve. This makes Corbel a good choice for more serious or technical content, it is legible and without excessive embellishment, yet not characterless or overused.
One of the most interesting design details with Corbel is the fact that with this font, numbers are lowercase. What does this mean? Take a look at the image below, where you can see a comparison of how the numbers 0-9 appear in Corbel with how they appear in another popular sans serif font, Segoe UI. Notice how the Corbel numbers don’t line up exactly? This is know as lowercase or old-style numerals.
The purpose of this is to improve how numbers look when they form part of body text – they are a more natural fit with lowercase lettering. Few fonts have this option (for a serif option offering lowercase numbers, consider Georgia, also a Windows standard font), meaning Corbel can make a for a very unique choice. It will be both legible and readable, and its unusual numbers will add a unique and pleasing design touch to your slides.
What about custom fonts?
Sometimes what we want is not the familiar, the comforting, the Arial and the Times New Roman, sometimes we just want something different. This is your opportunity to step into the almost infinite world of custom fonts. Here you can find fonts to fit almost any imaginable need. From timeless and elegant and crisp and futuristic, to ornate scripts and decorative novelties, there will be a custom font for you.
But a word of warning on non-system fonts – custom fonts can be a powerful, attractive component of your presentation design, but if used incorrectly, they can also be its undoing.
A custom font will only appear in your presentation if it is played on a device with that font installed. On any other device, PowerPoint will replace your beautiful, carefully planned custom font with one of the system defaults, and this can have disastrous consequences for your design.
If your presentation is going to be built and presented exclusively from the same device you shouldn’t have a problem, but if multiple devices or operating systems are involved, or if you intend to share your presentation for others to use, to ensure your fonts survive the jump it is safer to stay in the realms of the system default fonts. There you can be confident your carefully crafted designs will stay exactly as you envisaged them, and you can concentrate on delivering the very best presentation.
You can find a useful PDF here detailing which fonts are available on all platforms for maximum compatibility.
Whatever font you do choose for your next PowerPoint presentation, ask yourself two questions:
- Does this font have the right ‘voice’ for your brand?
- Is it easy to read?
If the answer to both of the above is yes, then you are on to a winner. You know best what fits with your brand, and if a font captures your unique voice, and makes your slides easy for your audience to read, you are one step closer to that perfect presentation.
For more advice on choosing the best font for your next presentation, and then making the very best of it in your design, take a look at our other articles:
- In addition – Wikipedia pages for each font in the list were used
Senior consultantView Elly Hughes's profile
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