Wonky alignment and badly proportioned slides can easily distract your audience. In the best-case scenario, they’ll lose focus for a second, wondering whether you put this presentation together on the train that morning. In the worst, your audience completely loses interest in your message, your professionalism is compromised, and you fail to meet the goals of your presentation. Human beings can’t help judging a book by its cover – or the content of your presentation by how it is designed. However, help is at hand! Let me show you how to make PowerPoint grids and guides your secret weapons, using them to create effective layouts that not only look neat and professional, but actually leverage proportions to better communicate with your audience.

Why are grids important?

Fans of Renaissance art and/or geometry – I know you’re out there! – might have heard of the golden spiral. Based on the golden ratio, the golden spiral can be found in some of the most famous artworks in the world. Famed polymath Leonardo da Vinci incorporated the mathematics of this ratio into his paintings. See how Mona Lisa’s mysterious face lines up with the golden spiral:

PowerPoint grids and guides_Mona Lisa

Though people are still debating why the golden ratio is so visually pleasing, most assume that it’s because it seems to appear everywhere – from the arms of galaxies to the spirals of shells to this photograph of typical New Year’s Eve celebrations in the UK.

PowerPoint grids and guides_shell and galaxy

Professor of mechanical engineering Adrian Bejan argued that our brains find objects that fit the golden ratio beautiful because our eyes can interpret them faster. He believes cognition and vision have evolved together in a way that increases the efficiency of information flowing from the world into our brains. Writing about the golden ratio he said: “Shapes that resemble the golden ratio facilitate the scanning of images and their transmission through vision organs to the brain…When we see the proportions in the golden ratio, we are helped. We feel pleasure and we call it beauty.”

But what has all this got to do with PowerPoint grids and guides?

Well, the golden ratio, also known as the divine proportion, shows how powerful proportions can be; they draw the audience in, create pleasing sensations in their brains and draw their eyes to the important areas of an object – the Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile, for example. Now, I’m not suggesting that you attempt making your slides look like a Renaissance painting. Proportion and balance are clearly an important part of good design, and using PowerPoint grids and guides will help you create well-balanced designs that look and feel good to your audience, so you can successfully meet your business objectives.

Types of Grids

Let’s start with the basics: the three most useful types of grid. If you set up your grid correctly, you can easily create alignment and balance in your design.

  1. manuscript grid is the most basic grid. It simply is a single rectangle that defines the margins of the format.
  2. A column grid is typically used in presentation design, as well as in web and user interface (UI) design, books, magazines, and newspapers. The number of columns used is defined by the format; a small book may use one or two and a newspaper six or eight. Magazines often use several different grids within the same issue, varying the number of columns to suit the layout of each individual page.
  3. Like a column grid, a modular grid has columns, but it also has rows, providing further divisions of space.

PowerPoint grids and guides_types of grids

Though these grids might seem limiting, a simple grid actually gives you a lot of variety when positioning your content. You can use the sections as a basis for larger content areas. This is easier to explain with visual examples. Here are a few ways to divide up a modular grid to create well-proportioned and interesting layouts:

PowerPoint grids and guides_types of grids

Adding guides in PowerPoint

So, how do you create your own grid? PowerPoint’s default gridlines are dotted. To view the default PowerPoint grid, right click your slide, select Grid and Guides and check Display grid on screen. You’ll see that you can adjust the default grid by changing the spacing.

PowerPoint grids and guides_menu

Though this default grid may help you keep things aligned, I’d recommend creating your own custom guides in PowerPoint to fit your needs. This is because the default PowerPoint grid has fixed margins; drawing your own grid lets you define your margins’ size.

To do this you will need to add multiple guides. To display guides in PowerPoint, right click on a slide, select Grid and Guides and check Display drawing guides on screen. This will bring up one vertical and one horizontal guide.

owerPoint grids and guides visuals_GUIDES2

To add more guides, you can either:

  1. Right click and under the Grid and Guides menu select Add Vertical/Horizontal Guide or
  2. Hold down the Ctrl key and drag the line you want to duplicate

PowerPoint grids and guides visuals_GUIDES

To remove a line, right click on that guide and select Delete.

Setting up a custom PowerPoint grid

Setting up a custom grid is really easy with our BrightSlide add-in. This has an Adobe Creative Suite style interface that creates guides in PowerPoint automatically:

If you don’t have access to BrightSlide for some reason (did we mention it’s free?), you can mimic this result by creating rectangles on your slide using the Shapes tool and, using the alignment and distribution tools, making sure they’re evenly spaced and perfectly aligned.

PowerPoint grids and guides_aliign tools
You need to leave a space in between the columns – this is called the ‘gutter’. Your slide might look something like this:

PowerPoint grids and guides visuals_custom grid 2

I’d recommend using the Ruler function to keep things precise – you can find it by right clicking on your slide.

Add your guides by following the steps above, then manually position them along the edges of the rectangles. You might find it useful to change the colour to something that stands out.

Next, delete the shapes. You will be left with your custom grid. In this example, I created a 12-column grid with small margins at the sides and space for a title and footer.

PowerPoint grids and guides visuals_custom grid 3

On widescreen slides – as in, slides with a 16:9 ratio – a 12-column grid works best. You can easily divide a 12-column grid into six, four, three and two columns. This gives you lots of design flexibility!

If you’re not confident creating your own PowerPoint grids, heave a huge sigh of relief! We have created a PowerPoint deck with a custom 12 column modular grid all set up and ready to go. All you need to do is download the BrightCarbon Guides Example and follow the steps above to display the grid. Happy designing.

Using your PowerPoint guides

The great thing about setting up your own guides in PowerPoint is that you can ensure consistency across multiple presentations. By creating a grid that clearly defines space for logos, disclaimers, page numbers, main content and whatever else you need, your slides will look well-balanced and consistent.

Here is an example of a range of different layouts created using a 12-column grid; there is variety, but the overall design is consistent.

And finally, does using PowerPoint grids and guides limit creativity?

You might be concerned that using guides will limit how creative you can be with your slide design. Remember, guides indicates where content should be placed to create balanced, neat and consistent layouts: it doesn’t restrict how creative that content is.

Now you are ready to create PowerPoint designs worthy of the great Leonardo himself. Go dazzle your audience with beautifully balanced slides!

For more on PowerPoint grids and guides, including a video tutorial, see our free resource, Presentation Design Masterclass: Grids & Guides. To continue on your journey to master all things PowerPoint, why not take a look at our advanced typography guide. For PowerPoint inspiration, read this awesome blog post on creating presentations that ‘pop’ and – more importantly – are effective. If you have any questions about PowerPoint grids and guides leave them in the comments below.

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Written by

Olivia Kippax Jones

Communication consultant

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  1. Image of Miguel Calejo Miguel Calejo says:

    Thanks Olivia for sharing your expertise.

    For a non professional it’s always great to a have a simple rule – 12 column grid – to apply.

    What it’s intrigue it’s the position of the title and subtitle, at what distance from the top should I position the title, and the subtitle? And if I don’t want a subtitle should I reposition the title?

    Thanks again,

    Miguel

    • Image of Shee Juma Shee Juma says:

      Hey Miguel,

      There is no definitive rule as to the distance from the top of the slide your title should be. As a general guide to creating a comfortable margin you could take the height of the title font and use that as a minimum distance to place the title from the top and left hand edges.

      We would advise to keep the position of the title consistent throughout, whether the slide has a subtitle or not. Having this in the exact same position on each slide helps both the presenter and the audience to navigate.

      Shee (Senior Design Consultant, BrightCarbon)

  2. Image of Steph Steph says:

    Awesome! So informative and useful. Thanks so much.

  3. Image of John John says:

    is this feature available in power point for Mac? I can’t find it

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