Back in the day the Microsoft suite ruled – everything was Word docs and PowerPoint shows, and even Publisher – shout out to all of you who remember that one! But then in the early 90s a new player came along – the PDF. A simple, minimally-editable, document supporting text and graphics, that revolutionised file sharing. Instead of sending your best work to be accidentally deleted by an enthusiastic reader, you could package it all as a PDF, making it smaller and harder to edit without your say-so. Win-win.

And PDFs have only grown in popularity in the intervening 30 years. They haven’t replaced any of the big hitters in the Microsoft suite, like Apple or Google, they proudly sit side-by-side and cross-compatible with whatever you’re using, be it Pages, Slides, PowerPoint, or the Adobe suite itself.

But this article is dedicated to the big-hitting combination of PowerPoint and PDFs, and three particular use cases that will have these two giants working together in perfect harmony.

Click your favourite topic to jump to a section, or buckle up and enjoy the long scroll.

How to convert PowerPoint to PDF (Windows)

There are two ways to make your beautiful PowerPoint into a PDF, but before we delve into the ‘how’, let’s think about the ‘why’.

We believe the best presentations are animated, with presenter and slides working together to reveal just the bit of the story you want to tell in that moment. This stops your audience reading ahead and figuring out the punchline, but it also prevents cognitive overload that sends your once-willing audience to a land of inboxes and daydreams. Not sure what this looks like? Take a moment to browse our portfolio, then come straight back!

Having said all that, sometimes you need to send your slides as a handout after your meeting, and there just isn’t time to create one amazing presentation, and one handy PDF leave-behind, and so what you’re left with is a hybrid presentation and handout PowerPoint file. We’d still caution you here to think of the audience and animate this presentation so that you’re not showing all the content at once. Animation doesn’t need to be difficult or time-consuming – watch some quick tips on animating in PowerPoint here: Amazing animation in PowerPoint. And, before you follow the steps below, make sure you’re giving your PDF presentation the glow up it needs by reading our guides to Printing your PowerPoint with notes and How to print multiple slides on one page.

So, with that out of the way, let’s figure out how to do it. There are two methods:

Method 1: Export to PDF

Navigate to File and Export and then click Create PDF/XPS. You’ll then be asked to input a file name and the export engine will run, and make you a beautiful PDF ready for easy sharing.

Screenshot of the Export to PDF option in PowerPoint

Method 2: Save As PDF

You can also save your file as a PDF. Go to File > Save a Copy, and then from the drop-down list under your file name you can select PDF, as well as a host of other file types. Click Save and job done.

Screenshot of the drop down file type menu with .pdf selected

How to convert PowerPoint to PDF (macOS)

If you’re a Mac user and you need to create a PDF of your glorious PowerPoint creation then the same two methods for Windows will work for PowerPoint in macOS. However, you may find that the hyperlinks don’t work, and/or the quality just isn’t what you expected it to be. The reason behind that is that PowerPoint for macOS uses the Apple PDF conversion engine.

Thankfully you can side-step that in order to get PDFs that look and function just how you need them to.

Step 1

Open your presentation file using the online version of PowerPoint in a browser at


screenshot of PowerPoint open in the browser

Step 2

Click File > Save as > Download as PDF

screenshot of the powerpoint save as PDF Save As options

Step 3

Open your PDF file, check that the links work and the quality is sublime, and then stand back as your colleagues applaud you.

How to convert a PDF to PowerPoint

Okay, so we’ve gone from PowerPoint to PDF, but what happens if you want to go back? It used to be that it was a one-way trip on Charon’s ferry to the underworld – no return tickets. But now, there is a way.

Note: for this you’ll need Adobe Acrobat Pro, and for that you’ll need a subscription. If you don’t have Acrobat Pro, consider bribing a friend that does have it with kindness, or baked goods like these delicious vegan Swedish cinnamon buns.

Step 1

Make sure your PDF is downloaded and saved locally on your computer and open it up in Adobe Acrobat.

Screenshot of a PDF open in Adobe Acrobat

Step 2

Head to File then select Export to…Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation.

Screenshot of the Adobe Acrobat Export To.. menu

Step 3

Choose where you want to save the PowerPoint once it’s been converted.

Screenshot of the Save As Window

Step 4

Then press save, and give it a couple of minutes (this will take longer for larger PDFs).

Screenshot of the previous PDF open in PowerPoint

Once the conversion is complete, your newly converted PowerPoint file will be in your chosen folder (and also your downloads for quick access).

And the best part about this process? All the fonts and layouts are converted and divided out in separate text boxes and shapes for easy editing – take that Charon, I’ll have my return ticket after all! There might be some slight layout discrepancies, so make sure to go through and check it’s all where it needs to be, but the majority of it should be in the right place.

Screenshot showing an element of the PDF selected in PowerPoint as a shape

How to insert a PDF into PowerPoint

So, we’ve made the jump from PowerPoint to PDF and vice versa, what happens if we want to go all Inception and add a PDF into our PowerPoint file?

This could be useful if you’re creating something like an Interactive handbook in PowerPoint (a navigable, digital document learners can use to get the information they need, when they need it).

The most common route to do something like this is drop a screenshot of your PDF into your PowerPoint file and then link it to where it’s saved in some sort of shared folder system, but there are a couple of problems with that:

  • What happens if the PDF is saved in an internal folder and external users need to access it?
  • What happens if you move or delete the PDF at some point?

So that got us thinking. We need a way to actually insert a PDF file into a PowerPoint file. Steps below, you’re welcome.

Step 1

You’ll need a transparent ICO file, so we’ve got one ready for you to download: Download the transparent ICO file.

Step 2

With your PowerPoint file open, click Insert and then [oddly] from the Text group, click Object:

Screenshot of the Object option

Step 3

In the window that appears, click Create from file then Browse to locate and select your PDF file (don’t close this window yet):

Screenshot of the insert object pop up

Step 4

Click the Display as icon checkbox followed by Change Icon for the next hacky steps:

  • Delete the Caption (otherwise it will appear on your slide)Screenshot of the Change Icon pop up
  • Click the Browse button above and locate & choose the transparent icon you downloaded in Step 1
  • Click OK

Step 5

At this point, you’ll have a transparent object (don’t forget to name it in the Selection Pane) which you can double click in the Normal view to open in the default PDF app. Great stuff, but we’re only halfway there: it won’t be interactive in Slide Show mode until you do this:

  • With the transparent object selected, click the Insert tab again followed by Action in the Links group:Screenshot of the action option
  • Click Object action in the Mouse Click tab to set the PDF file to Open on click:Screenshot of the Action Settings pop up
  • Click OK and you’re done

Step 6

Resize your transparent object and put it on top of the picture you want to act as the link to the PDF file. Note that you can’t rotate it, but you can resize it. You can use the Match Size and Align Objects Centre + Middle features in our free PowerPoint add-in BrightSlide to speed that up with two clicks.

You can now run the slide show and single click your picture to open the PDF file in the default app.


There you have it – ways and means to get the mighty PowerPoint working together with the equally mighty PDF – it’s like Avengers: Infinity War all over again. If your content’s super suit needs a little design polishing, this is a good place to start: How to create beautiful and effective academic posters in PowerPoint. If you have more PDF questions, add them in the comments below and we’ll get the team on it!


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Hannah Harper

Principal consultant

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