Typography for Presentations – Basics II

This the second in a series of posts on text in presentations. Emphasis, text effects and kerning and spacing are covered.


Sometimes you will want to emphasize or highlight a word or phrase to make the point of the text clear, even at a glance.I often highlight key words in quotes or testimonials; since these are usually concocted for print (e.g., press releases), they are too texty for presentations. Unfortunately, it’s bad form to edit quotes too severely.

Traditionally, boldface or underlining has been used for emphasis.

Underlining is for typewriters – it reduces legibility and there are better options for emphasis.

I usually don’t like PowerPoint “bold.”  I think this may be because boldface is generated in Office products by simply thickening the strokes of the original font. Use a “black” or “heavy” version of the font rather than the bold function since these fonts have been specifically designed as boldface.

I often use a larger font size, maybe bolded or upper case, for emphasis.  I find this more effective and attractive than boldface alone. This comparison (from here) demonstrates the effect:

Text color is also a tool for emphasis – but make sure you recognize the need for contrast with the background and the emotional aspects of color (e.g., red for danger).

Pay attention to ads and commercials for examples of text emphasis.

Other Font Effects

Additional effects are provided that modify the appearance of individual characters in text; here is a list with comments on usage.

Font style (regular, italic, bold, bold italic)

I discussed “bold” above.  I do use italic occasionally when a little variety is called for.  It’s more subtle than bold and other emphasis techniques.

Like bold, an italic version of a font is sometimes available that is better looking than Office-generated italic.

Underline, underline style

Not used, even with 16 goofy variations.

Strikethrough, double strikethrough


Superscript, subscript

Used for exponent, “nth,” trademark symbol, registration mark, etc.  Sometimes automatic.

All caps

Used for emphasis; this sets a property of the text, rather than performing a one-time conversion (see Case conversion below)

Small caps


Equalize character height


Case conversion (sentence case, lower case, upper case, capitalize each word, toggle case)

These functions are one-time conversions.  “Capitalize each word” creates a format (sometimes called “title case”) that is distracting and unnecessary in presentations; “toggle case” is useless.  The others are moderately convenient.

Text Effects

You can apply shape effects to text, including fill, outline color and style, shadow, “3D” format and rotation. I will cover “augmented text” in another post.

Using “cool” effects to change the appearance of text, especially to something like a 3d rainbow, does not usually contribute to the meaning and clarity of the text, and can obscure it.

However, a shadow effect can be used to increase legibility of text against a busy, multi-color background; here’s an example:

A much better plan would be to select a simpler background or one that has a large monochromatic area for text.

Spacing and Kerning

The space between characters in text (“tracking”) can be adjusted in PowerPoint.

Altering the space between characters is useful in presentations only if text must be fit into a small space (preferable to reducing the text size); this is sometimes an issue when text is used in shapes.  This is the subject of a later post.

“Kerning” reduces the apparent space by slightly overlapping certain characters.  This is an issue in dense blocks of text, where these optical “white spots” can be distracting.  This is not usually a problem in presentations; however, kerning for all but tiny text sizes is the default.  Here’s an example (note that the pair “Eo” is not kerned).

The next post in this series will discuss text layout in presentations.




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