PowerPoint 2013: Templates and the Start Screen


As mentioned yesterday, the PowerPoint 2013 Start Screen has a search box that allows users to search thousands of templates and themes at office.com.  In this post I will describe how to create presentations from templates, how to pin templates to the Start Screen for later use, how to recognize and convert presentations to the new default 16:9 screen aspect ratio, and how to delete unwanted templates from your file system and get them to disappear from your start screen (not the same thing).

Themes, Layouts and Templates

First, let’s review some basic PowerPoint terminology.  Templates used to play a much more dominant role in PowerPoint than they do now, their design components being superseded by PowerPoint themes.

If you will recall, a PowerPoint theme is a set of design components for a presentation.  Themes include sets of coordinated colors, designed for specific uses in the presentation, a font set, with title and body fonts specified, object effects (things like drop-shadows, edges, 3D effects, graphics settings applied to objects like shapes and SmartArt), and background elements, involving a background color (or more commonly a gradient) and various pieces of background art work.  With PowerPoint 2013 each built-in theme comes with several variants, usually four, but in some cases more.  The themes that load on your Start Screen can be found in the Computer[Local Disk][Users][UserName]AppDataRoamingMicrosoftTemplates folder.  (The names in square brackets in the preceding path are variable.  Also be aware that the AppData folder is by default a hidden file and will have to be unhidden in Windows Explorer before you can see these files).  Theme files have a .thmx file extension

Themes, in short, provide all the design parameters for your PowerPoint presentation.  You can individually modify any of a theme’s settings, using tools on the Design tab, and if you want to re-use your modifications you can save your own custom themes for future use.

Theme Tools

Location of theme modification tools on the Design tab

When you create a presentation based on a theme, the theme provides design elements to a set of PowerPoint layouts (the ones you see in the View > Slide Master view), which in turn provide the spatial relationships and other content details (font sizes and spacing, bullet styles, place holder locations) for your actual content.

Templates, on the other hand, are pre-created slides that are based on a theme—usually a custom theme with it’s own background art work—with a set of layouts (sometimes very customized layouts), and usually with objects or effects built-in to a set of slides that you can use to plug-in your own content.  Think of themes and standard layouts as the standard canvas which you can use to create any sort of presentation, and a template as something pre-made that you can modify with a very specific type of presentation in mind.

With that long winded discussion out of the way, let me illustrate how to find and use templates from office.com in PowerPoint 2013.

The Template Search Box

Let’s say I want to create a presentation on monetary policy.  I start PowerPoint and from the Start Screen do I type “monetary policy” in the search box?  No, it is much too specific a term.  The search box and indexing of the consequent images at office.com seems to be geared primarily to the home user, so simpler, less specific search terms are better (ocean instead of oceanography, heart instead of cardiology, etc.).

template search box
Shortened template search box

A New Default Presentation Aspect Ratio

The illustration below shows partial search results.  Note that there are two types of templates:  those with a 4:3 aspect ratio (sometimes called “full screen”), and those with a 16:9 aspect ratio (often called “widescreen”).  You need to be aware that the new default aspect ratio in PowerPoint 2013 is 16:9 widescreen.  Therefore, if you intend to display your presentation on a wide-screen monitor or projector, 16:9 is the choice you should make, if on a standard (or “full”) screen projector or monitor, 4:3.  It is easy to convert any of the templates within PowerPoint to the other aspect ratio, but in some cases, depending on the type of art work included, the results may be misplaced or distorted.  If you stick with the themes that come with PowerPoint 2013, they are designed to be resized to either format.

Aspect Ratio

(Note:  If you do need to convert a presentation from one aspect ratio to the other, you will find the Slide Size tool on the Design tab).

By clicking the thumbnail for the template in the search results box, you will see a preview panel, just like the one on the PowerPoint Start Screen.  I can page some sample slides to see how the various layout options will look.  If you decide to use the template, click the Create button.

Template Preview Panel

Pinning the Template to Your Start Screen

The template will download and the presentation will open, with all of the templates slides available to you in Normal edit mode.  Furthermore, a thumbnail of the template will appear on your Start Screen.  If this is a template you will be using often, then hover your mouse over its thumbnail on the Start Screen and “pin” it, so that it will remain among the top items on the Start Screen.

Pinned Template

Note that templates have the .potx file extention, but are also stored in the same location (unless you specify an different one) as your default themes.

If you find several templates you may want to use at office.com, you can, from the search results screen, pin them to your Start Screen, where you will see their thumbnails, but they will not actually be downloaded until you create a presentation based on that template.  Just click the push pin from the search results screen to pin it to the Start Screen.

 Deleting Unwanted Downloaded Templates

If you have created a presentation based upon an office.com template you will find the .potx file in the same location as your default themes.  You can delete it, using the Windows Explorer, from there.  If you have deleted a template in this manner, you may be surprised to see its thumbnail still appear the next time you start PowerPoint.  The way to get rid of this thumbnail is to pin it and then unpin it to the start screen, close PowerPoint, and open it again.  It will be gone.  Since it is being read from a cache rather than a scan of its file location it is only apparently still there.  It would be nice if there were more theme and template management tools from the Start Screen, but perhaps those will be included in a future version of PowerPoint.

 Saving a Theme from a Template

If you especially like the theme that a particular template uses, but don’t really have a use for the entire template itself, you can create a presentation based on the template, go to the themes gallery on the Design tab, click the themes gallery drop-down, and choose Save Current Theme…   It will become a custom theme and will continue to appear in the theme gallery after you have deleted the template.  It’s .thmx file will be found in the Computer[Local Disk][Users][UserName]AppDataRoamingMicrosoftTemplatesDocument Themes folder.

Save Current Theme

Here is a brief video that covers some of these concepts.