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Shapes vs. Text Boxes vs. Placeholders (Microsoft PowerPoint)

What is the difference between ShapesText Boxes, and Placeholders in PowerPoint? And more importantly, what is the best way to use them to build your slides?

In this article, you will learn the best practices for working with these objects.

This is a direct response to the below question I received from Lindsay.

Is there an ideal text box configuration in PowerPoint question

As Shapes and Text Boxes are two of the most basic objects you will use in PowerPoint to create presentations, being able to use and format them effectively is vital.

Click play below to see my video response, or scroll down the page for more details.

[Watch] Shapes vs. Text Boxes vs. Placeholders

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PowerPoint Placeholders

Content Placeholders on a PowerPoint slide

PowerPoint Placeholders are different than Shapes and Text Boxes as they are inserted, edited and managed in the Slide Master View. You can identify them by the “Click to add title” or “Click to add text” prompt text.

Examples of the different objects you can insert into a placeholder including tables, charts, smartart 3D models, icons, videos, stock images, and pictures

You can also spot them by the icons displayed in their center, which allow you to insert:

  • Tables
  • Charts
  • SmartArt graphics
  • 3D Models
  • Pictures
  • Stock images
  • Videos
  • Icons

To get all of these options, you need to be using the latest version of Microsoft Office – Microsoft 365. To get a copy of it from the Microsoft store, click here.

The goal of placeholders is to create a standardized template that all of your slides follow. This makes creating professional and consistent looking slides faster and easier.

Different than Shapes and Text Boxes, Placeholders can only be inserted and globally formatted in the Slide Master view of PowerPoint. So, let us take a quick look.

To navigate to the Slide Master in PowerPoint, click the View tab and click the Slide Master command

To navigate to your Slide Master, simply click into the View tab and click on Slide Master.

On the left side of your screen, you’ll notice here that you have a Parent Slide and the Child Slide layouts. This is where you would normally see your slides in the Normal View of PowerPoint.

Parent Slide vs Child Slides on the PowerPoint Slide Master

While the Slide Master View is beyond the scope of this article (check out our article on creating a custom template here), here are some key points to keep in mind.

The Parent Slide is where you format the placeholders so that they are the same across all of your slides. This would include things like your Titles, Slide Numbers, Footers, etc.

The Child Slides are where you can make edits that will only be reflected on those individual slide layouts.

When designing your slide layouts, you can add any type of placeholder you want using the Insert Placeholder dropdown menu. The Content placeholder at the top is a catch-all, allowing you to insert any object you want. The other placeholders you see in the picture below, only allow for specific objects.

The different placeholders available in PowerPoint on your Slide Master

For example, if you add a Picture Placeholder to your slide, you will only be allowed to insert a picture into that placeholder when editing that slide. In the same way, you can insert a placeholder for a chart, a table, a SmartArt graphic etc.

In this way, you can you create your unique custom template to fit any presentation. While creating a custom template takes a lot of work, the time you invest is well worth it. That’s because, once you have one set up, it can save you and your team HUNDREDS of hours of effort building and editing slides.

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To learn step-by-step how to create a PowerPoint template from scratch, read our step-by-step guide here.

If you do not want to build your own custom template, but still want to use a professional one that works the way it is supposed to, read our recommended places to find one here.

Shapes vs. Text Boxes (Explained)

In contrast to PlaceholdersShapes and Text Boxes are mostly designed to be used in the Normal View in PowerPoint.

If you add a Shape or Text Box to the Slide Master, it will not be editable in the Normal View. Instead, it will just be a static element. However, if you insert one in the Normal View, you’ll be able to edit and format it normally.

Click the Insert tab, select Shapes and choose to insert a shape, line or text box

To insert a Shape or Text Box in PowerPoint, simply:

  1. Navigate to the Insert tab
  2. Open the Shapes dropdown menu
  3. Select a shape or a text box
  4. Draw the shape or text box on your slide

The main difference between a Shape and a Text Box is the default formatting that they start with.

The differences between a default shape and text box in Microsoft PowerPoint

By default, PowerPoint Text Boxes start with:

  • Vertical Alignment set to Top
  • Text set to Resize shape to fit text

By default, a PowerPoint Shape starts with:

  • Vertical Alignment set to Middle
  • Text set to Do not Autofit

Assuming you are using the rectangle shape, there is no other distinction between a Shape and a Text Box.

To change a PowerPoint shape into something else, select your shape, click the shape format tab, open the edit shape drop down, select change shape and choose the new shape

On top of that, as you can see in the picture above, you can easily change any Shape or Text Box into another shape if you:

  1. Select your shape or text box
  2. Select the Shape Format tab
  3. Open the Edit Shape dropdown menu
  4. Open the Change Shape options
  5. Choose a new shape
You can use this feature to not only convert shapes into other shapes (like ovals and triangles), but also to convert text boxes into shapes.

Setting your default Text Box formatting

The first thing to know about setting your default formatting, is that it can take absolutely ALL the formatting options available in PowerPoint.

So think through and apply all of the settings you want to set, including shape fill, shape outline, shape outline weight, font style, font size, interior margins, etc.

Right click your text box and select Set as Default Text Box

To default the formatting for your PowerPoint Text Boxes, simply:

  1. Apply your desired formatting to a Text Box
  2. Right-click your Text Box
  3. Select Set as Default Text Box

Besides setting your fill color, outline color, margins, etc., I also recommend the following two settings in the Format Shape dialog box:

  • Vertical Alignment Middle
  • Do not Autofit

Selecting Do not Autofit ensures that your text boxes will not resize to fit the text you type into them. This is extremely annoying and unnecessary, in my opinion.

To open the Format Shape dialog box to make these adjustments, simply right-click your Text Box and select Size and Position in the right-click menu. Then navigate find the Text Box options.

Keep in mind that setting your Text Box this way, effectively makes in just like a Shape, as discussed earlier.

Setting your default Shape formatting

Just like with your text boxes, it is wise to think through ALL of the formatting options you want to be applied to your shapes before setting your default formatting. That includes your interior margins, horizontal text alignment, vertical text alignment, bullet points, etc.

Right click your shape in PowerPoint and select set as default shape

To default the formatting of your PowerPoint Shapes, simply:

  1. Apply the desired formatting to a Shape
  2. Right-click your Shape
  3. Select Set as Default Shape

Keep in mind that the default formatting includes all of your shape options in PowerPoint. For example, if you set your default shape fill to blue, all of the shapes you insert will have that blue fill. That’s true for your triangles, ovals, trapezoids, etc., too.

When thinking of what formatting to set for your Shapes, consider what you have already set as your default Text Box formatting.

Instead of using the same exact formatting, consider mixing them up so you can use your Text Boxes one way, and your Shapes another.

Using the default formatting of a text box and a shape to quickly create a box in PowerPoint

For example, if you are creating lots of boxes, the Text Box formatting could be set to your title formatting, and your Shapes could be set to your content formatting.

Setting your default Line formatting

When setting the default formatting for your lines, I recommend only setting its outline color and outline weight.

Although you do have options for arrowheads and dashed lines, having these show up on a line by default tends to confuse people.

Most professionals do not know that in PowerPoint an arrow line is just a line with an arrow option added to it. So, if you set your default formatting for your lines to include arrowheads, it will throw most people off.

To set your line formatting as the default line formatting for your presentation, format your line, right-click it and select Set as Default Line in the menu

To set the default formatting for your PowerPoint Lines, simply:

  1. Apply your desired formatting to a Line
  2. Right-click your Line
  3. Select Set as Default Line

NOTE: The horizontal or vertical direction of your line is not set in the default formatting. After setting its formatting, you can still draw the line on your slide in any direction you like.

To force draw a straight line in PowerPoint hold Shift as you draw the line on your slide

If you did not already know, the secret to drawing a straight line in PowerPoint is to hold the Shift key as you draw it on your slide. To learn other PowerPoint shortcuts like this that will save you time, read our PowerPoint shortcuts guide here.

Three Default Formatting Questions (Answered)

The default formatting for your Shapes, Lines and Text Boxes is all set and managed in the Normal View in PowerPoint. Not the Slide Master View as you might expect.

Here are 3 common questions (what I call the three stallions of default formatting) you might have about setting the default formatting.

The three rules of defaulting your formatting in PowerPoint
  • Does changing the default formatting of my objects affect the formatting of all the objects in my presentation?

    No. Default formatting is only applied to new Shapes, Lines, and Text Boxes you insert into your presentation.

    Any objects that are already in your presentation will not be affected when you set a new default formatting style.

    You can use this to your advantage to set new default formatting to match whatever sections of your presentation you are working on.

  • Will changing the default formatting of my objects affect all of my other PowerPoint presentations?

    No. The default formatting for each presentation is unique to that presentation. Setting default formatting for your Shapes, Lines and Text Boxes (see steps below) has no effect on your other PowerPoint presentations.

    The only time it would affect another presentation is if you created a copy or duplicate of your presentation.

    If you are building a template for your team (and are therefore using the .potx file type), all of the default formatting will save and carry with it.

    To learn how to create a PowerPoint template for your team, read our guide here.

  • Can I set two different default formatting styles for an object?

    No. Your Shapes, Lines and Text Boxes can only have one default formatting at a time. If you want to use different formatting styles for the each section of your presentation, I recommend working on those sections separately, and re-setting the default formatting as you go.

Final Thoughts

Kudos to you for taking the time to understand the differences between Shapes, Text Boxes, and Placeholders in PowerPoint.

That might be more than you ever thought you wanted to know about these object classes! However, understanding how they work is a huge step forward in improving not only your PowerPoint skills but also the professionalism of your presentations.

When combined with the ability to default the formatting of your objects, this allows you to save a ton of time when building and editing your PowerPoint slides.

If you enjoyed this article and want to learn more about our website and discover other helpful resources, visit us here.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. dan

    thanks. So many people don’t realize that a shape can hold text, so create a text box and place it within a shape (no grouping, of course, that would be too easy), and then connect lines with the text box, or the shape, can’t align easily, select only the one and not the other, etc., etc.

    1. Camille Holden

      Absolutely, Dan! It just creates an extra object to have to manage. We like to keep things simple, so we almost always directly type text into a shape. There are a few exceptions, such as with odd shapes… but those almost never come up. Thanks for the comment!

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