What is the difference between PowerPoint Templates, Themes, and Layouts?


Confused about the difference between PowerPoint Templates, Themes and Layouts? You’re not alone!  When writing the feature overview for our new Templates feature, we found Microsoft’s information about each to be confusing.  So, we have tried to explain it in the following three points (plus we’ve included a section with additional information for each below):

  • Themes consist of colors, fonts, effects and background styles 
  • Layouts are pre-designed formats which determine how information is displayed on a slide
  • Templates bring together a theme and slide layouts along with any additional customizations (e.g. your company logo saved as a background image etc) to create a foundation for your presentation 

Note – in our experience working with large organizations, the marketing team typically own the creation of the company endorsed templates.  However – they usually focus on ensuring brand elements are appropriately covered (often including approved imagery and any endorsed fonts).   Quite often they haven’t given much consideration to layouts.  The result?  Most company templates have the marketing endorsed branding colors, logos and images but they are frustrating to actually use!  The good news is that you can easily update a template to make it more efficient.

What is a Theme in PowerPoint?

A theme gives your template it’s personality. The theme of your template determines:

  • The color palette it will use for the text, shapes and background
  • What type of font(s) are set as defaults
  • What effects and bullet style are set as defaults

When you create a new presentation, you can select a Microsoft pre-set theme from the ‘Design’ tab on the Standard PowerPoint ribbon.  If you’re working out of an existing template (e.g. if you’re working out of one of your existing company presentations that the marketing team created) then the template already has a theme defined for it.  If you want to give your presentation a more cohesive look, use the designated theme colors.

NOTE: Themes set default color, font, bullet styles but they do not prevent a user from adding other colors or fonts when using a template.

On the PPT Productivity ribbon you can see the theme font of your template in the Text group

At the top of the PPT Productivity Color Toolbar you will see your theme color palette (outlined in red below)

What are PowerPoint Layouts?

The Layout determines the default placement for content on the slide and it also indicates the type of content each layout is intended for. PowerPoint layouts are the slide layouts within a PowerPoint template that contain the formatting, positioning and placeholders for the content that appears on the slide. PowerPoint has standard slide layouts, but you can also modify these layouts, or create new layouts according to your requirements.

The standard PowerPoint Template comes with several default layouts. You can change the layout used on any given slide by clicking the Layout dropdown menu from the PPT Productivity ribbon and selecting the desired layout for your slide. Or visit the ‘Home’ tab to find the Layout menu.

Layout dropdown menu on PPT Productivity Tab
Layouts accessible from Home Tab

When creating or updating a template and selecting layouts, the layouts become ‘layout/ slide masters’.  The most important of these layout/ slide masters is the ‘Master Slide Layout’ or ‘Parent Slide’.  This is the first one that shows when you navigate to ‘View > Slide Master’.  This ‘Parent’ Slide cascades elements like page numbers or slide titles to the other layouts in its group. The subsequent layouts are known as the ‘Child Slides’. Any change you make to the first slide/ layout (‘Parent Slide’) will be replicated in the layouts below it (‘Child Masters’).

For example, if you add a logo to the ‘Parent’ master layout, it will appear on all the ‘Child’ layouts. To make unique changes to individual layouts, select that layout and adjust as needed. Changes made to Child layouts will only affect the individual layout.

Note – you do not need to create a layout for every slide format you intend to use.  Layouts are intended to save time by providing shortcuts for the more commonly used slide layouts (and enabling you to specify the layouts to be brand aligned). 

What is a PowerPoint Template?

A PowerPoint Template is the foundation of your presentation.  As part of creating a Template, you will need to include a theme and slide layouts (either by selecting default options or by customizing).

Templates are saved as .potx files.

If you are a PPT Productivity user, you can find all your Templates by clicking on the Template management icon in the File group on your top ribbon.

For a step-by-step guide to create your own Template see our post ‘Want to know how to create a custom template in PowerPoint?’

Hack your Template to Boost your Productivity

Templates are not always set up properly. If you address this by editing your .potx file, you can save yourself a lot of time.  Here are some of the typical problems we’ve seen and our suggestions to solve them:

  • The creator of a template often includes a duplication of the layouts as actual slides in the pack.  This means that when you open the template you need to delete all the slides before you can get to work.  Our suggestion – edit the .potx file to delete these slides, so you can always open an empty deck ready for action.
  • Templates are often set up to do annoying things like ‘shrink text size to fit’; or use a weird paragraph style format on indent.   Once again – open the .potx file, set the template to use the paragraph styles you prefer, and you’ll benefit every day you work on a deck!
  • Use a layout quite frequently that isn’t in the default?  Our Shape Library offers layout options to make it easy, but you can also edit the .potx file to include your preferences
  • Share the updated .potx with your team!  If you are frustrated that colleagues or team members are creating presentations with issues caused by the template, make the update to the .potx file and either arrange with IT for it to be updated in central deployment (if your template is centrally installed onto all machines) or simply email the updated .potx file to colleagues!

How do you open a PowerPoint Template to Edit it?

To edit your .potx file, you need to find the file (in windows explorer), right click and select ‘Open’.  If you open the .potx file by double clicking or from within PowerPoint, it will trigger ‘using’ the template instead and will create a new blank document based on the template.

In summary, a Template is a preset of a theme, layouts and typically custom logo/ branding inserted into the layouts which provide a visual foundation for your presentation.  Slide layouts propose formats for how to layout different types of information on a slide.  The Theme determines default colors and fonts which will be used when a user adds wording or shapes to the slides.

Generally, when people refer to a PowerPoint Template, they will be referring to a combination of the layout and the theme as these are the elements that make up a PowerPoint Template as a whole.

Learn how to create your own custom Template

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