picture placeholders vs content placeholders

Categories: Content Placeholders, Editing and Formatting, Graphics in PowerPoint, Images in PowerPoint, Picture Placeholders, PowerPoint 2013, PPT 2007, PPT 2010, PPT 2013, and Tutorials.

I recently saw one of the most poorly built templates I’ve ever run across. It was created for a company in an industry where photographs of products and services are extremely important. The template had a lot of problems, but probably the worst was the builder didn’t understand the difference between content and picture placeholders. Because of this, the layouts in the template didn’t help users create compelling slides at all. What it did create was confusion, stumbling blocks and time sucks for the users as they wasted time sizing pictures so they would size and align properly.

This goes right back to my value proposition: If you lose 10 minutes per day because of a busted template, over the course of a year you’ve lost a week. Now multiply that by everyone in your organization. Where’s the ROI in that?

So let’s talk about the difference between content placeholders and picture placeholders.

Content placeholders are pre-formatted areas where you can place 6 different types of content: text, tables, charts, SmartArt, pictures, clipart or video. (In PowerPoint 2013, instead of pictures and clipart, you have options for pictures on your system and online pictures.) A Content placeholder is the type of placeholder you see on the typical Title and Content layout.

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When you click the Picture icon in this placeholder, PowerPoint fills the height or width of the placeholder with the entire picture. If you’re using a very vertical image and your content placeholder is very horizontal, your picture will be very small. Like this, for example:

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But the whole picture will be there. PowerPoint won’t crop it or anything like that.

Now, a Picture placeholder works differently. You can see Picture placeholders in action in the Picture with Caption layout. This placeholder has only one icon. It’s used only to insert images and is useless for other types of content.

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In this particular Picture with Caption layout the Picture placeholder is pretty square. If you click that icon and insert a picture, you will see that PowerPoint fills the space with the picture – even if it must crop the picture to do so. Like this:

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You can click the Crop button and resize or move your picture around in the placeholder. If you need specific instructions, check out the sneaky little cropping refinements in this blog post.

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Let’s create at a side-by-side comparison of the content placeholder and the picture placeholder. Here’s how:

  1. Go to View | Slide Master and choose Insert Layout to create a new custom layout. Right-click the layout thumbnail and rename the layout something like Content and Picture.
  2. Click Insert Placeholder button on the Slide Master tab of the Ribbon and choose Content. Click and drag on the slide to create the Content placeholder.
  3. Click Insert Placeholder again. This time choose Picture. Click and drag on the slide to create the Picture placeholder.
  4. Size and position the two placeholders side-by-side. (I made mine square.)
  5. Close Slide Master View. Back in Normal Editing View, choose New Slide on the Home tab and click the layout you just created. You should see something kind of like this.

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  1. Click the Picture icon in each placeholder and insert the same picture in both. Depending on your picture, you may or may not see a whole lot of difference. But remember – the Picture placeholder fills the placeholder space with your picture, cropping it if necessary, and the Content placeholder inserts the entire picture. I guess you could say the Picture placeholder is all about the space on the slide and the Content placeholder is all about including the whole image.

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Picture placeholders are the way to go if you want your users to create full-screen image slides, for example. Make the Picture placeholder the same size as the slide and the image will fill the space. Or if you want to create a photo tile layout such as this one, definitely use Picture placeholders.

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Otherwise, with Content placeholders, your picture tile will look like this.

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(Thanks Julie Terberg for letting me use your awesome pictures!)


  1. Echo, great post and very clear. In situations where I’m putting one image on a slide in a one-off way and I don’t want PowerPoint to fiddle with it at all, I avoid putting the image in a placeholder altogether. But as you said, when you need to use images in a consistent way, such as for creating a product catalog, you need to pay attention to the difference between content and picture placeholders and choose the one you need.

  2. Echo Swinford

    Yup, that’s a great point, Ellen, and a very helpful blog post. If you don’t want PowerPoint messing with your picture at all, use a Title Only layout.

  3. Ahmad

    Thanks – it’s a very clear set of instructions for someone like me who has been struggling to make sense of this side of PowerPoint for sometime.

  4. Fraser

    Very useful information, thanks. I have a question about content placeholders. I’m using one to insert a list of data from an excel spreadsheet for presentation purposes. The list can vary in length and when I paste it into the placeholder, PowerPoint always centres it vertically on the slide. Is there any way to make it automatically align to the top of the placeholder box? I can always edit the position after pasting, but as I do this regularly I was hoping there’d be some setting to change the vertical alignment from centre to top

  5. Echo Swinford

    Hi, Fraser. I’m not aware of any way to force that to the top of the placeholder. But what exactly are you pasting and how?

  6. Fraser

    Hi Echo. I have a pivot table in Excel that looks up data from another source. The table is a list of tasks and dates they are due, but it gets constantly updated and can get longer or shorter. For presentation purposes, I copy the table from Excel (highlight and copy the cells I want) and paste them into a PowerPoint presentation. I have a normal content placeholder on my PowerPoint slide and I simply right-click and paste the selected cells into the placeholder as a picture (other options distort the format). This works for horizontal alignment, but vertically it is always aligned centrally on the slide. I would rather that it vertically aligned to the top of the placeholder. As I mentioned, I can change this afterwards by editing the position but it would be better if it happened automatically

  7. Echo Swinford

    Ah, gotcha. Thanks for clarifying. Yup, there’s no way to make that default to top that I’m aware.

  8. Fraser

    Oh well, worth asking anyway. Regardless, your info on when to use picture rather than content placeholders was very helpful

  9. P- newbie since a decade

    Great stuff thanks! I found this out the hard way but i want to highlight a walkaround of sorts. Depending on picture source quality, one can keep using content placeholders and activate crop and resize the picture and not the placeholder. Holding down shift to keep ratio. Note : Picture can only be moved by mouse and not using arrows for fine adjustments, so it is not perfect but it does help but it is not a complete solution to the way powerpoint handles pictures.

  10. Linda

    I used picture placeholders for the first time yesterday and I was thrilled with them, it was so much quicker to insert photographs and not have to resize them, and also have them the same size image on different slides. Some of them had be cropped slightly but most did not. However, I went back into my powerpoint today and all the placeholder slides have messed up! Instead of 4 neatly arranged images, they are showing 1 big image! By right clicking the slide and clicking layout and selecting my slide format then I can get all my images back but as soon as I exit and go back in the slides are messed up again! Can anyone help??


  1. […] Part of the reason for the constant resizing has to do with how PowerPoint handles images in content placeholders. Fellow PowerPoint MVP, Echo Swinford, explains this masterfully in her post, “Picture placeholders vs. content placeholders.” […]

  2. […] Echo wrote a post on it that you can find here. […]

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