I hear a lot of complaints about problems with converting PowerPoint files to PDF.

One of the most common complaints is about fonts not converting properly. This is generally due to using variable fonts in PowerPoint. I strongly encourage you to read Julie Terberg’s whitepaper Choosing Fonts for PowerPoint Templates to learn more about which fonts are safer to use in your PowerPoint files and templates.

Another issue is links not working. There are a lot of different types of links you can create in PowerPoint — hyperlinks on text (which creates underlined text), hyperlinks on shapes and text boxes (which does not create underlines), action buttons (added from the Shapes gallery), and a variety of others. Some of these will work when converting to PDF, and some won’t. Which work and which don’t will depend on how you’re creating the PDF.

Unfortunately, there’s no one conversion method that will display your variable fonts correctly and maintain all the hyperlinks. (Which is one of the biggest reasons to avoid using variable fonts in your PowerPoint templates. Because users will sometimes need to create PDFs, and users will sometimes have hyperlinks.) If you need all the things, you may want to use a method that keeps the variable fonts intact and then add the hyperlinks separately in Acrobat or another PDF-creation app. As you can see in the grids below, if you need variable fonts to display properly in the PDF, on Windows you can use File > Print > Microsoft print to PDF, and On Mac, you can choose the best for printing option.

A third issue I often hear is bloated file size. This seems to be a complaint especially on Mac, but I think it really depends on what’s in your file and how you’re creating the PDF. (Trying to do a little more investigation into that soon.)

So, as I was testing various font and link things, I started looking at file size as well. I created about 15 one-slide files with an image, the same image with an artistic effect applied, the image with brightness/contrast, the image with transparency, a gradient shape, a semitransparent shape, a  semitransparent gradient shape, a bunch of things. I then created PDFs in a variety of ways on both Windows and Mac. You can see the results below.

What you will probably notice is that some of the methods are (probably) identical. On Windows, File > Export > Create PDF/XPS and File > Save As > PDF give you the exact same file size specs across the board. But File > Save As > PDF keeps the action button links intact, so if those are important to you, then that’s probably going to be your conversion method of choice (as long as you’re not trying to use variable fonts that is!).

On Mac, File > Export > PDF > Best for electronic distribution (which is the default PDF quality option) seems to be identical to File > Save as PDF > Best for electronic distribution in both the file size area and in which links are maintained. Same goes for File > Export > PDF > Best for printing and File > Save As > PDF > Best for printing — these seem to be identical methods for converting, at least as far as file size, fonts, and links are concerned. File > Print > PDF > Save as PDF seems to be almost identical to using the best for printing methods, but file size is slightly different in a couple of places.

As an aside, something I usually suggested in the recent past for converting PDFs on Mac was to upload the file to OneDrive and then use the File > Save As > Download as PDF. This would force PowerPoint to use the native PowerPoint PDF capability (rather than the Mac OS PDF tools) to help keep links intact — and I think it probably helped sometimes with file size, too. It looks like Microsoft has recently made changes to the PDF save and export tools on Mac, though, which is definitely more convenient than uploading a file to OneDrive and then downloading a PDF. So maybe give those a shot and see how they do.

July 10, 2024