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!)