11 November 2010

Slash and squeeze

You’re using PowerPoint to lay out your poster, and you want to include this picture:

You open up PowerPoint 2010, select “Picture with caption” as the layout style, click to import the picture, and you get this:

Once again, PowerPoint is trying to help – just in an incompetent way. It recognizes that the proportions of the picture you want to use are different from the rectangle you’re trying to drop it in to, so it makes a decision that the best thing to do is to make the picture as big as possible, and crop whatever doesn’t fit.

The result is as good as you might expect from a machine blindly following a rule: not satisfactory.

Luckily, one of the improvements in PowerPoint 2010 is that there is a toggle to switch from cropping a picture to scaling a picture. Under “Picture tools: Format,” look for “Crop,” then drop down to select “Fit” rather than fill.

More insidious and common than cropping is squishing. I have lost count of the number of times I have seen distorted pictures in presentations and posters made with PowerPoint.

In PowerPoint 2003, pasting a picture into a box would cause PowerPoint to try to fit the picture into the space by matching the proportions, with results like you see above. PowerPoint 2010 seems to have fixed this problem.

Even so, I still see distorted pictures, presumably from people carelessly resizing pictures. (Use the corner handles when resizing, not the top and side ones!) I wonder if people get so used to distorted pictures that they don’t even realize they are distorted. I think people don’t know how to fix them.

To check that you have the correct proportions, and to correct them if you don’t, right click the picture, and go to “Format picture.”

Then, click on the “Size” tab and look for those height and width percentages. They should be the same. If they are not, first deselect “Lock aspect ratio.” Then, make the larger of the height and width ratios equal the smaller of the two values.

The order you do this matters! It won’t work right if you change the percentages, then removed the “Lock aspect ratio” box.

If you do it correctly, the picture is in the correct proportion. You can then position it to wherever you want on the slide.

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