I've written many times in the past on how the quality and formatting of your work can separate you from the rest of the pack when creating presentations. Our cultural is becoming more and more focused on graphic design and it has been proven to increase your audience's ability to understand the data you are presenting.
As a financial analyst, I spend quite a bit of time preparing presentations for executives and board of directors and I don't want to send them slides with charts that are hard to read because they are too blurry. If you have ever copied an Excel object over to PowerPoint as an image you probably noticed that Microsoft offers you a ton of formats to pick from in the Paste Special dialog box.
All these choices can be confusing and maybe a little bit frightening! What's the difference between all these formats and are there certain situations where I would want to pick one over the other? Well, those two questions are what I intend to answer for you in the post. Let's first get acquainted with what some of these image types are.
Breakdown Of The Most Common Types
JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group)
This format is best for realistic images that blend and have shadows (ie a picture you took with your camera). JPEG supports 24-bit colors and the level of compression can be increased or decreased depending on the capabilities of the software you are using. Transparent backgrounds are not supported by this format and any transparency is typically converted to the color white.
GIF (Graphics Interchange Format)
This is an old school format and is best to use with images that have just a few colors with no color fades (blending). Simple cartoons and icons are good examples of images that would be better off saved as a GIF instead of a JPEG. This format is typically not used anymore unless you are wanting an animated image (aka animated GIF) or are needing the format for compatibility reasons with old software.
PNG (Portable Network Graphic)
Pronounced "ping", this format was a spin-off of the GIF format. This file type can contain thousands of colors and has a better compression algorithm than a GIF. Portable Network Graphics also allow for a transparent background, making this format great for icons.
This file format can take up a lot of memory and disk space, but is exactly as you see on the screen. If file size is not an issue and you want great on-screen quality, this would be the file type you would want to go with.
WMF (Windows Metafile)
This file format was created to work with Microsoft Windows and works well with MS Office. It supports 16-bit color but was left to the wind when Microsoft created the 32-bit color format called Enhanced Metafile.
EMF (Enhanced Metafile)
This is the new and improved version of the WMF format as it supports 32-bit color. Microsoft says this format is better than Bitmap for printing to high-quality printers, but the on-screen image will appear slightly modified. Enhanced Metafiles have a smaller file size and MS Office can redraw (process) it faster when comparing with a Windows Metafile image.
Microsoft Office Drawing Object
This format was exclusively made for Microsoft Office as it inserts the contents of the Clipboard as an Office object that can be edited and reformatted as if you had created it yourself.
So Which One Should I Use?
I've done quite a bit of testing in Excel and PowerPoint to see which Paste Special format I should be using to create my presentations. Below are my recommendations. Please note that my testing was only for on-screen quality. Microsoft claims that the Enhanced Metafile format will give you the highest quality while printing to paper.
Ranges, Tables, & Pivot Tables
While copying over ranges into PowerPoint, you are much more limited in the paste special types. Because of this, I only tested the Enhanced Metafile and Bitmap formats. The Enhanced Metafile format had a much better image quality than the Bitmap on-screen.
Charts and Charts Grouped With Shapes
Charts are probably the main Excel objects that you might be pasting over into a PowerPoint presentation. Through my testing, the PNG and Bitmap file formats had a much higher quality than the Enhanced Metafile. I would recommend using the PNG format due to its transparent background.
Shapes, Text boxes, & Grouped Shapes
When you paste any form of shape (including text boxes) into PowerPoint, the Enhanced Metafile beats out all the rest and it has a transparent background so it is the clear winner!
Here's What You Need To Know
In summation, I would recommend using the PNG format for anything with charts in them and Enhanced Metafiles for everything else. I performed my tests using Windows 8.1 and Office 2013, so I don't know if different version combinations have different results. But nevertheless, I found the results very interesting! Let me know in the comments below how you typically paste your Excel data into PowerPoint and if this article will change your process going forward.
If you want an in-depth overview of the various image file formats, you can check out Microsoft's guidelines for selecting the appropriate picture format in an Office program.