There is a lot of confusing, incomplete, and often misleading information out there about choosing fonts in PowerPoint. Specifically, which fonts are considered safe to use when sharing files. Safe fonts are those that are common to most users and therefore will not be substituted when your PowerPoint file is opened with an operating system or Microsoft Office version that is different from your own. This is critical information for those who build templates, especially when the templates and presentations created with them will be shared around the world.
To be clear, you can choose other fonts for a template or presentation. You can instruct others to download fonts and install them on their system before opening or editing a file. Some fonts can be embedded and the latest versions of PowerPoint for Mac can recognize some fonts that were embedded on a Windows device. Each of these methods has caveats, though. First, many fonts cannot be embedded at all. Second, when sharing and viewing files with online storage sites like Dropbox, for instance, you have no ability to install fonts and embedded fonts will be substituted. Third, if your template will be distributed company-wide, can you be certain that everyone will embed fonts before sharing presentations? And finally, If you share files with clients, do you expect them to install fonts before opening a PPTX file?
In the book I co-authored with Echo Swinford, Building PowerPoint Templates: Step by Step with the Experts, we included a list of 44 fonts that were common to most systems. This list is often referred to as the “safe fonts” list. The book was first published in 2012. Since then, Microsoft has released a few versions of Office, including more robust versions for mobile and web. The Mac version of PowerPoint has been completely updated and is almost equivalent to the Windows version. If you have a subscription to Office 365, you may see new features popping up often, especially if you’ve opted into the Office Insider program. Along with new features, you’ll notice some new fonts (!) showing up while a few odd fonts on the original “safe fonts” list have disappeared.
The story is changing and any hope of a definitive list of safe fonts is futile. At least for now. Even the information on the Microsoft typography website is outdated. I’ll stay on top of this important issue and release updated information as I can. Echo and I are also working on updates to the templates book and will include new information on fonts as well.
For now, here’s a list of fonts to stick with when you don’t want to risk substitution. Choose from this list when building templates and presentations that will be shared with a wide range of people and devices. Note: I’ve omitted many fonts from the original safe fonts list, including obvious display fonts and others that are impractical for theme fonts. I’ve also omitted fonts that are no longer installed with newer versions of Windows or Office. Be aware that some fonts (noted below) have non-lining figures or numerals that vary in height and alignment. These figures do not work well for chart labels or data tables, so it’s best to avoid them as body font choices.