Understanding placeholders

Intuitively, a placeholder is a pre-formatted container into which content can be placed. By providing pre-set formatting to its content, it places many of the formatting choices in the hands of the template designer while allowing the end-user to concentrate on the actual content. This speeds the presentation development process while encouraging visual consistency in slides created from the same template.

While their typical end-user behaviors are relatively simple, the structures that support their operation are more complex. This page is for those who want to better understand the architecture of the placeholder subsystem and perhaps be less prone to confusion at its sometimes puzzling behavior. If you don’t care why they work and just want to know how to work with them, you may want to skip forward to the following page Working with placeholders.

A placeholder is a shape

Placeholders are an orthogonal category of shape, which is to say multiple shape types can be placeholders. In particular, the auto shape (p:sp element), picture (p:pic element), and graphic frame (p:graphicFrame) shape types can be a placeholder. The group shape (p:grpSp), connector (p:cxnSp), and content part (p:contentPart) shapes cannot be a placeholder. A graphic frame placeholder can contain a table, a chart, or SmartArt.

Placeholder types

There are 18 types of placeholder.

Title, Center Title, Subtitle, Body
These placeholders typically appear on a conventional “word chart” containing text only, often organized as a title and a series of bullet points. All of these placeholders can accept text only.
This multi-purpose placeholder is the most commonly used for the body of a slide. When unpopulated, it displays 6 buttons to allow insertion of a table, a chart, SmartArt, a picture, clip art, or a media clip.
Picture, Clip Art
These both allow insertion of an image. The insert button on a clip art placeholder brings up the clip art gallery rather than an image file chooser, but otherwise these behave the same.
Chart, Table, Smart Art
These three allow the respective type of rich graphical content to be inserted.
Media Clip
Allows a video or sound recording to be inserted.
Date, Footer, Slide Number
These three appear on most slide masters and slide layouts, but do not behave as most users would expect. These also commonly appear on the Notes Master and Handout Master.
Only valid on the Notes Master and Handout Master.
Vertical Body, Vertical Object, Vertical Title
Used with vertically oriented languages such as Japanese.

Unpopulated vs. populated

A placeholder on a slide can be empty or filled. This is most evident with a picture placeholder. When unpopulated, a placeholder displays customizable prompt text. A rich content placeholder will also display one or more content insertion buttons when empty.

A text-only placeholder enters “populated” mode when the first character of text is entered and returns to “unpopulated” mode when the last character of text is removed. A rich-content placeholder enters populated mode when content such as a picture is inserted and returns to unpopulated mode when that content is deleted. In order to delete a populated placeholder, the shape must be deleted twice. The first delete removes the content and restores the placeholder to unpopulated mode. An additional delete will remove the placeholder itself. A deleted placeholder can be restored by reapplying the layout.

Placholders inherit

A placeholder appearing on a slide is only part of the overall placeholder mechanism. Placeholder behavior requires three different categories of placeholder shape; those that exist on a slide master, those on a slide layout, and those that ultimately appear on a slide in a presentation.

These three categories of placeholder participate in a property inheritance hierarchy, either as an inheritor, an inheritee, or both. Placeholder shapes on masters are inheritees only. Conversely placeholder shapes on slides are inheritors only. Placeholders on slide layouts are both, a possible inheritor from a slide master placeholder and an inheritee to placeholders on slides linked to that layout.

A layout inherits from its master differently than a slide inherits from its layout. A layout placeholder inherits from the master placeholder sharing the same type. A slide placeholder inherits from the layout placeholder having the same idx value.

In general, all formatting properties are inherited from the “parent” placeholder. This includes position and size as well as fill, line, and font. Any directly applied formatting overrides the corresponding inherited value. Directly applied formatting can be removed be reapplying the layout.


placeholder shape
A shape on a slide that inherits from a layout placeholder.
layout placeholder
a shorthand name for the placeholder shape on the slide layout from which a particular placeholder on a slide inherits shape properties
master placeholder
the placeholder shape on the slide master which a layout placeholder inherits from, if any.