Pro tip: Create a silhouette using PowerPoint tools

When you need a representation rather than the real deal, try this easy technique for creating a silhouette in PowerPoint.

A silhouette is an artistic method of rendering an outline of a person or object. Instead of using shading and colors, the object or person is a single dark color, usually black, on a light background, as shown in Figure A. You can clearly tell what the object is — but it's only a representation of the original. By representing the person or object, you can make a point without being too specific. In this article, I'll show you how to create a silhouette in PowerPoint.

Figure A

Figure A

A silhouette in PowerPoint.

This technique uses the Remove Background tool, which isn't in PowerPoint 2003. For that reason, I haven't included instructions for PowerPoint 2003.

Insert the picture

First, you'll need a picture. Most any picture will do, but you can make this task much simpler by starting with the right kind of picture:

  • Choose a picture with clear outlines.
  • Choose a picture with a simple background or as little background as possible.

You'll see in Figure B that I broke both of these rules yet still managed to create a recognizable representation. If you have the time, you can create a picture for this purpose by posing the person or object and eliminating background distractions.

You can insert your picture as follows:

  1. Select a blank slide and click the Insert tab.
  2. Choose Picture from the Images group.
  3. In the resulting dialog box, locate the picture file and double-click it or select it and click Insert.

Figure B shows the example picture in PowerPoint. Now you're ready to delete everything but the owl.

Figure B

Figure B

The example picture in PowerPoint.

Remove the background

You'll use PowerPoint's Remove Background tool to remove everything but the object you want to use in your silhouette. Depending on the picture you began with, this process might take some patience, especially if you've never used the tool before.

This tool is on the contextual Format tab in the Adjust group. Simply click it to get started. PowerPoint does its best to determine the background. The pink shading in Figure C shows the tool's first effort.

Figure C

Figure C

PowerPoint's Remove Background tool.

To start, move the selection handles until they're as close to the object as possible, without chopping off part of the object. As you change these boundaries, the tool will update the pink portions. If moving a boundary removes part of the object, set it back. Removing the extraneous background is easier than reclaiming part of the object — usually. Experience is the key to getting the most out of this tool, so don't let it frustrate you. Keep at it!

Figure D shows the reduced image I worked with. If I moved the boundaries any closer, I lost part of the owl's wings and feet. The next step is to reverse the tool's efforts where you need to by clicking areas marked to delete what you want to keep and vice versa.

Figure D

Figure D

The reduced image.

To keep an area, click Mark Areas To Keep in the Refine group. Then, click pink areas that you want to retain. To delete an area, click Mark Areas To Remove and then click those areas. As you click, the tool will update the display. You can press [Ctrl]+Z at any time to reset your last point. Figure E shows a lot of remove marks and a few keep marks. I had to reclaim some of her feathers and my hand when a deletion removed sections I hadn't intended to delete.

Figure E

Figure E

Remove marks and a few keep marks.

Now, you're ready to delete the unnecessary portions of the picture by clicking Keep Changes. If you don't like the results, press [Ctrl]+Z. I had to do so to reclaim her right pupil, but soon I had the object shown in Figure F.

Figure F

Figure F

Delete the unnecessary portions of the picture.

The silhouette touch — making it black

The last step, turning the object black, is simple. Right-click the picture and choose Format Picture. In the resulting dialog, set the Brightness setting to -100, as shown in Figure G. The finished silhouette is shown at the beginning of this article.

Figure G

Figure G

Set the Brightness setting to -100.

Picking the right picture is key to implementing this technique without head banging or tears. If you're working too hard, try a new picture. In addition, experience with the Remove Background tool will definitely help. If you're new to the tool, be patient with yourself.

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Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

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