Five tips for adding splashy art to your PowerPoint presentations

Presentations are often dull and predictable, but they don't have to be. With a few simple tricks, you can turn photos, graphics -- even clip art -- into stylish artistic elements.

If you think PowerPoint is just for charts and bullets, you should think again. PowerPoint has a number of features (some new) that will set your artistic side free. The following tips introduce a few simpler possibilities. You don't need to be a PowerPoint expert or an artist. You just need a little time to experiment.

1: Ungroup clip art files to change colors

You might think clip art is a take-it-or-leave-it element, but that's not correct. Figure A shows a before and after set. I ungrouped the graphic elements (vector objects), changed the line color to orange, and increased the line size.

Figure A

You can outline each vector object to add a new dimension to an otherwise ordinary piece of clip art.
To ungroup vector objects, select the entire image, click the Arrange drop-down (in the Drawing group on the Home tab), and choose Ungroup. In PowerPoint 2003, right-click the Picture and choose Edit Picture. Right-click again and choose Grouping and then Ungroup. If you receive a message about the file not being a group, click OK and repeat the Ungroup selection. PowerPoint selects the individual vector objects, as shown in Figure B. Right-click the image, choose Format Object ,and alter the line color and style. It's an interesting change for so little work!

Figure B

Ungroup the vector objects to select them individually.

2: Apply artistic effects

Some astounding artistic effects require almost no work at all. Start by inserting a photograph and then just experiment. I started with the photo on the left in Figure C. With just a few clicks, I turned it into the picture on the right by choosing Glow Edges. It's extreme, but there are more subtle choices. The artistic effects are in the Adjust group on the Format tab. (This feature isn't available in PowerPoint 2003.)

Figure C

Turn an ordinary photograph into a work of art.

3: Soften edges to hide problems

Sometimes, a picture presents a problem. Figure D shows an old photograph that needs cropping. But instead of traditional cropping, I inserted the photo into an oval AutoShape and then softened the edges. Doing so masks the background without eliminating it. The auto and the edge of the house add character, and you'd lose that with a traditional crop.

Figure D

Soften edges to retain characteristics without allowing them to overpower the subject.

Right-click the filled AutoShape and choose Format Shape. Select Glow and Soft Edges in the left pane and set the Soft Edges Size setting to 75%. (This feature isn't available in PowerPoint 2003.)

4: Discard the background

In the last tip, I retained a picture's background while pulling focus to a centralized element. Sometimes, though, you'll want to discard the background as shown in Figure E. The process isn't always easy in PowerPoint, so start with a simple picture.

Figure E

Use PowerPoint's Remove Background tool to keep just the element you want.
Double-click a photo and then click the Remove Background tool in the Adjust group. PowerPoint will shade the background elements, as you can see in Figure F. Use the Mark Areas To Remove and the Mark Areas To Keep tools to remove and retain small areas. (This feature isn't available in PowerPoint 2003.)

Figure F

PowerPoint will discard everything in purple.

5: Move beyond the default

A few settings can quickly change the mood of a graphic or photo. Figure G and Figure H show just two possibilities for enhancing the slide produced in #2, and both are as easy as flipping a switch. Right-click the picture and choose Format Picture. Then, experiment with the Picture Corrections and Picture Color settings. You can always click Reset if you don't like the result.

Figure G

Setting the brightness to 60% makes things pop.

Figure H

Turning up the temperature produces warmer colors.


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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