How to create transparent text in PowerPoint 2016

PowerPoint doesn't offer a built-in setting for transparent text, but that doesn't mean it can't be done. And you might be surprised just how easy it is to achieve.

Image: iStock/jacoblund

Transparent text exposes a pattern or picture below the text layer. Despite its interesting visual appeal, there's no straight-forward setting in PowerPoint for creating it. Fortunately, that doesn't mean you can't do it. In this article, I'll show you a simple technique that requires three layers to produce transparent text.

I'm using PowerPoint 2016 (desktop) on a Windows 10 64-bit system, but this technique will work in 2013. For your convenience, you can download the demonstration presentation. This article assumes you have basic PowerPoint skills.

What you need

As I mentioned, you'll need three layers to achieve transparent text:

  • The bleed-through layer, which is a background color or picture that you see through the transparent text.
  • The contrast layer that works as a contrast to the bleed-through and text layer.
  • The text layer should use a wide font, so the background color or picture is clear.

You can think of these three layers as a stack. The bleed-through layer is on the bottom, the contrast layer is in the middle, and the text layer is on the top.

The basic technique

We'll begin with a simple example. The slide in Figure A has a one-word title in a striped font. However, it's not a striped font—that's a patterned background in a layer underneath the text. The striped background is the slide's background, the bleed-through layer.

Figure A

This simple slide appears to use a striped font.

You'll begin with a blank slide and format its background. If the Format Background pane isn't visible to the right, right-click the slide and choose Format Background.

  1. Choose Pattern Fill.
  2. Choose Horizontal Stripes: Dark.
  3. From the Foreground settings, choose Red (Figure B).
  4. Leave the Background color set to White.

Figure B

The bleed-through layer is a pattern applied as the slide's background.

The striped pattern is the bleed-through layer on the bottom. Now, let's create the contrast layer:

  1. Click the Insert tab.
  2. Choose Rectangle from the Shapes dropdown (in the Illustrations group).
  3. Insert and fill the entire slide. Don't bother to change the shape's color right now. We'll do that later.

You now have two layers; the bleed-through layer is under the contrast layer, but you can't see it. Now you're ready to add the text layer. In this case, add a text box and enter the word RED. Select the text and change the font to Arial Black and the size to 250.

Now comes the magic! You still can't see the bleed-through layer, and that's what we're about to change. With the text box still selected, hold down the Ctrl key and click the contrast layer, the blue rectangle. You'll know you've selected them both when PowerPoint displays selection handles around the perimeter of both, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

Choose a thick font for the text.

With both objects selected, do the following to expose the bleed-through layer:

  1. Click the contextual Format tab.
  2. In the Insert Shapes group, choose Combine from the Merge Shapes dropdown (Figure D).
  3. The contrast layer is black. You can leave it or change it to dark blue (as shown in Figure A).

Figure D

Merge the shapes.

It's not an intuitive process, but it is simple. Keep the three layers in mind while you explore the technique. You can change the transparency setting for the contrast layer to allow the bleed-through layer a little more exposure. You can change the shape and color of the contrast layer. This middle layer is the one that gives you some flexibility to produce the results you want, and that's where we're headed next.

Variations in the contrast layer

Our first slide is effective and simple. This next section will demonstrate how you can adjust this technique by changing the size and transparency settings of the contrast layer. Figure E shows the same three layers. By changing only a few settings, each is unique and easily achieved. It's okay if you don't care for them—I find all three a bit too busy.

Figure E

All three slides use the same three layers.

All three slides begin with the technique we used earlier:

  1. Insert the picture and cover the entire slide. Earlier, we used a striped pattern to format the slide's background. This time, we insert a picture.
  2. Insert a rectangle. At this point, whether you decide to completely cover the picture layer or not is up to you.
  3. Insert a text box over the contrast layer and add the text. Change the font face and size.
  4. Select both the contrast layer (the simple rectangle) and the text box.
  5. Click the Format tab and choose Combine from the Merge Shapes dropdown.

This is where the three slides part ways. The slide on the left uses a full-slide contrast layer of light blue with a 0% transparency setting. Although you can sense a pattern beneath, you can't see what it is—it creates a bit of mystery. The picture in the bleed-through layer is visible only through the text. The middle slide is my favorite. The black contrast layer covers the bottom third of the slide and the transparency setting is set to 51%. The slide to the right uses a white full-slide contrast layer with a transparency setting of 57%. By changing the contrast's layers size, color, and transparency setting, I created three very different slides using the same picture and text.

Although interesting, the text is a little difficult to read, unlike the first slide where the text is distinct. I did this on purpose so you can see what might happen. In this case, you might decide that reduced readability is Okay—or not.

Let's add a little heat

Transparent text creates an interesting effect that you can apply to create a bit of visual interest to what otherwise, might be a ordinary (boring) slide. You can, however, spice things up even more—all it requires is a little imagination on your part. Figure F shows a fun slide. The bleed-through layer is a fireball explosion (it's a video, but you can't get the full effect in a still slide). The text uses the Chiller font and a simple word, BURN, to get the point across. This slide doesn't merge two layers—you get the full benefit of the bleed-through layer.

Figure F

This slide uses a video.

First, add a new blank slide and do the following:

  1. Click the Insert tab.
  2. In the Media group, use the Video dropdown to find a local video or on the web.
  3. Resize the video container to fill the entire slide. Don't worry about the play bar at the bottom; it'll disappear later.
  4. Click the Playback tab and choose Automatically from the start dropdown (in the Video Options group). You could choose another option, but for this example, we want the video to play on its own.
  5. Add a text box and enter the word BURN. Apply the Chiller font face and a font size of 300. In this example, I used the rotate handle to tilt the text a bit. You won't see much because the default font color is black, and the video container is black. Temporarily, you can change the font color to help position the text box where you want (Figure G).
  6. With the text box still selected, click the contextual Format tab and choose black from the Text Outline dropdown. Using the same dropdown, choose a thick weight.
  7. Choose No Fill from the Text Fill dropdown. Your text will disappear, but don't worry, it's still there.

When you play the slide, the video starts automatically, and the transparent text is visible only because of its thick outline. In this case, you don't have to merge anything and there's only two layers. You could use this simpler technique to create the other three slides, but there's no contrast layer to create the bleed-through effect, as shown in Figure H.

Figure G

Change the default font color to something you can see for easy positioning.

Figure H

This simpler technique loses the contrast layer.

Finishing touch

Don't worry if you don't get it all just right the first time. Even with practice, you may find that you have to redo things a few times before you're satisfied. It's a process that doesn't require specialized knowledge, but be patient with yourself.

The fire video is available through community license at Videezy. Neither I nor has any financial connection to Videezy.

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About Susan Harkins

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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