For the most part, the graphics you add to a slide should be specific—in purpose and in content. Pictures are seldom so well-honed. That's why PowerPoint's Crop tool might become one of your favorite tools.
Cropping a picture removes the outer edges of the image. You do so to remove both empty and busy areas as both can distract from the graphic's focus. Either way, you can use PowerPoint's Crop tool to fine-tune what viewers see.
In this article, I'll show you how to use this easy and intuitive tool.
I'm using Office 365's PowerPoint, but the Crop tool has been around for a long time. Basic cropping is available in the browser, but the options aren't. For the purposes of this article, I'll use the term picture to define any graphic file you might work with. (To insert a file, use the options in the Images group on the Insert tab.) This article assumes that you're familiar enough with PowerPoint to insert pictures. There's no demonstration file; you won't need one. You can work with any graphic file.
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You'll use the Crop tool to edit pictures once you've inserted them. Specifically, this tool lets you trim the outer edges of the picture. You'll find Crop on the contextual Format tab in the Size group. To crop a picture, you click Crop, the default option. This quick click displays cropping handles along the picture's border (Figure A). You'll usually see four corners and four side handles. Drag a handle inward to remove part of the picture. For instance, Figure B shows the handle to the right pushed in to remove the empty water. Moving a corner handle will adjust the two adjacent sides accordingly. To commit the crop, click Crop again. Doing so changes the view of the underlying picture. Ctrl+z will undo the crop.
Use the cropping handles to change what you see.
Cropping changes what viewers see; it doesn't change the underlying picture.
You're a step ahead if you've used the Crop tool before, but there might be a couple of basic shortcuts you don't know about:
- Hold down the Ctrl key while dragging a side handle to adjust the opposite side at the same time.
- Hold down the Ctrl key while dragging a corner handle to adjust all four corners at the same time.
If you have precise measurements, you can use the Shape Height and Shape Width options to the right of the Crop tool. These controls aren't true cropping options though because they maintain aspect ratio (which we'll discuss later).
PowerPoint doesn't change the underlying picture when you crop it. To reset the size—remove the cropping—click the picture. Then, click the contextual Format tab. To the left, you'll find the Reset Picture in the Adjust group. Choose Reset Picture & Size from the Reset Picture dropdown to remove any cropping.
If the picture was compressed, you might not be able to reset it (more about that later), and there's a quick test. Select the picture and access the Crop tool, as if you want to crop it again. If you can see the gray area where the picture was originally cropped, resetting should work. If you don't see the gray, what you see is all you have to work with.
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Move to crop
One of the neatest tricks I've run into is the ability to move the picture within the cropped area (the placeholder area). To do so, display the cropping handles, and then hover over the picture (anywhere) until you see the four-arrow cursor. Click and drag the picture to reposition the focus as required. As you can see in Figure C, I've moved the goose to the right side of the slide within the cropping handles. By doing so, I moved the goose to the right of the slide and hid the empty water. There are other ways to achieve the same effect but moving the focus within the cropping handles is efficient and flexible. Once the focus is exactly where you want it, click Crop again to perform the crop.
Move the focus within the cropping handles.
Crop to shape
You can trim a picture to a specific shape, which adds a bit of artistry (not everything has to be a square). However, like most bells and whistles, you'll want to show a little restraint. Choosing a simple shape can totally change the mood of a slide. Choosing several scatters the viewer's attention, and you might momentarily lose your audience. They will be too busy considering all of the different shapes, not your message.
To crop a picture into a shape, choose Crop to Shape from the Crop option's dropdown menu. Doing so will display PowerPoint's full palette of shapes (also available on the Insert tab in the Illustrations group). Figure D shows the results of choosing the heart shape and then moving the goose to center it. To crop to the heart shape, do the following:
- Select the picture.
- On the contextual Format tab, click the Crop dropdown.
- Choose Crop to Shape.
- From the resulting gallery dropdown, click the heart.
- Once the heart is in place, simply grab the picture and drag it until the goose is in the center.
Crop to a shape.
That was easy, and the shape makes a point—we love geese. Because PowerPoint's cropping feature doesn't change the underlying picture, you're not stuck with anything. You can choose as many shapes as you like until you get it just right.
The remaining options
The Crop tool has three more options: Aspect Ratio, Fill, and Fit. Aspect ratio is the ratio of the width to the height of a picture. You don't need to fully understand how it works to implement it. In a nutshell, aspect ratio is expressed as two values separated by a colon: x:y. What it means is this: Regardless of how you enlarge or reduce its size, its proportions persist. When using this feature from the Crop tool, you can crop and set the ratio at the same time.
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The Fill and Fit options let you perfect the results a bit. Use Fill to expand the picture, filling the entire space; PowerPoint expands both the picture's height and width to match the shape's greatest dimension while retaining aspect ratio. You might lose components of the picture using this option. The Fit option uses the entire picture to fill the shape while maintaining aspect ratio by matching the picture's largest dimension. You might end up with empty space showing inside the shape.
You can drag the picture within the shape to better expose specific parts of the picture (as I did earlier with the heart). Both options fit and fill within the placeholder, not the slide. Combining all the crop features will give you the best results. Explore these options until choices begin to make sense to you—it's the best way to learn about it.
Delete the cropped area
There are two reasons to permanently delete the cropped area from a picture: To reduce the size of the overall file and to remove areas you don't want anyone else to see. To permanently delete the cropped area of a picture, compress it. First, select the picture. Then, on the contextual Format tab, click Compress Pictures in the Adjust group.
When you have more than one picture, PowerPoint displays the options shown in Figure E. You can choose to compress only the currently selected picture, and the Delete cropped areas of pictures must be checked. You can restore the cropped areas only until you save the file.
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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.