Five tips for creating great art in Office 2010

Office 2010 includes sophisticated features -- like filters, background removal, and flexible cropping-- that let you create artistic effects rivaling some dedicated graphics packages.

Who says Office is just about getting work done? As the suite has changed over time, its talents in the arts have decidedly grown. Several of the Office 2010 apps let you change the brightness and contrast of your pictures, as well as apply a number of artistic filters to create just the right effect to complement your text.

1: Use a filter to add that special something

Sometimes you need a picture to be a picture, plain and simple. The photos of products for the new catalog need to be clear so customers know what they're getting. But other times, you can be a little more artistic and apply different filters to give your photos that special creative vibe. Artistic filters are available in Word, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Excel 2010, and you'll find them in the Picture Tools Format tab, which appears when you click an image on the page.

There are all kinds of filters to experiment with, from Pencil Sketch (Figure A) to Watercolor Sponge to Plastic Wrap. Simply click the image, click the Picture Tools Format tab, click Artistic Effects in the Adjust group, and hover the mouse over the various filters to see their effect. Click the one you want to apply to your picture.

Figure A

Word, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Excel 2010 all include Artistic Effects you can apply to your pictures.

2: Get fancy with cropping

Once upon a time, if you wanted to crop something out of a photo (why was that person's foot in your product placement shot?), the only thing you could do was cut off the outer edges of the picture. In Office 2010, you have some fancy cropping options, which enable you to crop pictures to a specific shape, change the aspect ratio of the pictures, and modify the way the picture fills the space or fits within the cropped area. You'll find the Crop tool in the Picture Tools Format tab in the Size group on the far right side of the Ribbon. The cropping options give you a fun, flexible way to make sure people get the point of your photos.

3: Remove that background

Another new tool in Office 2010 lets you remove the background of a photo. This is a slick utility if you love to use headshots of people but don't want the busy photo background cluttering up your page. The process is simple (but probably will require a little tweaking before you're completely happy with it): Click the photo, click the Picture Tools Format tab, and click Remove Background in the Adjust group. Now you can use the Background Removal tools (Figure B) to adjust the area you want to remove and show the application which areas you want to keep. When you're done, click Keep Changes.

Figure B

Office 2010 includes a Remove Background tool that can take the noisy background out of your photos.

4: Apply picture styles

You know, it's the little things you do with your projects that really make them stand out from the crowd. Applying picture styles is literally as easy as clicking the mouse button, but adding the special style -- such as a background shadow, a special frame, or a skewed angle -- can make your pictures stand out. To apply a picture style to your photo or graphic, click the item on the page and click the Picture Tools Format tab. Next, click the More arrow in the lower-right corner of the Picture Styles gallery to display all the styles you can apply. Hover the mouse over the various styles to see how each one will look with your photo. Then, click the one you want to keep.

5: Edit to your heart's content

Office 2007 includes a number of picture editing features that enable you to control the brightness of your images, adjust the contrast, sharpen and soften effects, and work with the photo colors. Office 2010 builds on that offering by reorganizing the tools in easy-to-use galleries. Not only can you see the various changes before you apply them, but you can see them -- in thumbnail size -- on the actual picture you are editing in your document. As with other controls in Office 2010, you can preview the changes by hovering your mouse over an item before you select it. This lets you get a look at how it will appear before you commit yourself -- which is always a good thing, especially in artistic endeavors.