This post demonstrates the construction of a graphical object needed for an actual PowerPoint presentation. It gives me an opportunity to show how you can create presentable objects in PowerPoint rather than using clip art or images found (or purchased) on the Internet. This post also provides a framework for demonstrating a number of useful PowerPoint drawing techniques that you may not know about.
An icon is a relatively small “pictogram” that is commonly used in user interfaces. Icons are also used in presentations to reinforce meaning, as a shortcut for a concept and in diagrams. An icon is usually a stylized image of a visual metaphor for the subject matter.
There are millions of these images available on the net, many free. Why bother to create icons as PowerPoint objects? First, you need to control color and style. Second, it may not be possible to find the precise image you need. Finally, PowerPoint objects and their components are easily editable and reusable. Icons and other images found on the web are usually raster format (e.g., jpg) and are difficult to modify without specialized software and skills. Of course, PowerPoint objects can be converted to raster format for use in other media (print or web).
The following section describes construction of the icon; later sections provide more detail on some of the techniques (in PowerPoint 2007).
A Security/Compliance Icon
In this example, the client needs an icon to represent computer services that are highly secure and compliant to certain standards. A shield metaphor to represent protection and security was selected; a check mark was added to suggest compliance.
The icon is designed to be consistent with the presentation in which it is used.
These are the steps to create the icon:
- Seeking inspiration – although you may be able to create the image from scratch, it is usually useful to search the web for models. In this case, shields are easy to find (Google image search has an “Icon” option). This image was selected for its overall shape:
- Creating the shield outline – draw a Curve through the pointed parts of the image. (Don’t worry about the final size of the object at this point – pick a scale that is comfortable to work with and get the proportions right.)
- Use Edit Points to adjust the outline
- Specify an Outline for the resulting shape – a fairly heavy Outline is used in this case. Pick a color that is consistent with the presentation Theme:
- Specify a Fill – a Gradient in this example
- Apply a “Bevel” and a Shadow to add dimensionality.
- The Outline, Gradient Fill and Bevel are used for consistency with other icons and images in this particular presentation. You may prefer a flatter look.
- Select a checkmark Symbol; this is from the Wing Ding font:
- Apply the Text Effect Transform (Square) to the checkmark. This makes the character easy to scale.
- Apply (text) Fill color, Bevel and Shadow:
- Combine and Group the check mark and the shield:
- Scale the icon by converting to a Picture (png format) and then resizing the picture. Converting to a Picture avoids one of PowerPoint’s annoyances: the fact that scaling does not change the size of objects measured in points, including text and Outline widths.
Remember to save the PowerPoint version of the icon for possible re-use or modification for other purposes.
In the icon construction, I traced the outline of a model image using a Curve to create a PowerPoint shape. Using Curves in PowerPoint is a little complicated but if you learn the basics and experiment, it will add considerably to your PowerPoint bag of tricks; in particular, you will be able to create arbitrary shapes and not be limited to the standard Shapes.
Carefully click on one of the points of the shield image; move the cursor to the next point and continue. Complete the shape by double clicking (this will “close” the shape). You will have created the amorphous shape shown below:
Next, right click on the curve and select the Edit Points option. Alternatively, find Edit Points in the Picture Tools ribbon. Hover over a point until the cursor changes to a four-pointed symbol and click on the point; “handles” will appear on the point:
(If you have not accurately selected the point, you may have inadvertently added a point. If this happens, hold Cntrl down. The cursor will change to an “x” and you can delete the added point by clicking on it.)
Click and hold one of the white boxes. By swinging the white box around the point, you can change the shape of the curve. You will note that moving the white box towards and away from the point also adjusts the curve.
For the icon, manipulate the white boxes until the curve matches the model.
This example does not fully demonstrate curves; you can find more complete tutorials on the web; here is one:
Probably the best way to learn to manipulate curves is simply to experiment and practice.
By the way, the PowerPoint curves are “Bezier curves;” these are widely used in graphics/drawing software.
Using Transform Text Effects
In the icon construction, I applied a Transform Text Effect to the checkmark character; this was done to allow easy re-sizing of the character. In particular, the checkmark can be resized/reshaped by manipulating handles, just like a PowerPoint shape. Otherwise, the character would be resized by changing the point size.
You can access Transform under Text Effects on the Drawing Tools ribbon. I used the Square option on the checkmark; this allows scaling of the check mark but does not otherwise distort the character. As you can see, there are lots of options for changing the shape of a text box – a good subject for another post.
I applied a Bevel to the components of the icon to get a dimensional effect. Bevels are part of PowerPoint’s “3D” feature which is very complicated; I will only touch on it here. (A more complete tutorial on “3D” is on my to-do list).
The Bevel option is available under 3D Format in the Format Shape pane or under Shape Effects in the Drawing Tools ribbon. The Format Shape pane is accessed via the small checkbox in the Drawing bar on the Home ribbon. Here’s the Format Shape/3-D Format pane:
By clicking on the Top choices button, you can see the options for Bevel:
I selected the Circle choice (the first option) to create the appearance of a rounded edge.
I set the width of the Bevel to match the width of the outline (10 pts). I set the height to 6 pts to get the appearance I wanted. The default values of the other options were accepted. Rotation was not changed from the default.
A similar process was applied to the check mark. The 3D options for text are found in the Format Text Effects pane or under Text Effects in the Drawing Tools ribbon. The Format Text Effects pane is accessed via the small checkbox in the WordArt Effects (?!) bar in the Drawing Tools ribbon.
(I also applied a shadow to these elements to add to the dimensionality effect – I used a Shadow preset so this is pretty straightforward.)
Converting Objects to Pictures
I completed the icon object at a convenient scale and converted it to a Picture for sizing when I used it in the presentation. As noted above, the reason for this is that objects measured in points (text, lines, etc.) are not scaled when an object containing them is re-sized. Here’s what happens if an object containing text and an outline is resized as a PowerPoint object:
Note that the character size and outline width are unchanged even though the object has been reduced in size. The proportions will be preserved when the object is converted to a Picture and resized:
There are a couple of ways to convert an object to a Picture: Copy followed Paste Special (selecting a picture format) or Save as a Picture (which creates a file) followed by Insert/Picture.
Note that I specified png format for the Pictures rather than jpg or gif. The reason is that png supports transparency. Using png eliminates the annoying white boxes that show up when saving objects as jpgs:
It’s worth noting that the gif format supports transparency as well; however, PowerPoint gif conversions are poor. Tiff also supports transparency but I don’t think it is as widely used on the net as png.
If you would like a free PowerPoint file showing these techniques, use this form: