Drawing in PowerPoint – Alphabet Blocks

I think PowerPoint “3d” effects are frustrating and mysterious. But, by heroic and careful experimentation, I think I have discovered some useful techniques for creating 3d objects.

This post will show you how to create simple alphabet blocks in PowerPoint, using “3D” effects. Blocks can be used in presentations to indicate a simple or elementary concept or to reference children, education or learning.

(If you want a copy of the PowerPoint file for this post, use the form at the end of the post.)

The first example is pretty simple – to start, create a square Rounded Rectangle shape with an outline and containing a text character (aligned Middle/Center):

a block 1

This is a 2″ x 2″ square with a 9 pt outline containing a 115 pt character (Cooper Black font).

Next, apply a 3-D Rotation (Preset/Parallel/Isometric Left Down):

a block 2

Using 3-D Format, add a Depth of 144 pts (this is equal to the 2″ dimension of the square); select a Depth Color to match the outline.a block 3

The 3-D Format/Lighting/Angle has been adjusted to 140 degrees for a brighter appearance.

The isometric projection is not very convincing; for a more realistic appearance, select 3-D Rotation Perspective Left:a block 4

This perspective version exhibits “foreshortening,” making the image more realistic.

Usually, toy blocks are made so that the letter and border are carved in relief. To create the relief version, start with a square Rounded Rectangle (no outline) containing the character:

b block 1

Now, create the outline separately – a Rounded Rectangle with an outline, but no fill:b block 2

For reasons that will be clearer later, make the outline slightly smaller than the letter square (specifically, 1.87″ x 1.87″).

Next, apply the isometric Rotation and Depth to the letter square as before:b block 3

Now select Text Effects/Bevel/3-D Options to display the Format Text panel. Be careful; this panel is almost identical to the Format Shape panel but it operates on the text contained in the shape, rather than the shape. Add Depth to the character (9 pts):b block 5

Using the Format Shape panel, apply the same rotation and depth to the outline:

b block 6

Now, carefully move the two pieces together to form the block and group the result:b block 7

A couple of comments:

  • This last step shows why the outline shape is slightly smaller than the rounded rectangle shape. When a shape has an outline, the line is centered on the boundary of the shape, making the outlined shape, as your rear view mirror says, “larger than it appears.” Here’s what this looks like:outlineThe actual size of the shape is larger by the width of the outline. For the block example, this is 9 pts or 0.125 in.
  • This construction may seem a little strange. I have tried several approaches and this seems the simplest to me. Let me know if you have a better solution.
  • Since these shapes contain text and lines, both measured in points, they will not scale directly. It’s easiest to convert (Copy/Paste Special) to png before changing the size.

As before, you can use the more realistic perspective rotation, applying the rotation to each shape separately before grouping:b block 8You will likely use the blocks in groups, spelling out a word or a phrase. Here’s an example using Perspective Left/Right (on the outline and shape separately) and various “X” rotations. Keep the rotations small for a realistic look.


Most alphabet blocks have letters or pictures on all faces. Because of the way PowerPoint “3d” works, this is more complicated; I’ll address this in a later post (an earlier post on 3d secrets hints at the difficulty).

If you would like a free PowerPoint file with the objects described in this post, use this form:

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