Drawing in PowerPoint – More Alphabet Blocks

Warning: This post uses PowerPoint features in ways that apparently were never intended by the designers. As a result, some fairly arcane meddling goes on.

In an earlier post, I brilliantly demonstrated how to create alphabet blocks using PowerPoint “3d,” but these blocks had letters on only one surface.  In this post, I will show you how to make blocks with letters on all visible surfaces.

In another post, I hinted at the difficulties of doing this by claiming that you can make the first image below with PowerPoint 3d, but not the second (at least not in one step):

2 blocks

Here’s the trick:

2 blocks 2

As you can see, the green face is a separate object with a “complementary” rotation. This “divide and conquer” technique can be used to make the blocks we’re after.

To make the simple block, create three square shapes with a border and text. Then apply the Preset rotation Parallel/Isometric Left Down to the “A” block. Apply Isometric Right Up and Isometric Top Up to the B and C blocks. Finally, carefully position the three rotated shapes to form the block. This process is shown below:

persp 1

This one is particularly easy because the three rotations are available as Presets. For other rotations (perspective, for example), you must create the appropriate rotations manually, using the tricky X, Y and Z settings. This is inordinately difficult; I have yet to figure out a systematic scheme for doing this.

As noted in the previous posts, most toy blocks have the letters and borders carved in relief. Drawing a 3-sided block like this presents problems, even in the simple isometric version. Following is my solution; let me know if you have a simpler approach.

As before, we create the block face and border as separate objects. However, the outline is made of 8 rectangles:

persp 2

The reason for this construction is that you can set the depth of selected edges and corners separately; I’ll show you why this is useful later.

The process is the same as outlined in the previous post. Create 3 square shapes with a single text character; then, using Format Text/3-D Format/Depth, add depth (9 pts) and Depth Color to the character. Then apply Parallel/Isometric rotations to the square shapes as in the simple example above. Now add depth and the appropriate rotation to three copies of the outline. The results should look like this (I added an outline to the squares for clarity):

persp 3

So far, so good. But there is a problem when the pieces are combined. Let’s look at the left and top outlines when they are “joined;” the left side is in Front of the top in the first case and the top is in Front in the second:

persp 4

Something doesn’t look right here. In the first example, the surfaces of the top outline don’t match; in the second the surfaces on the left outline don’t match (the red boxes highlight the problem).  Even though the Lighting Angle is the same for both, the colors don’t match when the objects are rotated.  I have a suspicion that the lighting source rotates with the object – BAD IDEA, PowerPoint designers!

You may think this is a trivial detail but it seems to me this visual anomaly is distracting – the last thing you need in a presentation.

My solution involves removing the depth dimension from parts of the outline so that the faces overlap convincingly. Here’s the result:

persp 5

I set the depth of the front edges of the top outline to zero, including the corners. This will cover the tops of the left and right faces without conflict. The left edge of the right outline has also been set to zero depth.

You can change the depth by selecting the piece (e.g., the corner) of the outline and using Format/Shape/Depth – you don’t have to remove the rotation or ungroup the object. Here’s the final result:

persp 6

As usual, if you want a free copy of the PowerPoint file containing these objects, use the link below and click on the PowerPoint icon to download a “source” PowerPoint file:

Powerpointy blog – 3d blocks

See this page for more on downloading files.

If you have questions, praise or complaints, please add a comment below. If you appreciate my efforts, liking or following this blog might be a good idea.



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