Powerful Words


Presentation experts suggest that you rely on “visuals” rather than words to engage your audience. I don’t disagree with this but the result is usually pretty predictable: sunsets, mountains, clouds, clipart and hackneyed royalty-free images featuring smiling people. Really impactful images are hard to find and may not precisely convey the concept you’re looking for.

Never fear, dear reader; there are ways to combine the precision of words with the appeal of images. However, I must post the warning that applies to many of the techniques documented in these pages:

  1. Use these techniques sparingly, lest they become boring or, what’s worse, distracting.
  2. Use these techniques for a reason; that is, use these techniques to support your message and not just because they’re “cool.”

By the way, another way to add impact to text is to animate it; see my post on “kinetic typography.”

The techniques for creating powerful key words and phrases rely on the fact that PowerPoint effects usually associated with Shapes also apply to Text objects; this includes Fills, Shadows and “3d” effects. Of course, there are useful effects (Transform, Font choices, spacing, etc.) that apply only to text.

Here’s a simple example of what I’m going on about:


This image is simply the letters TV filled with the typical “snow” pattern associated with over-the-air analog television. I used a font called Britannic Bold and picture-filled it with a “snow” image; I also applied a Square Transform to adjust the proportions of the text. (This is not necessary; I sometimes do this to make it easy to manipulate the size and proportion of these words. You can apply the techniques here directly to ordinary untransformed text.)

Here are some general notes on the examples in this post:

  • I will often use “heavy” fonts and Bold style; they allow the fill image to be more recognizable than fonts with thin strokes.
  • You may be tempted to use an “unusual” font; this can lead to issues when sharing with users who may not have the font installed. Another font will be substituted on the target system which can lead to unwanted results. You can overcome this problem by “embedding” the desired font in your presentation but this may have some problems. See this article for a pretty complete discussion of the subject.
  • “Textures” work well as fill. I will use some other images but these require more care to make them “readable.” Search for “textures” and/or “backgrounds” for ideas.
  • You can use an image that you create in PowerPoint as fill; just convert it to png or jpg (Copy/Paste Special/Png).
  • I use the Square Transform to make it easy to adjust the size and proportions of the text.
  • In some cases, I reduce the Character Spacing to improve the readability of the image.
  • I occasionally use Shadow or 3d effects; for example, a stone or concrete texture along with 3d effects adds solidity.
  • These effects are found in the Format Text Effects pane, which is different than the Format Shape pane, even though the options in the panes are identical. Using the Format Shape options on a text object affects the text “box,” not the characters.

Here’s another example:


The text is in Gill Sans Ultra Bold font. To create the image, temporarily remove the text fill and select a text outline color that contrasts with the fill image. Apply the Square Transform and position the text on appropriate part of the fill image, looking “through” the empty text. Resize the text and resize and/or crop the fill image to get the effect you want. Then, Copy the fill image (this places it on the clipboard).  Select and right-click on the text and select Text Format Effects. In this pane, select Text Fill/Picture or texture fill. Select Clipboard as the source of the fill. Remove the text outline. Here’s the process:


The second step results in a fill image that is the same size as the text. The Picture Fill option does allow you to resize and position the fill image after filling using numeric Offsets, bu I find this method easier.

This example is in Caecilia LT Roman (not a common font) and is filled with a textured steel image. The character spacing is set to Tight and a solid black shadow is added (apologies to a certain Pittsburgh football team):


Here are two simple examples:


Both are in Arial Black with the Character Spacing set to Tight. The first uses circuit board detail for the fill; the second uses an image of an electrical arc. I used Picture Tools/Recolor on the original circuit board image.

Here’s an example using a flame image fill and Bodoni MT Black font; a black text outline has also been added:


3d effects can be used to add an interesting dimensionality.  This example is in Harlow Solid Italic with a shiny metallic fill, a shadow and a 3d Bevel/Circle:


Here are two more examples using 3d effects:


The first is in Franklin Gothic Heavy and is filled with a grungy concrete texture; the second is in Gill Sans Ultra Bold Condensed and uses a fill that looks like marble. Both use the Perspective Below rotation with depth.

This one uses a weathered wood fill, 3d rotation, depth and Bevel (too much?):


Here’s an example in Cooper Black with a watery fill and using a 3d Bevel; a Wave 1 transform has been applied:


You can use images rather than textures; here’s an example of what I mean:


This is Franklin Gothic Heavy filled with a world map image; this required some fiddling to make the map and the text recognizable; a very tight character spacing helps.

There may be some cognitive issues here. Do you see the text and the image as one or do you flip back and forth? Is this a bad or good thing? You decide.

These examples uses a skyline graphic as fill:


I like the deco-style font in the first example (Broadway) but the skyline image is clearer in the second (Gill Sans Ultra Bold). Here’s the result with a photographic fill:


This may be overkill – what do you think?

This example uses a simplified graphic as fill; does it work?


Finally, here’s an example with effects (fill and bevel) applied to the text “box” and a bevel effect to the text itself:


Added 12/2014: There is another quicker (maybe) way to “picture fill” text; here are the steps:

  • As above, create the text with no fill and an outline that contrasts with the picture. Place the text over the picture and adjust both to get the fill you want.
  • Select the picture and the text and use Drawing Tools/Merge/Intersect. This is like using the text as a cookie cutter.
  • The disadvantage of this technique is that the result is a picture, not text. This means that the text can’t be edited; however, effects like those demonstrated above can be applied.

If you want to try to punch up the key words and phrases in your presentation with these techniques, use this form to request a free PowerPoint file that includes these examples:

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