PowerPoint Secrets: Pictures in Shapes


Several of these posts have used Shapes filled with pictures; for example, the popular jigsaw puzzle series and this one. I have also filled text with pictures (see this post). Since this process is not simple in PowerPoint, I decided to document the options and recommend the easiest method.

There are four separate ways to fill a shape with a picture:

  1. Format Shape/Shape options/Fill/Picture or texture fill – this “fill” option seems the most obvious approach.
  2. Merge Shapes/Intersection – this is not so obvious but it works well.
  3. Crop to Shape – an option that allows you to select a shape (other than a rectangle) for the result of a Crop operation.
  4. Placeholder – this is a special shape in SmartArt layouts or in a slide layout that is “pre-programmed” so that it can be filled with a picture with a single click (or at least that seems to be the intent).

I’ll demonstrate the methods with this example:


Starting with the image of the woman with a laptop and shopping bags, I want to capture the woman’s face and the hand holding the credit card. And, I want the result to be a circle.

These are the steps using the Fill/Picture option:

  • Create the circle and Copy the original image to place it on the clipboard. Under Fill, select the Picture or texture option, and Insert picture from/Clipboard. (I use the Format Picture pane to access this function; of course, there are other ways. Also, you may want to Insert from/File.) Here’s the result:


  • Oops. The fill function has re-sized and distorted the entire original image to fit it into the circle. Not what I had in mind. The solution is to select the Tile picture as texture option.

WTF, you may well say. Tile? Texture? What this astoundingly obscure option means is that, rather than resize and ignore the proportions of the original image, the fill process will use the unscaled, undistorted original image to fill the shape, repeating it in a grid (tiling) as necessary to fill the shape. For some reason, this is not the default.

  • Here’s the result of using the Tile… option:


  • Oops again. But, have patience; there is a way out. The Fill has retained the size and proportions of the original picture but its position relative to the circle is not what I want. Trying the Alignment/Center option (Top Left is the default!) yields this:


  • Now I can use the Alignment and Scale options to get the result I want. About a hundred clicks later, here it is:


This is all very clumsy. A workaround that I have used in some of my previous posts is to Crop and scale the original picture before using the Fill. I resize and crop (click and drag operations) the image to “fit” the circle. Here’s what I mean (a blue outline has been added to the cropped image):


Now, using the pre-cropped picture as the source (via the clipboard), I can create the desired result immediately using Fill/Picture without the Tile... option and associated fiddling.

Either way, the result retains the characteristics of the shape including adjustment handles, if any, as well as a picture; that is, both Picture and Drawing tools can be used. In particular, the Edit Shape options are available.

The same method, including the pre-cropping workaround, applies to text filling – just make sure you are using text formatting tools rather than shape formatting (see this post for details). The result of a text picture fill is a text box with picture characteristics (i.e., drawing, text and picture tools all apply).

Beginning with PowerPoint 2010, Merge Shape tools are provided. The Intersection option provides a simple, intuitive method for picture filling a shape (or text). Here’s the method:

  • Create the shape (no fill) and resize and position it over the picture so that the desired part of the picture in in the shape outline:


  • Now, select the picture, then the shape, and use Merge Picture/Intersection. You’re done!

I call this the cookie cutter method. Note that the result is a picture, not a shape. Also, the order of selection (picture first) is important.

A reader has informed me that that the Merge tools do not work on pictures in PowerPoint 2010. Sorry; 2010 users should probably use the pre-cropping method described above.

The cookie cutter method also works with text:


Again, the result is a picture; in particular, the text can’t be edited.

Crop to Shape also provides a way to create, for example, a circle-shaped picture. Here’s the process:

  • Under Crop, select the desired Aspect Ratio; for my example, it’s 1:1:


  • In the Crop pulldown, select the desired Shape (Oval). Essentially all pre-defined shapes are available (except Freeform and Lines). Move the the cropping mask to reveal the desired part of the image:


  • Resize the cropping shape to get the desired result (use Cntl/Shift or reset the Aspect Ratio to retain the circle shape):

picf11The result of these operations is a picture.

Placeholders show up in some slide layouts or in SmartArt layouts. If you click on a Picture placeholder, you will be invited to select a picture to be placed in the placeholder. Since placeholders have a shape, the resulting picture will have that shape.

Here’s how this works with a Smart Art layout:

  • Select a layout; this is Circular Picture Callout in the Picture group:


  • Each of the circles with the picture icon is a picture placeholder. Click on the placeholder and you will be presented with options for locating the picture (it must be a file on your computer or elsewhere). I located the picture and get this result:


  • Now,use the Picture Fill tools as described above to get the desired result. Pre-cropping the picture will make this easier but remember that you must save the pre-cropped picture as a file since filling from the Clipboard is not an option with this method.

In the unlikely case that you are using a Picture Placeholder in a slide layout, the process is the same as for SmartArt except the file must be located on your computer; the other global search options are not provided.

Here’s my summary (the easier method gets a higher score). Of course, the rating is subjective; you may disagree:



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