Creating Workable Slide Backgrounds


A few years ago, I wrote a post on slide backgrounds. I reviewed a sample of commercially available and corporate “templates” and concluded that they were basically exercises for graphic designers and that they seriously interfered with actual slide content. In fact, I suggested that the best slide background may be no background at all.

However, there are a few background approaches that might support your message rather than detract from it. I’ll show you some examples in this post and you can decide for yourself.

First, where does a slide background come from?

  • The slide Layout  – the background of the Layout (along with any other objects on the Layout) will appear as the default background of a slide. A Layout may inherit its background from the Master Slide in a Theme.
  • A Format Background operation. This treats the background like an object and provides the usual fill options (solid, gradient, picture, etc.) This operation will override the Layout background.
  • A photo or other objects “behind” all other objects on the slide. This is technically not a background but it has the same function.

If you are preparing a Theme, you will use Layouts to define slide backgrounds. You might use a Format Background  or an “object background” for a one-time application.  However, an “object background” can interfere with editing other objects on the slide.

By the way, there is no rule that says every content slide must have the same background. You could provide options by carefully creating a few variations as Layouts with, of course, consistent colors and your beloved corporate logo.

A “workable” slide background should contribute to your message and, at the same time. not interfere with the slide content. For example, it is difficult to create easily discernible content against backgrounds with large high contrast images. See the earlier post for some horrifying examples.

One approach is to use “textures.” You can find textures on the web; these are often photographs of natural or man-made materials like stone, wood grain, concrete, leather, etc. Here’s an example slide  from a presentation on PowerPoint “abusers” using a “grunge” texture as a backgound:

OFFENDER 1 static

The texture reinforces the premise that PowerPoint abuse is a disgusting criminal activity in the back alleys.

Here’s an “old paper” texture that I used for a fairy tale (!!) project:


This textured steel image might be used to evoke a sense of strength or security:


As it is, this stock texture might interfere with slide content. Adjusting Contrast and Brightness can make the detail more subtle and improve the clarity of the slide using this background:


Here’s an example using a stock (but recolored) circuit image as a background:

bk4Adding a gradient filled rectangle over the background reduces the interference, especially near the center of the slide:


Another source of “textures” is the Pattern fill option. Here’s a Large grid background fill (suggesting engineering or architecture) with a semi-transparent gradient overlay:


It’s worth pointing out here that the Pattern fill has some unusual properties. Here are some examples using a Pattern filled rectangle along with a png version of the rectangle:

bk8First, the spacing and orientation of the pattern is not changed by shrinking, rotating or stretching the shape. Oddly, the pattern does change appropriately under 3d rotation. The spacing changes when converted to a Picture (and also in slide show mode).  The spacing also changes if you Zoom in edit mode. Controlling or adjusting the coarseness or orientation of the pattern requires conversion to a picture.

Another approach involves “watermarks” – shapes created in subtle colors against a solid or gradient background. The shapes may suggest an aspect of the company or its products; I’ve seen corporate logos used this way. Often the watermark is placed so that interference with likely slide content is minimized.

Here are some samples I recently prepared for the folks over at Acme:


These backgrounds use arrays of shapes in colors that are low contrast relative to the overall slide color – transparency helps here. The first four slides use outlines; slide 4 introduces  a little color variation to the array. The last four slides use filled objects and transparency.

The shapes are not arbitrary but are meant to suggest an aspect of the client’s business. One client liked the hexagon array because it reinforced the modularity of his software products. The gear motif actually uses a part of the client’s logo.

So what have we learned here today? To create workable slide backgrounds:

  • Acquire stock textures.
  • Use background pattern fill.
  • Adapt these to a workable background by re-coloring and/or adjusting brightness and contrast.
  • Overlay semitransparent and/or gradients to reduce interference with content.
  • Create arrays of simple shapes in subtle colors for a “watermark” effect.


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