Using masking effects in PowerPoint is a great way to add some design finesse to your presentations, without needing a design qualification or several weeks to do it. Last time we showed you how to level up your animations, this time we’re going to take a look at how your slides are designed. Specifically we’ll show you how you can use PowerPoint shapes as stencils to cut out shapes and images to make beautifully designed slides that look like they’ve been to a professional.

Before we continue, if you want more masking fun you can click below to learn more:

Masking effects in PowerPoint: 3 simple animation tricks

Masking effects in PowerPoint: Creating stencils

Masking effects in PowerPoint: Stencils and animation

Masking effects in PowerPoint: Creating stencils

Most people, when they’re making PowerPoint slides, design by adding objects on top of each other to create layers, but thanks to the Merge Shapes tools in PowerPoint it doesn’t have to be that regimented. Now we can cut out parts of images and shapes to create something more interesting. And as well as making your PowerPoint look good, they can also serve some more practical purposes, like helping to draw your audience’s attention to a particular part of the slide. Here are three different ideas to try to show you how you can use shapes as stencils, and inspire you to create some beautiful slides of your own.

1. The face in the crowd

The person who said that a picture speaks a thousand words was not wrong. Sometimes, the best way to communicate a message is through a powerful, full-bleed image. But if we’re not careful, our presentation message is still lost, it’s just now lost in some beautiful imagery.

Stencils can make these image-heavy slides stand out by highlighting particular bits you would like to draw your audience’s attention to. Let’s say you have a busy picture, with lots of things going on (I get all my pictures from Unsplash). Perhaps you want to talk about something specific – draw attention to a face in a crowd, so to speak.

Screenshot of PowerPoint, with full bleed image of a busy crowd

First, draw a circle over the part(s) of the image that you would like to highlight.

Circles drawn over some faces in a busy crowd

Then, draw a rectangle over the whole slide, and send it backward so that it sits in front of the image, but behind the circle(s).

Now use the Merge Shapes “Subtract” tool to subtract the circle(s) from the rectangle. (Note that the shapes you select second and onwards will be subtracted from the shape you select first. So in the example below, I clicked the rectangle first, then held down Ctrl and selected the circles).

You should end up with something that looks a little bit like this:

The last thing to do is format the shape so that you can still see the image underneath. To do this, right click the shape and go to “Format shape”, choose “Fill”, select your preferred colour, and then set the transparency.

You could even add text boxes to call out the things in your image you’ve highlighted.

2. The colour halo

Though PowerPoint is no Photoshop, you can still do some impressive image hacking. One great way to highlight part of an image is to use a colour stencil.

First, duplicate your image and line them up using the alignment tools, so that they sit one on top of the other.

Use the freeform tool to draw around the object that you will be highlighting.

Then, select the top image and your shape, and use the “Intersect” Merge Shapes tool to cut out the object from the image.

You should have the full picture sitting at the back, with a small piece of the same image sat directly on top.

Draw a shape over the image section, then send backward, so that your object sits on the top, the rest of the image on the bottom, and the colour highlight sandwiched in between.

Finally, use the format shape tools to make your halo look heavenly…!

3. The peek-a-boo text fill

A personal favourite of mine for use in chapter slides, since these always run the risk of looking dated. Using the colour and texture of the background image to fill the text (or numbers), instantly gives the whole slide a more “designed” feel.

Start with your full bleed image. Draw a rectangle over the section you’d like to cover (I’ve gone for half here, but you could mask the whole slide).

Add your text, then copy the text box.

Select the drop down arrow on the “Paste” button in the “Home” ribbon, and choose “Paste special”.

From the dialog box, choose “Microsoft Office Graphic Object”, which should insert your text again onto the slide. Delete the first text box, and position your pasted text where you want it.

Now select the rectangle, then the text object, and use the “Subtract” Merge Shapes tool to cut the text out.

The only thing left to do is to format the remaining shape. Right click the shape and go to “Format shape”, choose “Fill”, then select your preferred colour and transparency.

So there you have it. Three ways you can use shapes as stencils in PowerPoint to make your images stand out and tell a better story. Why don’t you get creative and send us what you come up with? We’re kicking around on Twitter, or you could drop us an email. Whatever floats your boat.

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Hannah Harper

Principal consultant

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  1. Image of Scott Vradenburg Scott Vradenburg says:

    Great tips!!! Much appreciated.

  2. Image of Vilma Perezatwood Vilma Perezatwood says:

    These are cool tricks!

  3. Image of Paul Zikopoulos Paul Zikopoulos says:

    Thanks for this article – great stuff. I actually put a glow on that circle and made it very large in the mountain example, then matched the transparency of the colors and it looked really heavenly!

  4. Image of Paul Zikopoulos Paul Zikopoulos says:

    Question – is Paste -> Special -> Microsoft Office Graphics Object the same as Copy-> Paste-> Paste as Picture?

    • Image of Joby Blume Joby Blume says:

      Hi Paul, no – the first is an Office-based vector (e.g EMF/WMF) and the second is a raster (usually a PNG).

  5. Image of Karolina Karolina says:

    Great tips 😊 thanks

  6. Image of Elaine Elaine says:

    This is genius! Very helpful. Thanks!

  7. Image of Dirk Dirk says:

    Thanks for this article with great tips. Thanks!

  8. Image of Robert J. Lyda Robert J. Lyda says:

    I truly making the most of your blog Thanks for sharing a particularly useful post

  9. Image of Jo Jo says:

    Thank you for the help!

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