Drawing in PowerPoint

Applies to:
Microsoft Office PowerPoint® 2003
Microsoft PowerPoint® 2000 and 2002

PowerPoint isn't a drawing program, but it still gives you enough flexibility to let your creative juices flow. From curves and guides to shadows and 3-D effects, PowerPoint has them all!

In this article, I first show you how you can use rulers, guides, and grids as the building blocks of a structured presentation. I then move to PowerPoint drawing abilities — you learn all about lines, curves, and points. And then I show you how to select all the teeny-weeny stuff on your slides. The article ends with a look at PowerPoint shadows and 3-D effects.

This article won't make a Disney or Picasso out of you, but if you keep playing with the PowerPoint drawing tools, inspiration is never far away.

In this article

Rule your slides with grids and guides

If you want to create a structured presentation that maintains consistency of layout, look to PowerPoint rulers, grids, and guides. With these tools, you can make PowerPoint slide objects stay in their places all the time. For instance, you can

  • Position text boxes and other elements identically across slides and presentations.
  • Control ruler tabs.
  • Manipulate the spacing between bullets and text in text placeholders and boxes.
  • Control the snap options in PowerPoint so that slide objects snap and align to each other.


Rulers let you determine and measure where your objects are placed in relation to each other on one or more slides. Rulers are found to the left and above the slide area in Normal view, as shown in Figure 6-1. If your rulers aren't visible, you need to enable them.

Displaying rulers

Follow these steps to view or hide your rulers:

  1. On the View menu, click Normal to make sure you are in Normal view.
  2. Show or hide your rulers by clicking Ruler on the View menu.

As you can see in Figure 6-1, this toggle option alternates between showing and hiding the rulers.

 Tip   If you can't see the Ruler option on your View menu, hold the menu for a while to expand it; the option will become visible.

View menu image

Figure 6.1. PowerPoint rulers
Using rulers

Rulers can be used to

  • Find and then change the position of guides.
  • Tweak the tab settings in text placeholders and boxes.
  • Position the spacing between the bullets and the text parts in text placeholders and boxes.

 Tip   Copy text into a PowerPoint placeholder from another application and you will find that all the text formatting is goofed up. The solution is to tweak the tabs and bullets by using the ruler, as I show you next.

Follow these steps to change the tabs and bullet placements:

  1. Show your rulers if they aren't visible (see the preceding section).
  2. Make sure you have a placeholder with bulleted text on your slide.
  3. Select the text you want to alter the spacing for.

You can select either

  • All the bulleted text (if you want to tweak the entire placeholder).
  • A single bullet or sentence.
  1. Use the two sliders (carets) on the top ruler to adjust spacing between the text and the bullets or the distance between tabs.

Figure 6-2 shows you the sliders that you need to pull. When you pull (or drag) any of those sliders, the selected text dynamically rearranges itself to the new spacing:

  • The left slider controls the distance between the placeholder margin and the bullet.
  • The right slider controls the distance between the bullet and the text.

Image showing tabs in the ruler

Callout 1 Left Slider
Callout 2 Right Slider
Figure 6-2: Tweaking tabs in the ruler

 Tip   To add a new tab to a text placeholder or box, select all the text, then click the exact position on the ruler where you want to set a tab.

Give them an inch, and they will take a kilometer

If your ruler displays inches but you want it to display centimeters — or vice versa — don't start exploring the options in PowerPoint. This setting is outside of PowerPoint. PowerPoint shows inches or centimeters based on how your operating system is set up. To change the default units in a Microsoft Windows XP system, follow these steps:

  1. Click Start and then click Control Panel. Double-click Regional and Language Options (Classic view), or click Date, Time, Language, and Regional Options (Category view).
  2. Click Customize to open the Customize Regional Options dialog box.
  3. Click the setting you want in the Measurement system list on the Numbers tab.

The process is similar in other Windows versions.

Getting friendly with grids and guides

Think of grids and guides as a framework that lets you

  • Align, anchor, and snap your slide objects in place.
  • Apply the same changes to similar elements on all slides in a presentation.

The tool you should use depends on how important object placement is to you and which version of PowerPoint you are using:

  • Grid    If you are happy with the default snap framework that PowerPoint provides, use a grid. The grid isn't as useful as guides.
  • Guide    If you want to control the placement of slide objects to the most minute level, use a guide.

You can use both grids and guides to get the best of both worlds.


Consider the grid in PowerPoint as a series of imaginary horizontal and vertical lines equally spaced over the entire slide area.

The grid can help you place slide elements in the same position in all your slides. The grid isn't as helpful as the guides because you really can't alter the placement of gridlines.

The steps to view the grid and change its settings depend on your PowerPoint version.

Office PowerPoint 2003 and PowerPoint 2002     Follow these steps to change the grid settings and to view the grid on-screen:

  1. On the View menu, click Grid and Guides to summon the Grid and Guides dialog box.
  2. Change the snap options.

Select or clear the Snap objects to grid check box, as shown in Figure 6-3.

The Snap objects to grid option is like a magnet that attracts slide objects to evenly spaced points on the slide. Move your objects on the slide, and you will find them attaching a wee bit off from where you stopped moving them. That is the Snap to Grid feature at work.

  1. Change the grid settings. You can either
    • Change the default grid spacing from several preset choices in the Spacing list.
    • View the grid on the slide by selecting the relevant option (see Figure 6-3).

Grid and Guides dialog box image

Figure 6-3: The Grid and Guides dialog box

 Tip   In PowerPoint 2003 and 2002, you can change the visibility of the grid by pressing SHIFT+F9.

Remember    Even if you can't view the grid, the Snap to Grid feature might be active.

PowerPoint 2000    To either enable or disable the grid-snapping feature in PowerPoint 2000, follow these steps:

  1. If your Drawing toolbar isn't visible, on the View menu, point to Toolbars and then click Drawing.
  2. On the Drawing toolbar, click Draw, click Snap, and then click To Grid. This toggle option is used for both enabling and disabling the grid snapping.

Remember    Activating the Snap to Grid feature only snaps objects that you move after it is selected. Previously placed objects don't snap to the grid unless you move them. If you want to place an image manually without any grid-snapping, just turn off the option and place your image. Turn on the Snap to Grid feature again when you are done.

Technical Stuff     PowerPoint 2000 uses a grid, but it is less capable than the grid in newer PowerPoint versions:

  • You can't change any of the predefined spacing settings.
  • You can't view the grid on the slide. Even though you can't view the grid, it is still active.


Guides are much more than grids, but you can consider them as grids that can be moved, added, or deleted.

You can have as many as eight horizontal and eight vertical guides in a presentation. By default, PowerPoint defaults to one horizontal and one vertical guide that intersect at the center of the slide, but you can add more manually.

To make sure that the guides are visible, follow these steps:

  1. On the View menu, click Grid and Guides.
  2. Select the Display drawing guides on screen check box (refer to Figure 6-3).

To quickly switch the visibility of your guides, press ALT+F9. This keyboard shortcut works only in PowerPoint 2003 and 2002.

If you need to use the same guides in all your presentations, insert them in the Master slide and save the presentation as a template. The guides show up in all presentations that you create using the template.

Creating new guides

Follow these steps to create new guides:

  1. Make sure that the guides are visible on the slide.
  2. Place the mouse pointer over a visible guide, press CTRL, and drag the pointer in the direction required.

As you drag the new guide, you see the coordinates of the guide, which tell you how much you have dragged it away, as you can see in Figure 6-4. You can also view the coordinates within the ruler.

 Tip   If the rulers aren't visible, on the View menu, click Ruler.

Image showing coordinates

Figure 6-4: Drag and you can see the coordinates.

Remember    There is no Snap to Guide option that you can turn on and off. If you set your guides to be visible, they snap all objects that venture close enough.

Moving and removing guides

To remove a guide, just select it and drag it off the slide.

 Tip   Sometimes, you might select a slide element rather than a guide and drag it off by mistake, especially if the slide is crowded. In that case, press CTRL+Z to undo the original move and then pull the guide from outside the slide area. To move a guide, just drag it to wherever you want.

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Drawing castles and skyscrapers

Here are the facts about drawing in PowerPoint:

  • PowerPoint doesn't have the amazing power of dedicated drawing programs, such as Adobe Illustrator, CorelDRAW, and Adobe Macromedia Freehand MX.
  • If you need a quick doodle or a simple drawing within your presentation, PowerPoint is best.

 Tip   If you don't know how to use advanced drawing programs, don't enroll for professional training now. PowerPoint drawing tools may be all you need.

PowerPoint can help you draw castles in the clouds. However, castles are passé — so, in the following sections, you create skyscrapers in the skies.

Line up those tools

Follow these steps to create a toolbar of PowerPoint line-drawing tools:

  1. Get to those lines.

If the Drawing toolbar isn't visible, on the View menu, point to Toolbars and then click Drawing to access the toolbar.

On the Drawing toolbar, click AutoShapes and point to Lines to see the Lines submenu.

  1. Drag the handle on the top of Lines submenu off the menu to create a Lines toolbar (see Figure 6-5).

Lines toolbar image

Callout 1 Line
Callout 2 Arrow
Callout 3 Double Arrow
Callout 4 Curve
Callout 5 Freeform
Callout 6 Scribble
Figure 6-5: Lines toolbar

The Lines toolbar has icons for six types of lines. These options let you create straight lines:

  • Line
  • Arrow (arrowhead at one end of the line)
  • Double arrow (arrowheads at both ends of the line)

These options let you create all sorts of lines:

  • Curve
  • Freeform
  • Scribble

Lines and points

Most dedicated drawing programs don't give you six types of line tools. PowerPoint does just that so that you will know exactly the type of line you will end up with.


In their simplest form, all lines connect two points. Before you get acquainted with lines, you must know more about points.

Technical stuff
  • A point is a node on any of the line types. Sometimes, these points are also called vertexes.

Every line type has a starting point and a closing point.

  • For some lines that end up as closed shapes, the starting point is the same as the closing point. Of course, there are many more points in between.
  • There are several other points in between the starting point and the ending point, especially for lines that can be rounded.

These in-between points can be either

  • Smooth points (smooth curves).
  • Corner points (sharp angles).

Using any of the line tools is as simple as:

  1. Clicking the icon of the line type you want.
  2. Using a combination of clicking and dragging to create the points that are connected by lines.

 Note   In the following sections, I assume that you have the Lines toolbar visible, as explained in the preceding section.


Follow these steps to draw a line in PowerPoint:

  1. Choose the line tool Button image and click where you want to create the starting point of the line.

 Tip   Don't let go of the mouse button.

  1. Drag the mouse pointer to wherever you want to create the closing point of the line.
  2. Let go of the mouse button.

Arrow and double arrow

Lines can automatically end with arrows:

  • An arrow line has an arrowhead on one end. Button image
  • A double arrow line has an arrowhead on each end. Button image

You draw the arrow and double arrow lines just like any other line.

Button image The line, arrow, and double arrow options are all interchangeable. Just select any of these drawn lines on a slide and click the Arrow Style button on the Drawing toolbar to reveal a submenu. The top three options let you change the type of line.


Drawing a curve in PowerPoint is easy and intuitive. Follow these steps to create a simple shape with the Curve tool Button image :

  1. Select the Curve tool.
  2. Click anywhere on the slide to create a starting point.
  3. Move the pointer down and to the right of the first point in a 45-degree angle and click again, as you can see in Figure 6-6.

Image of curves

Figure 6-6: Get them curved in PowerPoint.
  1. Move leftward in a straight line and click again, as shown in Figure 6-6.
  2. Click over the first point to close the shape.

 Tip   If you don't want to close the shape, just double-click wherever you want to place the closing point of the curve. As you just discovered, you are drawing with curved points rather than the corner points created by the Freeform Lines option. However, you can create a shape that contains both curved and corner points by using the Curve tool — just hold down CTRL and click to create a corner point rather than a curve point.

Freeform line

Despite its name, the Freeform line tool can create both freeform lines and straight lines. Its best capability may be a sequence of straight lines that form a shape or drawing.

Follow these steps to create freeform lines with the Freeform line tool Button image :

  1. Select the Freeform line tool.
  2. Click where you want to create the starting point. Don't release the mouse button yet.
  3. Drag and draw the same way you would with a pencil on paper.
  4. End your freeform line with these options:
    • To stop drawing, just double-click.
    • To close the shape, click the starting point once.

Follow these steps to create straight lines (and skyscrapers) with the Freeform line tool:

  1. Select the Freeform line tool.
  2. Click anywhere on the slide to mark the starting point of your drawing.
  3. Click anywhere on the slide to create another point.

PowerPoint draws a straight line connecting both the points.

  1. Keep adding nodes with connecting lines to create your own shape.

To do that, keep clicking to create new points and lines in between the points. Think of this as working in the same way as those connect-the-dots drawing books!

  1. When your drawing is done, click the first node (the starting point) to close the shape.

 Tip   If you don't want a closed shape, just double-click the last node.

Figure 6-7 shows how I created a skyscraper by using this technique.

Image of skyscrapers drawn with the Freeform Line tool

Figure 6-7: Skyscrapers with the Freeform line tool

 Tip   All closed shapes can be formatted with PowerPoint fills and lines; shapes that aren't closed can be formatted with PowerPoint line attributes.

Scribble line

The Scribble line option Button image works the same way as the Freeform line option but with one difference: You don't need to double-click to stop drawing — just stop dragging the pointer, and the drawing ends at that position — just like a pencil.

Draw better with tablets

However good you might be at controlling the mouse, it is not as intuitive as drawing with a pen or pencil on paper. To draw more accurately and artistically, consider using a drawing tablet or a Tablet PC platform rather than a conventional mouse.

A drawing tablet functions as a mouse replacement and lets you use a special pen over a magnetic tablet surface. Drawing tablets are often used as mouse replacements (or even coexist with mice) for desktop computers. Wacom creates the best drawing tablets — in fact, Wacom technology is part of the Microsoft Tablet PC platform. You can find more information at Wacom Technology Co..

A Tablet PC is a notebook computer that allows the screen to work as the tablet. This means you draw on the screen itself using a special pen — this is the closest simulation to paper and pen in the computer world. Microsoft creates a Tablet PC version of Windows that creates a seamless tablet interface. Find out more at Windows XP Tablet PC Edition.

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Selecting all the teeny-weeny stuff

This happens so often! You draw a hundred shapes on your PowerPoint slide, make them all sing and dance — and then fumble when you want to do something as simple as selecting a shape. Fortunately, here is all the help you need.

These selection techniques are almost always taken for granted:

  • To select an individual object, just click it.
  • To cancel selection of all objects on a slide, just click anywhere outside the slide area where no object is placed.
  • To select multiple objects that aren't next to each other, hold down SHIFT and click each consecutive object.
  • To select multiple objects next to each other, follow these steps:
    1. Make sure nothing is selected.
    2. Drag a marquee around the objects.

 Tip   To drag a marquee, click on one corner of the area and drag diagonally (an angle of about 45 degrees) until all your objects are selected. You can even start dragging from outside the slide area.

  • To highlight each individual object on the slide, keep pressing the TAB key on your keyboard until your object is selected.

The TAB key files through the slide objects.

Select Multiple Objects button

PowerPoint has a hidden tool called the Select Multiple Objects tool. The only way you can access it is through PowerPoint customization feature. Follow these steps to access the Select Multiple Objects tool:

  1. On the View menu, point to Toolbars and then click Customize to access the Customize dialog box.
  2. On the Commands tab, click Drawing in the Categories list.
  3. In the Commands list, drag the Select Multiple Objects button to anywhere on your Drawing toolbar. (I placed mine right next to the Select Objects button.)

Select Multiple Objects image

Follow these steps to use the Select Multiple Objects button:

  1. Click the Select Multiple Objects button.

This opens the Select Multiple Objects dialog box, which you can see in the picture above.

This dialog box has cryptic names for every object on the slide, so you might not immediately be able to identify which name represents which object.

  1. To identify an object, select each name and then click OK to see which object gets selected.

You can select multiple objects this way.

  1. When you are done selecting the objects, click OK to get back to the slide with the checked objects selected.

This isn't an intuitive way of doing things, but sometimes this is the only solution when you can't select an object by using conventional selection tools.

Shape Console is a PowerPoint add-in that displays a miniature floating window indicating the selected shapes on the slide. You can download a free copy from Shape Console for PowerPoint.

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Shadow boxing

Seeing shadows from nowhere in the middle of the night can be eerie. PowerPoint, which has no ghosts in the cupboard, makes you feel more secure with its shadows.

Did you hear the squeak of the cupboard door? Don't get paranoid — that was just a PowerPoint animation!

Adding shadows

PowerPoint lets you add shadows to all sorts of objects, including AutoShapes, text, and pictures. Follow these steps to add a shadow to any object:

  1. Select the object.
  2. Click the Shadow Style button Button image on the Drawing toolbar to open the Shadow submenu, which you can see in Figure 6-8.

 Tip   If you can't see the Drawing toolbar, on the View menu, point to Toolbars and then click Drawing to make it visible.

  1. Choose any of the shadow styles on this menu.

If you don't find the exact style you need, click Shadow Settings to spawn a toolbar of the same name (see Figure 6-9). The next section shows how you can create softer shadows.

 Tip   If you want to remove a shadow from an existing object, click No Shadow on the submenu (refer to Figure 6-8).

Shadow Style submenu image

Figure 6-8: The Shadow Style submenu

Adjusting shadows

PowerPoint default shadows are nice — and the presets allow you to add them quickly and easily. But if you want to create more convincing (or just call it eerie!) shadows, you will love the Shadow Settings toolbar (see Figure 6-9).

To access the Shadow Settings toolbar, click Shadow Style on the Drawing toolbar, and then click Shadow Settings.

Shadow Settings toolbar image

Callout 1 Shadows on/off
Callout 2 Nudge shadows
Callout 3 Click here to open the shadow color flyout

Figure 6-9: The Shadow Settings toolbar

The Shadow Settings toolbar holds six icons that allow you to tweak the shadows:

  • The leftmost button on this toolbar toggles between shadow and no shadow.
  • The middle four buttons nudge the shadow up, down, left, and right in 1-pixel increments.

 Tip   This can be very helpful if you don't want to use PowerPoint default shadow styles, or if you want to tweak one of the default styles.

  • The rightmost button is Shadow Color. Click the arrow to access a submenu (see Figure 6-9) that lets you choose from
    1. The default shadow color (Automatic) or any of the eight colors contained in the active Color Scheme.
    2. A semitransparent shadow.

Click this option again to switch off the semitransparent shadow.

  1. More Shadow Colors (which opens the default color picker and lets you choose any shadow color).

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Adding depth and perspective

Dimension adds depth and makes objects look closer or farther away than they actually are. Dimension also adds perspective, so appearance depends upon the angle from which an object is viewed. PowerPoint has an advanced 3-D engine working behind the scenes that is surprisingly simple and intuitive to use. It provides all the depth and perspective you might expect.

 Tip   The PowerPoint 3-D engine works only with AutoShapes. This leaves out pictures, but you can get around that limitation: Just use a rectangle AutoShape with a picture fill!

Follow these steps to add a 3-D style to an AutoShape:

  1. Select the AutoShape and then click 3-D Style Button image on the Drawing toolbar (see Figure 6-10) to open the 3-D Style submenu.

If you can't see the Drawing toolbar, on the View menu, point to Toolbars and then click Drawing.

3-D Settings flyout image

Callout 1 3-D Style icon
Figure 6-10: The 3-D Style submenu
  1. Choose from any of the preset styles on this submenu.

If you don't find the exact style you need, click 3-D Settings to spawn a toolbar of the same name. (See Figure 6-11.)

3-D Settings toolbar image

Callout 1 3-D on/off
Callout 2 Tilt 3-D angle
Callout 3 Depth
Callout 4 Direction
Callout 5 3-D color
Callout 6 Default 3-D color
Callout 7 Color scheme colors
Callout 8 Recently used colors
Figure 6-11: The 3-D Settings toolbar

If you want to remove 3-D from an existing object, click No 3-D on the submenu.

The 3-D Settings toolbar is a mini-application in itself. It has these options:

  • The leftmost button lets you enable or disable the 3-D attribute.
  • The second, third, fourth, and fifth buttons allow you to tilt the 3-D angle down, up, left, and right, respectively.
  • The Depth and Direction buttons allow you to play with the 3-D extrusion.
  • The Lighting button lets you change the direction of the light. You can also choose Bright, Normal, or Dim lighting.
  • The Surface button lets you choose from different surface styles, such as Wire Frame, Matte, Plastic, and Metal.
  • The rightmost button is the 3-D Color button. Click the arrow to reveal a submenu that lets you choose from
    • The default 3-D color (Automatic) or any of the eight colors contained in the active Color Scheme.
    • Recently used colors.
    • More 3-D Colors, which opens the default color picker, allowing you to choose any color.

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Applies to:
PowerPoint 2003