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How to use vector graphics to create cool custom graphics in PowerPoint

Free graphics aren’t written on stone in Microsoft PowerPoint. Many will allow you to ungroup all the pieces, use what you want and delete what you don’t.

  With a little effort, you have a cool icon that shares your organization’s logo colors.

Graphics can be a huge part of your PowerPoint presentation. From icons to bullet points, to animated images, you have a design in your head, but you may not have the skills of a graphic artist or designer to create it. When this happens, you can certainly hire a professional—and you should in some situations. On the other hand, with the amount of free graphic art out there, it’s worth finding something that sort of meets your needs and then adapting it. You don’t need any specialized skills. You only need a good feel for what you want.

SEE: 83 Excel tips every user should master (TechRepublic)

I’m using Microsoft 365 (desktop) on a Windows 10 64-bit system, but you can use earlier versions. For your convenience, you can download the demonstration .pptx and .ppt files. This article isn’t appropriate for the online version. This article assumes you have basic skills in PowerPoint, such as inserting objects and formatting, but even a beginner should be able to work through the instructions to success. 

Make a plan for your custom graphic

When adding custom graphics to a presentation, whether for icons, bullet points or animation, you need a bit of plan before you actually start inserting things. For most of us, that means relating graphics to the organization the presentation represents. Think about the logo—its shapes and colors—and incorporate those in your graphics when appropriate. In addition, think about the point you’re trying to illustrate. Did profits go up? That could mean anything from a bold arrow to a smiley face, to a simple text message—Congratulations! On the other hand, if you really can’t come up with something from the start, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of research to spark your imagination.

How to insert a graphic in PowerPoint

Finding the right graphic can be frustrating. You can hire a professional to design and create your graphics, or you can experiment a little and use pieces of one or many graphics to create a graphic. 

Now let’s suppose that you sell koi fish, and you want to create a graphic, quickly and easily. You found one, but it isn’t the overall picture you imagined. The good news is that you can insert the graphic, break it down into pieces and then use the pieces to create a different design.

First, we need a graphic and the stock images accessible with PowerPoint. It came through for us, as you can see in Figure A. In a blank slide, do the following:

  1. Click the Insert tab and click Pictures in the Pictures group.
  2. Choose Stock Images in the dropdown.
  3. In the resulting pane, click Illustrations.
  4. Find the koi graphic, click it, and then click Insert.

Figure A

ppvectors-a.jpg

  Insert this illustration of koi fish.

Once the graphic is in a slide, you must see if it’s something you can use.

About vectors

If you find a graphic that’s perfect as is, great. If not, you can choose one that’s close, choose the pieces and delete what you don’t need. But you can’t do that with every graphic. You’re looking for vector files. In the simplest terms, a vector file is stored as a series of lines and curves, rather than pixels (little dots). They’re easier to scale. A side benefit is that you can often separate the lines.

To determine if a graphic is a vector file, look at the extension; most vector files are .svg, .cgm, .odg, .eps and .xml files. When using the stock images option, you won’t know what type of file a graphic is. Once it’s inserted, you can right-click and choose Save As Picture to see the file’s name and extension. As you can see in Figure B, the demonstration graphic is an .svg file, so we should be able to use it.

Figure B

ppvectorgraphics-b-jpg.png

  Our koi graphic is an .svg file, which is a vector file.

Separating the pieces

The first step to dismantling the koi graphic is to select it and then click the contextual Graphics Format tab. In the Arrange group, click the Group dropdown and choose Ungroup. If the Ungroup option is dimmed, you can’t use the graphic; find another graphic to work with. However, this shouldn’t happen with a vector file. Just the same, when you click Ungroup, PowerPoint displays the message in Figure C. Keeping going; click Yes.

Figure C

ppvectorgraphics-c.jpg

You might have to make an extra click. 

You might see this message when trying to ungroup vector files. Figure D shows the ungrouped image. We’re lucky because this one has only four parts to work with; sometimes these files are very complex and removing pieces without impacting what you want to keep is difficult. I recommend that you work with a copy. That way if you really mess it up, you can delete the mess, make a new copy and start over without having to insert the graphic again. 

Figure D

ppvectorgraphics-d.jpg

  The ungrouped image is ready to work with.

We want to keep both of the fish and delete all of the background. If you like, start pulling the different pieces apart to get an idea of how it’s put together. To do so, click anywhere outside the graphic to clear the select and start clicking to select a piece at a time. Figure E shows the four pieces separated. Keep only the two fish; delete the background circle and the rectangle with bubbles.

Figure E

ppvectorgraphics-e.jpg

  It’s easy to separate the pieces in such a simple graphic.

Use the rotation handle to position both koi. Figure F shows the placement you want. You’ll also have to rotate (horizontally) the black koi. Click the Arrange dropdown, choose Rotate and then choose Rotate Horizontally. (The demonstration .pptx file has a slide of only the koi if you can’t position them correctly, or you prefer not to.)

Figure F

ppvectors-f1.jpg

  Reposition the two koi.

Finishing up

It’s time to consider logo art, shapes and so on. Let’s suppose your company logo is blue. Let’s create a blue circle, format it to resemble an icon and put the koi and circle together.

The finished circle is in Figure G. Insert a circle from the Shapes dropdown on the Insert menu. Hold down the Shift key as you draw the circle to make sure it’s a perfect circle. With the shape selected, use the contextual Shape Format tab’s Shape Fill, Shape Outline and Shape Effects options to add a light blue fill color with a gradient (or not), an outline and a shadow. After adding the koi, you can always change your mind. 

Figure G

ppvector-f.jpg

  Let’s use this circle as the graphic’s background.

With the background ready, copy the two koi parts to the background. Figure H is my results—don’t worry if yours is a bit different. I set the slide’s background to a dark gray to match the gray and white fish. You could just as easily match the orange koi. Then, I went back to the original slide and copied the bubbles twice; the bubbles aren’t symmetrical on purpose. You’re free to change the positions of the koi, the background colors and so on. For instance, the circle’s shadow is lost in the dark background. This is a simple decision to make: lighten the background or remove the shadow.

Figure H

ppvector-h.jpg

  With a little effort, you have a cool icon that shares your organization’s logo colors.

After you work through a few vector images, you’ll begin to develop a bit of a second nature about what will work and won’t don’t. Before you start, be sure to look at the file’s name to make sure it’s a vector file. The point is to learn how to use free vector clipart, icons, illustrations and so on to create what you want. When the new graphic is done, consider grouping all the pieces and the background so you can easily resize and reposition. In this demonstration, the finished image is large, but you can make it any size you like—even much smaller, you can still make out the details. 

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