episode 10: Adobe Techniques in PowerPoint


  • In the beginning – of digital presentation design – all apps were extremely limited in their editing capabilities. But things have improved and it is amazing what can be designed direct inside PowerPoint. For this podcast episode, Troy, Nolan and Sandra talk about how they accomplish many “Adobe design techniques” directly inside PowerPoint.


What “Photoshop” techniques can we do directly in PowerPoint vs. using Photoshop?

  • Nolan: The best reason to use these techniques is because they are fast and non-destructive. There are lots of “basics” including: cropping, resizing, rotating, brightness/contrast, sharpening. More advanced ‘Photoshop’ techniques include: recoloring, artistic effects (eg. blur), and one of my favorite techniques: stretch without distorting.
  • Sandy: PowerPoint’s Remove background tool is not perfect, but is a major Photoshop technique.
  • Troy: Another Photoshop type technique recoloring, or completely removing color. A good example is working with logos. Lots of slides need a company logo that is solid white or black. If you the logo is a raster image there is a super easy way to do this within PowerPoint. Select the image, go to the Format Picture pane and the Picture Corrections tab. Use the Brightness slider to blow out all color and make it solid white, or the opposite to make it solid black.


Adobe Illustrator is the king of vector graphics and art, but PowerPoint has a lot of powerful vector graphic capabilities

  • Sandy: I think the everyday PowerPoint user may not understand vectors graphics. Photo editing programs like Photoshop are raster-based. That is, images are made of dots or pixels. The more dots, the better the image quality, but the larger the file size – this can be a problem for PowerPoint files. Vector-based programs, like Adobe Illustrator, create images that do not render images on a pixel by pixel basis. They create images based on mathematical algorithms of points, and the app redraws the image at any size with no quality loss. You can identify vectors by their extensions: EPS, SVG, AI, EMF and WMF. PowerPoint can currently use .EMF and .WMF. The fun starts when you import EMF files into PowerPoint, then ungroup them to give you editable vector elements.
  • Nolan: (describes his Mac workflow for importing EPS vector art into PowerPoint)
  • Troy: PowerPoint is a vector workflow. The idea that text is scalable without quality loss, especially for animation and layout purposes is fantastic. One of the best, newer, tools in PowerPoint is the Merge Shapes feature. It is a great vector editing option right within PowerPoint, even if it is not a robust as editing vector graphics in Adobe Illustrator.


Adobe InDesign is the dominant layout program for everything print…

  • Nolan: As we’ve discussed previously, PowerPoint has limitations when it comes to text layout.  There’s no text wrap around images (although you can fake it with manual line breaks), no text run from text box to text box or page to page, no styles (with exceptions) and not nearly as much typographical. But there are some things you can take advantage of, like columns.
  • Sandy: I am not an InDesign user, but really want some of the old Microsoft Publisher layout features in PowerPoint.
  • Troy: Soft returns for text fine tuning are a great solution, even if it is a manual process.


What do you think of when we say Shadows as an Adobe Technique in PowerPoint?

  • Nolan: There used to be an add-in for creating soft shadows which I used all the time. Occasionally, you still may need to create your own shadows and you can often do that right in PPT using a combination of soft edges and transparency. For example, if you have a sphere or globe graphic and you want it to seem to be floating above a flat surface, you can take a black oval, make the edges soft, reduce the transparency and position it below the globe however far down you want.
  • Sandy: I think of soft shadows. We have had feathered shadows now since PowerPoint 2007.
  • Troy: Those original opaque hard edge shadows were an instant visual cue that people were looking at a PowerPoint slide. I hated them. I had a library of black shapes with varies shadows I developed in Photoshop and then would use under images on slides to give them a nice soft feathered edge shadow that is a completely standard feature in PowerPoint now.
    • The PPTXtreme Soft Shadow add-in was awesome, to not go out to Photoshop, create a shadow and import the shadow image, but with that add-in do virtually the same thing right in PowerPoint was the first step in the evolution in accomplishing Adobe techniques directly in PowerPoint. I believe the Soft Shadow add-in from PPTXtreme is the only add-in from them no longer available.


What about gradient fills and lines?

  • Troy: Lots of people may not remember but PowerPoint did not always have the ability to create gradients. And the ability to create gradients with transparency was a huge advance in design enabling all kinds of common design Adobe techniques direct in PowerPoint.
  • Sandy: Gradients were not very easy to use when they were introduced in PowerPoint 2007. If I remember correctly, they caused all kinds of problems with editing because they were not backward compatible.
  • Nolan: I use a gradient with transparency over an image to fade out one edge of image as a design technique all the time. I also do a lot of design with gradient lines.


What about semi-transparent fills, bevels, and artistic effects

  • Nolan: There are a limited set of Photoshop like filters in PowerPoint that can save a trip to Photoshop for things like blurring an image. Again all of these image filters are non-destructive, so you the original image is always just a few clicks away.
  • Sandy: Semi-transparent fills are a great design tool for PowerPoint users and really allow presentation designers to leverage current design trends (think Instagram style).
  • Troy: For design, I am huge user of many of the styling effects in PowerPoint; like beveled edges, glow edges, and more.


Motion Paths

  • Sandy: Motion path animations are wonderful to use and you can do a lot with them. The new Morph transition is something I am using a lot in place of Motion Paths.
  • Troy: I entered Presentation Design from a heavy Flash design background, using Motion Paths created a lot of Flash and After Effects type of visuals directly in PowerPoint. Combine Motion Paths and the Shyam Motion Path Tool add-in we mentioned on the add-ins episode, and I was able to avoid creating lots of animation in Flash (that was imported and embedded into the presentation). Of course that is a moot point now as .fla and .swf Flash files no longer work in PowerPoint, so it is good we can do these complex motion path animations direct in PowerPoint!


Any video editing things you do directly in PowerPoint vs. going out to a video editor?

  • Nolan: I like adding my own lower 3rd overlay on video content.
  • Sandy: Being able to set, or even use an external image for the video Poster Frame is great.
  • Troy: I still do a lot of video editing in Adobe Premiere, but the amount of video work you can do direct in PowerPoint is amazing.
      • Transcode (convert .avi to .mp4)
      • Create video content (export to video)
      • Resize and Stretch (for visual effects)
      • Crop (ie. remove the news ticker line)


Adobe Acrobat and PDF output is an industry standard for all computer users. Adobe invented the Portable Document Format (PDF) which is now used by every application, and PowerPoint has improved its PDF printing a lot over the years.

  • Sandy: In PPT 2007, as an optional download, you could install Microsoft’s own internal PDF output engine. It is now standard since PPT 2010.
  • Troy: The Microsoft PDF output is optimized for Microsoft content. It generally does better than the Adobe PDF output for things like gradients and semi-transparent objects. I also think it is a faster print process when using the Microsoft PDF engine vs. Adobe’s or other 3rd party options.
  • Nolan: at least on the Mac, which does not use a Microsoft PDF print engine, there are no hyperlinks on native output. PDFs are also difficult on non-standard sized pages.


Resources from this Episode:
Illustrator to Keynote Export Plugin (does not work with Keynote 6)


Show Suggestions? Questions for your Hosts?

Email us at: [email protected]

New Episodes 1st and 3rd Tuesday Every Month

Thanks for joining us!