MICROSOFT POWERPOINT 365: Meet the Shape Union and Shape Subtract Tools
Nine years ago I wrote some articles about the Shape Union and Shape Subtract tools, but, friends, it’s been a while. And can you believe these tools are still lying dormant in secrecy, waiting for you to discover them?
First, I’ll show you what you can do with these tools. Then I’ll show you where to find them. And then I’ll show you how to use them.
If you’re using PowerPoint 365, you have access to a limited (but decent) selection of icons by choosing Insert > Icons from the ribbon.
Let’s say you’re looking for a flower. PowerPoint’s got you covered with the free icon below:
But what if you want other flowers to match, and with a bit of variation? Not a ton of flower options readily accessible here. Using some basic shapes and the shape union and subtract tool, you could easily create your own that mimic the original with a cut-out, transparent circle center:
Here’s How to Add the Tools to Your Ribbon
First, you’ll need to add the Shape Union and Shape Subtract tools to your ribbon, as they are not there by default.
Choose where you’d like the tools to live. I put mine on the Home tab of the ribbon.
Right-click the ribbon of your selected tab and choose Customize the Ribbon. (The PowerPoint Options dialog box will appear.)
On the right-hand side of the dialog box, you’ll find the Customize the Ribbon area. With your desired tab selected (I’m going to put these on my Home tab), click the New Group button.
A group called New Group (Custom) will be added for that tab. Right-click the New Group, choose Rename, and give the new group a relevant name. I’m going to call mine Shape Editing.
From the Choose Commands From drop-down menu on the left, choose All Commands.
Click within the list of commands and hit the [M] key on your keyboard. Scroll until you find the Merge Shapes command and select it.
Ensure your new, custom group is selected on the right and click the Add button to add the command to your new group.
This will add the Merge Shapes command to your ribbon which includes the Union, Subtract, Fragment, Intersect, and Combine tools. I'll cover the last three in future articles.
Here’s How to Use the Shape Union Tool
To make my second flower pictured above, I combined four Heart shapes.
Choose Insert > Shapes and from the Basic Shapes area, choose the heart.
Draw one heart and then press [Ctrl] [D] to duplicate it.
Select the second heart and from the Drawing Tools Format tab, choose Rotate > FlipVertical. (Now you have two hearts, one of which is upside down. )
Select the second heart and press [Ctrl] [D] to duplicate it.
Select the third heart and from the Drawing Tools Format tab, choose Rotate > Rotate Right 90 degrees.
Select the third heart and press [Ctrl] [D] to duplicate it.
Select the fourth heart and from the Drawing Tools Format tab, choose Rotate > Flip Horizontal. (You now have four identical hearts rotated in four different directions.)
Align them like this:
With all four hearts selected, but not grouped, navigate to your new custom group on your ribbon and choose Merge Shapes > Union to turn the four shapes into one united shape.
Here’s How to Use the Shape Subtract Tool
Insert a circle by choosing Insert > Shapes > Oval.
Hold down the [Shift] key as you draw to create a perfect circle instead of an oval.
Duplicate your circle so you can use the exact circle for your next flower (if you are creating more than one) and put it to the side.
Align the circle to the center and the middle of your heart-shape creation by holding the [Ctrl] key and selecting both shapes. From the ribbon, choose Drawing Tools Format > Align > Align Center and then Align Middle.
Click to deselect both shapes. Select the outer shape, hold down the [Ctrl] key, and then select the circle. Yes, the order matters.
From your Merge Shapes tool, choose Subtract.
You’ll be left a flower similar to the PowerPoint icon with a cutout circle center. For the third flower I used this same process but used the Teardrop shape for the flower petals.
AJ Walther, COTP, is IconLogic's Chief Creative Officer (CCO), a seasoned online trainer, eLearning graphic designer, and author of both "PowerPoint 2007: The Essentials" and "PowerPoint 2008 for the Macintosh: The Essentials." AJ made her own interdisciplinary studies major, focusing on writing and art. Her combined expertise in PowerPoint, graphic design, and writing allows her to bring a unique skillset to the eLearning community.