Combine Shapes is a set of new, well hidden, features in PowerPoint 2010 that lets you create your own shapes. They’re particularly useful when the existing shapes don’t quite meet your needs.
For example, I often like to use a series of chevron shapes to indicate an arrow or forward movement. I also like to fill these with a gradient, but that’s difficult to do with a series of shapes – getting the gradient to move smoothly across disparate shapes is nearly impossible. However, if I combine the shapes into one, it’s very easy to add a gradient that spans the entire combination. That’s the whole point of combining shapes instead of just layering or grouping shapes: you can add effects that will apply to the entire shape, not just the individual pieces.
To begin, add the Combine Shapes group to your Quick Access Toolbar by following these steps:
- Click File | Options and choose Quick Access Toolbar
- In the Choose Commands From dropdown, select All Commands
- Scroll down the command well on the left until you come to Combine Shapes; select the first Combine Shapes option (see Figure 1)
- Click Add to add the Combine Shapes group to your Quick Access Toolbar
You can add these tools to the Ribbon if you prefer. You can also add the individual tools instead of the entire group, if you find that easier. The individual tools are Shape Combine, Shape Intersect, Shape Subtract and Shape Union.
Once you’ve added the tools to the interface, you’re ready to create shapes!
To begin creating the extended chevron in our example above, click Insert | Shapes on the Ribbon, and in the Block Arrows section select the Chevron shape. Click and drag on the slide to create a chevron.
Now create copies of the chevron. You can press Ctrl and Shift while you drag the chevron, which adds a copy and keeps it horizontally (or vertically) aligned with the original. (Be sure to let go of the mouse button before you release the Ctrl and Shift keys!) If you prefer, you can copy and paste as you always do and then use the alignment tools on the Ribbon to align the chevrons. (See Figure 2)
Use the Distribute Horizontally tool to distribute the chevrons equally. Follow these steps:
- Select all of the chevrons
- On the Home tab of the Ribbon, select Arrange | Align and make sure Align Selected Objects is selected
- On the Home tab of the Ribbon, select Arrange | Align| Distribute Horizontally
The chevrons will adjust themselves so they’re all equidistant between the farthest left and farthest right objects.
With all of the chevrons selected, choose Combine Shapes on the Quick Access Toolbar and click either Shape Union or Shape Combine. Voila! The individual shapes become one.
To add a gradient to the combined chevrons, select the shape, then go to the Drawing Tools Format tab of the Ribbon. Select Shape Fill | Gradient | Linear Left. (See Figure 3)
You can see the gradient extend throughout the chevrons that make up the entire combined shape in Figure 4.
Because the chevrons in our example didn’t overlap, it didn’t matter whether we used Shape Union or Shape Combine when creating our shape. But sometimes it does matter. Here are some tips you can use when working with the Combine Shapes tools.
Undo is your friend
Ctrl+Z (undo) is your BFF (best friend forever) when working with Combine Shapes! If you use one of the tools and it doesn’t do what you expected, simply press Ctrl+Z to undo it and try something else.