Office For Mac

Kurt’s Power Tip #7: An undocumented Shapes feature in PowerPoint 2011

In Power Tip #6, we talked about the basic Shapes in Office for Mac, today I will show you one really powerful undocumented Shapes feature in PowerPoint 2011.

What if you need a graphic that is somewhat more complex than the basic Office shapes? For example, if you need graphics like any of these:

(And for you Star Trek fans out there: Yes, the shape in the lower right corner is the Vulcan IDIC symbol, built from PowerPoint 2011 shapes, plus a piece of clip art from for the jewel.)

Shapes like these can be built from the 172 basic shapes in Office using four undocumented shape operations that enable you to graphically merge sets of shapes: Combine, Union, Intersect, and Subtract. Here are graphical definitions of these four operations:

There is only one way to access these four operations. Right click on a selection that contains two or more shapes, and display the Grouping sub-menu:

In this short movie, I use these operations to construct a hexagon shape with a heart-shaped hole and a rectangular appendage:

Neither Word nor Excel provide access to these four shape operations, but if you create such new, complex shapes in PowerPoint, you can paste them into Word or Excel:

I hope this background on Shapes, and this tip on the four undocumented shape operations, helps you create exactly the great-looking graphics you want to add to your presentations, documents, and spreadsheets.


On a personal note, by the time you read this I will have left Microsoft, so this is my last Power Tip. Writing these posts, and answering your questions, has been one of the most enjoyable tasks I have had the pleasure to work on in my 8 years at Microsoft. The Power Tip series will be continued by some of the excellent coworkers in the Mac team at Microsoft, albeit perhaps not with the zany humor of quoting Spiderman’s Uncle Ben while rendering a complex summation in the Zafino font, or in sneaking in a disclosure about a non-feature in future version of Office for Mac.

April 27th, 2011
Bookmark and Share
— @
  1. Wayne says:

    Hi all – I should have asked this before of course – the spell and grammar check . . . For someone who is afflicted with colour blindness (or should that be I am colorifically challenged), I always struggle with the red under squiggle for spelling errors and the green under squiggle for possible grammatical errors. Can I ask a favour please (note that I am from Australia so there is already a few spelling errors in this comment)?

    Can the possible grammatical errors be coloured with a blue under squiggle in the next versions? At least the red and the blue are very obviously different from each other where I find the red and green not very easy at all to distinguish? If a complete change is not possible, can there be an option in some settings somewhere that allows the user to make the change in their own preferences panel?

    Thank you so much – I really do enjoy Office for Mac 2011



  2. M-Rick says:

    Have you ever tried Apple Keynote ?

    It is better than MS PowerPoint.

    Some of the features where it is better than Powerpoint :

    - more simple and convenient uncluttered GUI, everything centralized and accessible in the inspector and not melted like they are in the ribbon.
    - easy object placing, with the possibility to set the EXACT X and Y position in centimeters or points.
    - smart object placing with automatic guides (center of the document horizontally and vertically, distance from other objects …)
    - More powerful effects with some impossible to be done in PowerPoint.
    - Smoother animations
    - Support of transparency for any object even for the videos !
    - Smooth reading of any media format managed by QuickTime.
    - Support of RTL languages for those who are needing them.
    - It can use instant alpha to remove background of pictures
    - You can export as interactive H264 movie

    For nothing in the world I would use PowerPoint anymore now that I use Keynote.
    PowerPoint is just a Rube Goldberg machine.
    It can do many things, but not easily and not as smooth and efficiently as in Apple Keynote.

  3. Donna says:

    Thanks for this info on an undocumented feature. What happens using this feature if the shapes don’t overlap, or if there are more than two shapes? Also, does undocumented also mean unsupported?