June 27, 2016

6 ProTips for Using PowerPoint as a Vector Graphics Editor

PowerPoint has a bad rep. When I mention that PowerPoint (particularly since version 2013) is my go-to tool for creating quick and easy graphic assets for e-learning and presentations, I get weird looks. Of course, PowerPoint is not the most comfortable tool for vector editing, but it's my go-to tool for simple assets and today I would like to share some of tips I've learned and which may be useful for you if you'd like to improve you "powerpointing" skills, particularly if you're not a learned designer (I'm not).

ProTip 1: Start Simple

When I started using PowerPoint to create images, after making a couple of laptops and computer monitors, I decided that I'm going to do my own portrait. That's what happened:

Hello! It's me, your first vector art! I will haunt you forever.

It may not be that bad, but it definitely wasn't what I was aiming for. Fast forward through a year of hard slogs through the swamp of despair and that's what I can do now: 

I'm your 1000000th vector art. Well, at least you're dedicated.

I'm not sharing this to brag about my progress, but rather to highlight that you shouldn't start with complex tasks as you don't start reading Shakespeare if you want to learn English. After being disappointed in my portraiture skills, I went back to simple things. Based on my experience, I would recommend the following practicing path (the list is not exhaustive):
  • Man-made everyday objects (devices, gadgets, office equipment)
  • Geometrical buildings and architecture
  • Plants and other flora
  • Stylized living creatures
If you feel like jumping into the deep end - go for it, but keep in mind that it's OK to take a step back. It's not a sign of your failure as a person.

ProTip 2: Practice expressing objects with basic shapes

By basic shapes I mean ovals, squares, rounded squares and  triangles. Everyday mass-produced things are usually simple and can be reduced down to geometrical shapes. A keyboard is a rectangle. A monitor is a rectangle. An iPad is a rectangle. Your credit card is a rectangle. A folder is a rectangle and so forth. A drinking glass is a rectangle and an oval. A bowl is a half a circle and an oval. This is also the reason why I recommend this category as a starting point. 

Once you get accustomed to recognizing basic shapes in various objects, you can start thinking about simplifying complex shapes and/or adding more details to simple shapes. For example, if you create a rounded square to represent a credit card, it will be very hard for the viewer to recognize it as a credit card. You will need to add some features that make a credit card different from any other rectangular objects, such as a simplified logo or a representation of text.

What makes a black square a credit card?

ProTip 3: Adjust the defaults and edit the points.

Note that I have adjusted the angle of the curved corners in the example above. If you compare a credit card (or an iPhone/iPad) with the default rounded square in PowerPoint, you will notice that the shape have much rounder corners, which make your images look bulky and not as elegant as the original products. Another thing you can do to make your objects less chunky and more appealing is to use "Edit points" feature to adjust the finer details of your object. For example, below is a quick time-lapse video of me creating an office chair in PowerPoint: 

 Note that I'm using points to adjust the curves of the chair back and the seat just a little bit. While my image is quite simple, these little details, like a curved seat or a smoother chair back add more credibility to it. In addition, you probably noticed that to create symmetrical shapes, I create only half of the shape, duplicate it and merge both together. 

ProTip 4: Use a model / guide

It is very hard to draw "out of your head", particularly if you're not accustomed to it or if your subject is complicated. There's also no need to do that! Even if you want to make a stylized iPhone, it helps to have a model. You will have better proportions and you will feel more confident about yourself. 

Don't hesitate to use photos or drawings of simple objects, such as books, phones or office supplies. Make sketches (by hand on paper) or take your own photos of objects and trace them in PowerPoint. Neither sketches nor photos have to be perfect - you can make your lines smoother and better in PowerPoint. Take a look at the example where I use a photo to create a human head:

Unless I'm making a very simple "dummy-shaped" or faceless avatars, I always use some sort of a guide - either sketches or royalty-free photography. At the very least, I start with some simple shapes thrown together to resemble an idea of  the end result I want to achieve (as in the example with the office chair). Note that you don't have to re-create your models 1:1. For example, the picture below was based on this Unsplash photo.

ProTip 5: Do not use too many points 

For some reason, I (as well as quite a lot of other beginners) used to think that I need to have a lot of points to have a good drawing. However, I would always end up frustrated, because it was, of course, impossible to adjust every little tiny point and my shapes would end up very jagged and ugly no matter what I did. I'm not sure how I arrived at the idea of using less nodes, but since then my life has been much easier.

For this very reason, I do not recommend using "scribble" as your free-form drawing shape and would recommend "Curve" instead. Although it is not extremely intuitive to use from the start, it does produce better and cleaner curves. With Scribble you may end up spending more time on cleaning up your project from unneeded points than actually editing it. Compare:

This is a curve made with Scribble.

And this is a curve made with Curve.

As you can see - much smoother and way lower "point noise". 

ProTip 6: Do not despair

When it comes to art, in any form, we tend to want to produce Great Things. The definition of Great Things, however, is quite hazy and makes this objective un-achievable. Instead of despairing and declaring that you're good for nothing because you cannot achieve Un-achievable Great Things, try to do simple things, but make them better every day (or week, or year). 


  1. These are great tips, Maija. I liked your idea of creating only half image.

  2. Excellent information, Maija! Thanks for sharing this.