In a previous newsletter I showed how using semi-transparent shapes to show categories or groups of items can help explain a complex diagram or image. In the example, I used rectangles because the groups of items were located neatly beside each other.

What if the items you want to group are not in a neat arrangement? That’s when you need to use a non-standard shape. PowerPoint has many different shapes and most of the time you can find one that works. But when you can’t, how can you create a custom shape?

I suggest two methods. The first is to use the “Freeform: Shape” shape. To draw straight lines using this shape, you can hold down the Shift key and click on the end point of each line. The second method is to use the Merge Shapes feature to combine multiple standard shapes into a custom shape.

In the video below I show you both methods in PowerPoint, starting with an example of where a non-standard shape is necessary to identify specific items in a group on an airplane cockpit instrument panel.

In the video I also show you a technique to get two shapes to line up beside each other. If this is a struggle for you to do by manually dragging the shapes into place, the technique I show will make this much easier for you.

You can use the shape creation and alignment techniques in the video to create your own custom icons as well. You can create an icon by aligning several standard shapes. Select all the shapes in the icon. Right-click and Save as Picture. Select the Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) file type. When you insert this image on a slide, you can resize it without distortion and you can ungroup it back to the original shapes. Note that saving and importing SVG files is available in Office 365 and may not be available in other versions of PowerPoint.

Whether you use a non-standard shape for an overlay or to create a custom shape or icon to use again, learn the techniques in the video above to make your task quicker.