PowerPoint: Create your own shapes. No talent required.

My son is incredibly artistic, but he didn’t inherit it from me. I can’t draw on paper and I certainly can’t draw on a computer. Those who can use the Freeform tool or even the Edit Points functionality (available when you right-click a shape) and create masterpieces will never cease to amaze me. But despite having absolutely zero drawing talent, I created all of these shapes.


Impressed? If you are, then you probably don’t know about the Merge Shapes tool in PowerPoint. It can be used to create a new shape from those that are built-in and you can even create shapes from text and symbol characters. The warning icon, and flower, for example, were created using symbols available in the Wingdings font. The arrows were created using a symbol and a circle.

In PowerPoint for Mac 2016 and in PowerPoint for Windows 2013 and above, Merge Shapes is located on the Drawing Tools Format tab in the Insert Shapes group. This tool is also available in PowerPoint 2010 for Windows, but you need to add it to your Quick Access Toolbar (QAT) or the ribbon in order to use it. (See the tip at the end if you need instructions on how to add it.)

Merge Shapes has following tools.

 Union Union: Merges the selected shapes into a single shape.
 Combine Combine: Merges the selected shapes but cuts out the areas where they intersect.
 Fragment Fragment (Not available in PowerPoint 2010): Cuts out the areas where each selected shape intersects.
 Intersect Intersect: Leaves the areas where the selected shapes intersect.
Dashed lines added for illustration.
 Subtract Subtract: Cuts out the area of the first selected shape from the other shapes. (In the example to the left, the bottom circle was selected first)
Dashed lines added for illustration.

The short version to merge and combine shapes is to select at least two overlapping shapes. You can use your mouse to drag around the shapes (lasso them) or hold your Shift key while selecting each shape. Then, select your preferred Merge Shapes tool.

This curved arrow, for example, was created from Crescent and Triangle shapes and combined with the Union tool.

For the longer version with detailed steps, here’s how to transform a symbol into a shape.

  1. On a blank PowerPoint slide, from the Insert tab, click or tap Shapes, and then click or tap Rectangle and draw a rectangle on the slide.
  2. On the Drawing Tools Format tab, in the Insert Shapes group, click or tap Text Box and draw a text box on top of the Rectangle.
  3. With the cursor in the text box, from the Insert tab, click Symbol.
  4. In the Symbol dialog, from the Font drop down, select Wingdings or Webdings.
  5. Select a symbol of your choice, click or tap the Insert button, and then click or tap Close.
  6. Select the inserted symbol, and on the Home tab, in the Font group, click or tap the Increase Font button (located next to the Font Size drop down) until the symbol is about the same height of the rectangle.
  7. Hold your Shift key, select the rectangle to add it to your text box selection, and then release the Shift key.
  8. On the Drawing Tools Format tab, in the Insert Shapes group, click Merge Shapes, and then click Intersect.

That’s all there is to it! After your shapes have been transformed, you can format them like as you would any preset shape—you can right-click your new shape and select Edit Points to fine-tune your new masterpiece, add Shape Effects, such as bevel, shadow, or 3D, and copy and paste them for use in another Office document.

TipIf you’re wondering how I created the other shapes in the first screenshot, the WATER shape was created using the Teardrop shape and a text box. They were merged using the Combine tool. The Celtic knot is three overlapping Hollow Circle shapes. I used the Combine tool to add cutouts where each circle overlapped. To create a solid shape, use the Union tool.

PPT QATTo add the Merge Shapes tool to your QAT (the tiny toolbar located above the Home and Insert tabs on the ribbon) follow these steps.

  1. Click File and then click Options.
  2. Click Quick Access Toolbar.
  3. Above the left pane in the customize options, under the Choose Commands from drop down, select Commands Not in the Ribbon.
  4. In the list of available commands, select Combine Shapes, and then click the Add button to add it to your Quick Access Toolbar.

For more information on how to customize your Quick Access Toolbar, see this blog post.
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