How to create a faux picture collage in Microsoft PowerPoint

Image: monticellllo/Adobe Stock

Creating an effective slide doesn’t require a degree in design or a ton of Microsoft PowerPoint skills. Although those factors do help, sometimes all you need is a bit of imagination. For instance, you might want to create a collage, but perhaps you don’t have time or you can’t find enough pictures that represent your focus. In this case, less might be good enough or even better.

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to create a faux collage effect by inserting one picture, toning it down a bit and then adding lines to divide the picture into segments. It’s easy and the result can be quite elegant or splashy depending on whether you’re going for subtlety or excitement.

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I’m using Microsoft 365 on a Windows 10 64-bit system, but you can use earlier versions through PowerPoint 2016 to easily apply transparency settings. The steps might be a bit different, but not so different that you can’t follow along.

You can download the Microsoft PowerPoint demo file for this tutorial.

How to determine when to use transparency in PowerPoint

The main reason to use transparency is to tone down an image that competes with the focus. By making the image less visible, you can keep the image, which should add to the focus by creating a bit of excitement or emotion. In short, the image should add depth to the focus without overpowering it.

We’ll work with a picture that provides a subtle background. Think of this technique as quiet background music at a party. It’s comfortable but it doesn’t take over, at the right volume, it creates a nice atmosphere.

The steps are simple:

  • Insert a picture.
  • Apply a transparency level that pushes the picture into the background without losing it entirely.
  • Add lines to create the “collage.”

Every step is subjective. For that reason, I recommend that you show the finished slide to a few colleagues for an informal critique.

When it comes to choosing the right picture, I have only one recommendation: The picture should be well balanced. If the picture has a huge splash of color in one corner, there’s no way to tone down the affect it will have on your audience. Their eyes will go straight to that corner. However, that can work if that’s what you want.

How to insert a picture in PowerPoint

You can work with most any picture. If you’re using a picture of your own, you’ll insert it from your local system as follows:

  1. Click the Insert tab.
  2. Click Pictures in the Images group: You can also choose Stock Images or Online Pictures.
  3. From the dropdown, choose This Device. Doing so will open the Insert Picture dialog, which you’ll then use to locate the file and click Insert. If you choose Stock Images, use the interface to choose and insert a picture.
  4. Drag to resize and position. Remember, if you hold down CTRL while resizing, PowerPoint will center the picture.

I’m working with an image provided by PowerPoint’s Designer feature. When you launch a blank PowerPoint file, it displays the Designer pane and offers several images. Simply click one to use it in the current slide. When resizing to fit a slide, PowerPoint displays guides at the corners so you know where the slide ends, as shown in Figure A. These guides help with resizing.

Figure A

Use PowerPoint’s guides to size an image to the slide.
Use PowerPoint’s guides to size an image to the slide.

If you work with the demonstration file, you’ll notice that I’ve also reset the color to black and white using the Color option in the Adjust group on the contextual Picture Format tab. You don’t need to do so, but a black and white image is a good choice for this technique.

When choosing Stock Images or Online Pictures, keep copyright issues in mind. Most everything in the Stock Images interface is available via a common license, which means they are freely distributable, but some will require that you credit the source.

How to apply transparency to tone down the image in PowerPoint

One of the best ways to tone down the image is to make it a bit transparent. Doing so is easy. Most pictures start out at 0% transparency, so when adding this particular property, you’ll want to increase the setting as follows:

1. Click the image to select it.

2. Click the contextual Picture Format tab.

3. In the Adjust group, click Transparency.

4. Choose a thumbnail from the dropdown, which displays a gallery of transparency options (Figure B). As you move the mouse over the thumbnails, PowerPoint’s live preview feature will update the image making it easy to make the right choice the first time.

Figure B

Increase the transparency setting to tone down the image.
Increase the transparency setting to tone down the image.

5. You may also choose Picture Transparency Options to open the Format Picture pane and increase the Transparency setting. The amount is subjective and up to you.

After making the image a bit transparent, you’re ready to add the lines that create the collage effect.

How to insert lines to create a collage effect in PowerPoint

The next step allows you to be a bit creative. By adding lines, you can divide the picture into segments, creating a collage effect, but that’s all it is. The background picture is the only picture, whereas in a traditional collage, you would use many pictures. That’s why I call this a “faux” collage.

Now, let’s insert a line shape as follows:

1. Click the Insert tab.

2. Click Shapes in the Illustrations group.

3. From the dropdown, choose Lines from the Basic Shapes section.

4. Drag to create your first line. Hold down the Shift key to make sure you insert a straight line. This works with all shapes, not only the line shape.

5. With the line still selected, click the contextual Shape Format tab.

6. In the Shape Styles group, click Shape Outline.

7. From the dropdown, choose the color white and 4 ½ point as the weight (Figure C).

Figure C

Add the first line and format it.
Add the first line and format it.

Not all pictures will respond to PowerPoint’s transparency setting. When this happens, insert a rectangle shape over the original picture, change the fill color to white and apply the transparency setting to the rectangle.

This next tip will serve you well: To insert multiple lines with the same properties set the first line as the default. Then, right-click the formatted line and choose Set As Default from the submenu, as shown in Figure D. You can do this with any formatted shape.

Figure D

Set the formatted line as the default line.
Set the formatted line as the default line.

Here’s another quick tip: After setting the default line, you must insert many lines. You can speed things up by locking in drawing mode. When you insert the second line, instead of clicking the line in the dropdown, right-click it and choose Lock Drawing Mode, as shown in Figure E. Then, you can simply click anywhere to add the formatted line. You don’t need to return to the Insert tab at all. Press Escape when you’re done to exit drawing mode.

Figure E

Use drawing mode to quickly insert the same shape many times.
Use drawing mode to quickly insert the same shape many times.

Continue adding lines until you have the desired number of segments and then add text or other graphics, such as a logo or icon, but adding other graphics can be an iffy decision. Figure F shows a few additions, including an icon in the bottom-left corner.

Figure F

After creating the collage effect, add text that supports your focus.
After creating the collage effect, add text that supports your focus.

This is such a simple technique considering the effect. You can use it as a title slide or facts slide. Depending on your needs, it could even become a template slide.

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