Creating picture transparency is one of those zany things in PowerPoint that is technically impossible…you cannot directly add a transparency to a picture…but there just happens to be a workaround.
When Would You Ever Need this Trick?
Well, if you are PSYCHED for the playoffs, you could (for example) take the members from your favorite defensive team (ours is the legion of BOOM) and superimpose them over your home stadium to create a cool effect!
Now besides doing this with single pictures, an additionally clever trick is to batch process your images in PowerPoint, allowing you to add transparency to multiple images at the same time without having to go through them one-by-one (something we always want to avoid in PowerPoint).
The Logic Behind Picture Transparencies in PowerPoint
The trick to creating picture transparency, regardless of how many pictures you are working with, is to first fill shapes with your picture(s), and then add a transparency to the shape fill.
Although the pictures themselves cannot directly take the transparency, shape fills can. So by filling a shape with your picture and then applying the transparency to the shape fill, you quickly workaround the technically impossible (whew)!
The fastest method for pulling this off depends on whether you are working with a single picture or with multiple pictures.
You can use the hyperlinks below to jump around this tutorial. If you want to follow along with me, you can download the working files I’m using here.
Adding a Transparency to a Single Picture
Adding transparency to a single picture isn’t difficult, you simply need to know the clever little work-around! Watch the video or read the written tutorial below depending on what you have time for.
Single Picture Transparency – Video Tutorial
Single Picture Transparency – Written Tutorial
Step #1: Draw A Rectangle Next to your Picture – From the Insert Shapes Gallery, grab a rectangle and draw it over your picture so that the rectangle is the same height and width as your picture, and then move it off to the side of your picture.
If your picture is not already within your presentation, skip ahead to step #3.
Pro PowerPoint Tip: Make sure the rectangle is the same height and width as your picture to avoid picture warping in the next couple of steps.
Step #2: Copy Your Picture – Select your picture and hit Ctrl + C to copy it.
Step #3: Open the Format Shape Dialog Box – Right-click your shape, select Format Shape and navigate to the Shape Fill section of the dialog box.
Step #4: Select Picture Fill – Select Picture Fill in the dialog box. Here you have quite a number of options to work with, including the slower method for inserting a picture fill, inserting a picture from a file (this method is best used when the picture is not already within your presentation).
Since our picture is within our presentation and we have already copied it, let’s just click the clipboard button. Doing so, our shape fills with the picture.
If you picture is warped, double check that:
- The rectangle you are pasting it into has the same dimensions as your picture
- Your offsets at the bottom of the dialog box are all 0%
Step #5: Adjust the Transparency Settings – Now to make your picture transparent, simply use the transparency slider or input the % of transparency you would like. In this case I’m using 50%.
And there you have it!
Adding a Transparency to Multiple Pictures
Let’s crank it up a notch and look at how to pull this off by processing your images all at once, to avoid the one-by-one approach. Watch the video or read the written tutorial below depending on what you have time for.
Multiple Picture Transparencies – Video Tutorial
Multiple Picture Transparencies -Written Tutorial
So with the basics of creating a single picture transparency, now let’s crank it up a notch and look at how to pull this off by processing your images at once, to avoid the one-by-one approach.
To do this, you still need to fill shapes with your pictures, but thankfully, PowerPoint can do all of the heavy lifting for you. You just need to eyeball the results and make sure they look right.
This is an AMAZING trick and has the added benefit of cropping and resizing all of your photos at the same time, so if you want to follow along with me, you can download the working file here.
Step #1: Select All of Your Pictures – Holding the Shift key, select all of the pictures that you want to add a transparency to (it doesn’t matter how many you have). As you can see in the picture below, it doesn’t matter what size or shape the pictures are actually in.
Step #2: Throw the Pictures at SmartArt – With the pictures selected, navigate to the Picture Tools Format Tab, and from the Picture Layout Command select a picture layout.
This tricks works best when cropping your photos into squares or circles. If you are using a different shape OR don’t want all of your picture to be the same size and shape, you will have to use the one off method (see the Transparencies for Single Picture tutorial above).
Step #3: (Optional Step) – Break the SmartArt Graphic
I personally dislike SmartArt, so I recommend ungrouping the graphic twice, Ctrl + Shift + G on your keyboard, and removing the floating titles.
Step #4: Add the Picture Transparency – Select all of your pictures (which are now just shapes with picture fills!), right-click and select Format Shape to launch the dialog box.
Within the dialog box, open up the Shape Fill and Picture Fill options. Adjust the transparency, I’ve used 50%, and you are done.
The result is if you now add something behind your pictures, the background will bleed through to the front, as pictured below.
Note, the white picture borders came with the SmartArt graphic. You can remove those if you like.
Did you learn A new Trick?
If so, you might also be interested in learning how to create your own text shortcuts to your frequently used symbols.