May 12, 2011#

Create Custom-Shaped Picture Placeholders

Example slide with custom shaped Picture Placeholder

Alternate slide with same custom Picture Placeholder

Picture Placeholders are a great way to add images to presentations, while maintaining a consistent placement, size and style. Since the picture formatting is defined on a Slide Layout within the template, it’s easy to insert new pictures without having to realign, resize or edit styles.

Did you know that Picture Placeholders can be easily transformed into any of the pre-defined shapes in PowerPoint?

In Slide Master View, select a Slide Layout with a Picture Placeholder (or Insert Layout and Insert Placeholder, Picture). Select the Picture Placeholder, click the Drawing Tools Format tab, Edit Shape, Change Shape and choose any shape from the gallery.  Tip: drag the adjustment handle (yellow diamond) to refine the shape by making corners smaller, modifying an angle or arrowhead).

But what if you want a specific shape that doesn’t exist in the gallery?

With PowerPoint 2010, you can edit Picture Placeholders to create very unique, custom shapes. There are a couple ways to accomplish this.

In Slide Master View, select a Picture Placeholder, click the Drawing Tools Format tab, Edit Shape, Change Shape and choose a shape from the gallery. Tip: a rectangle is a good choice to start, but you can select any shape that is closest to your desired final result.

Click Edit Shape again, then Edit Points. Right-click on any point or segment to begin adjusting the Placeholder. Note: this works in PowerPoint 2007, too!

With PowerPoint 2010, it’s much faster to edit Picture Placeholders by using the Combine Shapes commands. These commands allow you to quickly create custom forms by merging shapes together, intersecting them, or by deleting a portion of one shape from another.

To access this command, you must add it to the Quick Access Toolbar, located above the File tab.  To customize the Quick Access Toolbar, do the following:

1.   Click the arrow next to the Quick Access Toolbar, and then under Customize Quick Access Toolbar click More Commands.

2.   In the PowerPoint Options dialog box, in the Choose commands from list, select All Commands.

3.   In the list of commands, click Combine Shapes, and then click Add.

Again, you must change the shape of the Picture Placeholder prior to editing. In Slide Master View, select a Picture Placeholder, click the Drawing Tools Format tab, Edit Shape, Change Shape and choose a shape from the gallery.

Next, draw shapes that you will add to, or subtract from, the Picture Placeholder shape. In the example, I’ve drawn circles on top of each corner.

Picture Placeholder with masking shapes

Select the Picture Placeholder, then one of the new shapes and choose either the Shape Subtract or Shape Union command from the QAT. Repeat this step for all other shapes.

Picture Placeholder after modifications

Complex curved shapes are quite possible and much easier to create with the Combine Shapes tools


  1. Thanks Julie — great tips! Didn’t realise this was possible, so it’s opened up options to make slides that stand out from the crowd, which in many ways is half the battle!

    I’m on PPT 2007 and couldn’t get the Edit Points to work on a gallery shape, but then realised I needed to choose Convert To Freeform first.

    Anyway, thanks again! Keep up the great work!

  2. Can you explain how you got the picture to fit perfectly on the bottom complex curved one? I’m guessing that because of it’s complexity and detail you wouldn’t have to repeat the steps to make a match???
    Thank you

  3. When a picture is inserted into a picture placeholder, you can resize it and move it around within the frame. Select the picture, then the Crop tool. Drag the corner handles to resize, or drag the picture to move it around.

    And you’re correct: you only have to define the complex shape one time. Use a custom Slide Layout, add a picture placeholder, customize the shape and save. The custom layout will appear in the Layouts tab – formatted and ready for creating new slides.

  4. What if I have shapes that I want to use, and they must be exact so I can’t really recreate them myself. I thought I could possibly add them to wherever the current shapes are available, but haven’t been able to figure out how to make that work.

  5. Unfortunately, you cannot add your own shapes to the gallery. Try keeping those commonly used shapes in a separate pptx file for quick reference and copying.

  6. My partner and I stumbled over here coming from a unusual page and considered I might as well test stuff out.
    I quite like things I see so now i’m following you. Look forward to finding out about your online page for a second time.

  7. Hi – what about Powerpoint 2011 for Mac? Any idea how to create a circular placeholder? Thanks.

  8. Hi Laura,

    Yes, you can change the shape of a picture placeholder in PowerPoint 2011 for Mac. Fellow PowerPoint MVP and owner of Indezine.com, Geetesh Bajaj, kindly tested and confirmed this for me. Thanks Geetesh!

    In Slide Master view, from a Slide Layout, select a picture placeholder (or insert a new one) and then click the SmartArt tab. Under the Edit SmartArt group, select any shape from the Shape gallery. Circle, rectangle, whatever is closest to your final shape.

    After changing the placeholder to a shape, you will be able to Edit Points (right click menu) or use the Combine shapes tools to create custom picture placeholders like those featured in this tutorial.

    Best wishes,


  9. Thank you so much – muchas muchas gracias- for this tutorial, super helpful and relevant!

  10. Hi Julie,

    I’m a presentation designer and have done this frequently for clients. It’s a great trick.

    However, I have a client on PPT 2010 who can’t get the custom shape placeholders to work. Do you know if this is a common problem? And could it be linked to their service pack? (I’m trying to find out what they are on)


  11. Hi Philippa,

    I haven’t heard of any problems with custom picture placeholders not working for users. I’ll ask around, but custom pic placeholders aren’t used much. It’s a rare thing for anyone to build them in to a template.

    Is the client inserting a new slide and then clicking the icon to insert a picture? Or are they simply trying to Change Picture on an existing slide (with the custom picture placeholder)? Change Picture won’t work, because it picks up the aspect ratio of the new picture. If you include instructions on the sample slide, instruct users to delete the picture first and then click the icon to insert a new one.

    Best wishes,


  12. FYI ré Combine shapes tools for PowerPoint 2011 for Mac:
    There are no such tools in this Mac version.

    Question: Is there any way to edit a cropping shape placed around a picture using the Crop to Shape command if you aren’t starting from a picture placeholder? I can edit shapes drawn from shapes tools using the Edit Points command, but it doesn’t seem to work on pictures cropped to shapes. This would be nice, because I want to do this on an individual basis depending on the picture and presentation.

  13. Hi Sherri,

    The combine shapes tools DO exist in PowerPoint 2011 for Mac. This post from my friend and fellow MVP Geetesh Bajaj will show you how to access the tools: http://blog.indezine.com/2011/12/learn-powerpoint-2011-for-mac-combine.html

    To answer your question about editing points on a cropped picture: you can start with any shape, make your edits and then fill the shape with a picture. This method has some drawbacks, as you can’t easily resize or reposition the picture within the shape as you can with picture placeholders. (You can try to edit the offsets in the Format Picture dialog, but it’s ridiculously difficult.)

    Best wishes,


  14. Hi Julie, have you ever found a way to add/lock a layer above a placeholder? I have an image of a tablet with a placeholder over the top. I want to add & lock a shape (triangle with transparency) so that would make it look like a reflection on the screen of the tablet no matter what image is inserted into the placeholder. Make sense?

  15. Hi David,

    I’m not quite sure what you’re trying to achieve with the transparent triangle. I’d have to see your mockup.

    You can’t add shapes on top of picture placeholders (slide layout view.) As you’ve probably tested, in editing and slide show view, the picture placeholder will always appear in front of those shapes.

    However, you can stack a picture placeholder on top of another. That second placeholder could be a triangular shape.

    Transparency is another problem here. You can’t add transparency to a picture placeholder and have it apply to inserted pictures. You CAN fill that pic placeholder with a transparent color or gradient (on the slide layout.) That placeholder will stay on top of the other picture and appear as a transparent shape.

    Best wishes,


  16. This was a GREAT tip. I’ve been using Powerpoint for a long time and stuck with the original boring things I new – this is great to now know and play around with. Thanks!

  17. How do you make an image placeholder fixed relative to its size while resizing it? I have a customer image placeholder with rounded corners and I would like to retain the curvature of the rounded corners even when I resize them. Is it possible?

  18. Unfortunately, you can’t lock the radius or corner size on any PowerPoint shape or placeholder.

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