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

  7. 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,


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

  9. Hi can I use my custom vector shape created in illustrator as a placeholder.

  10. Yes, you can. In fact, the last example picture in this post was done that way. The vector shape can be used as a mask and subtracted from the picture placeholder.

  11. Hi Julie, thanks – this was great information. I was able to create an editable graphic for my client, where they could insert their own images as needed. My only problem was that it appears picture placeholders cannot be grouped together so that they can be scaled in size as a single unit. I just told my client that they would need to save the slide as a JPEG or PNG and reinsert as a single graphic to scale up or down as needed.

  12. Hi Julie, I’ve angled my custom shape in Master Slide, but when I want to drop in my picture on Normal View, the picture is angled too! How can I keep the picture straight, while the shape stays angled? I tried doing it with background fill/picture which works, but kind of defeats the purpose of having the picture placeholder… thanks!

  13. Instead of rotating the picture placeholder (angle), start with a rectangle and subtract angled shapes from that. Inserted pictures will remain upright.

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