How to add a curved shadow to create 3D PowerPoint shapes

How to add a curved shadow to create 3D PowerPoint shapes

It takes only a few shapes to turn an ordinary shape or text box into a fun and unexpected 3D work of art in Microsoft PowerPoint.


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PowerPoint has a few built-in shadow effects for creating 3D effects, but they’re formal and a bit predictable. There’s nothing wrong with them and they’ll look fine in any presentation. However, if your subject allows for it, you can be a bit unpredictable, and depending on the shape in question, even a bit fun. In this article, I’ll show you how to add a curved shadow to shapes to create an unpredictable and often, fun, 3D effect. You’ll be amazed at how simple this look is to achieve!

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I’m using (desktop) Office 365 but you can use earlier versions. You can work on your own or download the demonstration .pptx file. This article assumes you have basic PowerPoint skills, such as inserting shapes and changing their properties and formats. Throughout this article, I’ll use the term shape instead of AutoShape (which is used in earlier versions). The browser displays the finished shapes, but you can’t add the soft effect to the curved shadow in the browser.

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The finished look

The look might be a bit difficult to imagine in your head from a brief description, so let’s begin with the finished slide. Figure A shows a simple use of this technique. Once you create one instance of the 3D note, you can copy, move, and change properties, such as color. The thing to remember is you’re working with only three pieces: A rectangle shape, a moon shape, and a push-pin clipart. You can use the curved moon technique for any kind of shape, but notes are something all of us are familiar with. The tips of the notes aren’t really turned up; it’s a simple illusion. 

Figure A

  Three shapes create this simple, but effective, 3D note slide.

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  Three shapes create this simple, but effective, 3D note slide.

How to create the curved shadow in PowerPoint

You’ll need two shapes, a rectangle and a moon shape, and a push pin clipart image to complete the look. Let’s tackle the curved shadow, made from the moon shape, first and build from there. To get started, insert and format a moon shape as follows:

  1. On the Insert tab, click Shapes in the Illustrations group.
  2. You’ll find the moon shape in the Basic Shapes section (Figure B).
  3. Insert the shape and resize if necessary.
  4. Use the rotation handle to turn the shape 90 degrees (tips going down).
  5. Next, use the yellow shape handle to extend the center of the internal curve so that you have almost a half moon.
  6. Using the Shape Format tab (Shape Styles group) or the Format Shape pane, change the color to gray and remove the outline. You’ll find colors in the Shape Fill option and the outline in the Shape Outline option.
  7. From the Shape Effects dropdown choose Soft Edges. From the resulting submenu, choose 10 point. (You can alter this property later when applying it to your own shapes; more or less might be more appropriate.)

SEE: How to create fun bouncing-ball bullet points in Microsoft PowerPoint (TechRepublic)

Figure B

  Select the moon shape.

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  Select the moon shape.

Figure C shows the shadow. Next, we’ll add the rectangle to represent the note.

Figure C

  Format the moon shape.

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  Format the moon shape.

How to add the note in PowerPoint

Adding the note is the simplest part. Using the Insert tab, choose the Rectangle from the Basic Shapes section. Using Figure D as a guide, size it, change the color, and add a light gray outline. As before, you’ll find these options in the Shape Styles group on the Shape Format tab or in the Format Shape pane. If necessary, bring the note forward using the Bring Forward option in the Arrange group.

Figure D

  Add the note to the mix.

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  Add the note to the mix.

Size the note so that it’s a bit wider than the curved shadow. You can explore this later; with some shapes, the curved shadow might need to be less wide or even deeper.

Once you have the note and shadow the way you want, select both and create a group using the Group option in the Arrange group. That way, you can resize, rotate, and move easily.

To finish the effect, we want to add a push pin to the top-center of the note. You can quickly insert one using the Insert tab. Choose Online Pictures in the Images group. In the resulting dialog, enter push pin as the search criteria and press Enter. If necessary, check the Creative Commons only option (unless you’re willing to look into to paying royalties). Choose (select) a push pin and click Insert. Back in the slide, resize and position the image. Rotate the note if you like (Figure E).

Figure E

  Rotate the note and add a push pin to the top of the note.

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  Rotate the note and add a push pin to the top of the note.

You might consider grouping the pin with the note, but I suggest that you don’t. That way, you can rotate the pin’s shadow and position the pins randomly (see Figure A).

SEE: How to use 3 PowerPoint animations to wow your audience (TechRepublic)

More ideas

Once you see how simple this technique is, let your imagination take over. There are a number of ways you can make elements a bit more interesting by adding a simple curved shadow to create a custom 3D look.

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