Layers in Photo Editing Programs or in PowerPoint

The concept of layers is basically the same among photo editing programs and even PowerPoint. Most people are more familiar with PowerPoint than a specific photo editing tool, like Photoshop, so this example is done with PowerPoint.

Play with paper

Get several different kinds of paper in front of you. Make one sheet yellow, one transparent and colorless, another white, and the last sheet black.

Draw a big, red X on your yellow paper, right in the center of the paper. Draw a green star on your white paper and a house on your black paper. Draw a cloud on your transparent paper.

Now, stack the papers. Put the transparent paper on the bottom, then the yellow, white, and the black. If the black paper is on the top of the stack, all you can see if black paper with a picture of a house on it.

Re-order your stack. This time, put the black one on the bottom, then the white, then the yellow, and then the transparent paper. Now you can see the cloud you drew on your transparent paper in addition to the big red X and the yellow paper.

From this, you should garner a few pieces of information about layers. Each layer has some properties.

Transparency

Is the layer transparent or opaque? Can you see through it? When you’re using PowerPoint, every shape, text, graph, or smart art is its own layer. Select the shape. Right click on the shape and then select “Format Shape” from the menu that comes up. Go to the “Fill” section. Click on “Solid Fill.” Then, underneath the fill color, is a slider bar with transparency. If the slider is set to 100%, then the layer is completely transparent. If the layer is set to 0, then it is completely opaque.

This is a little different from the paper example, however. In the paper example, the cloud you drew was not transparent. In PowerPoint, the entire shape is its own layer and has the same transparency level.

Order of the layers

Just like you controlled the order of the papers in your stack, you can control the order of your shapes (your layers) in PowerPoint. Right click on any object and a menu will pop up. The menu has “Bring to Front” and “Send to Back” options. If you hover on the “Send to Back” option, another option appears to “Send Backward.” “Send to Back” puts the layer on the bottom of the stack of images. “Send Backward” just sends the layer one back.

How can I make part of the shape transparent?

If you want part of the shape transparent and part opaque, you can use the “remove the background” feature to make parts of the picture transparent. This only works with photos, so if you want to do this with a normal shape, you need to save the shape out as an image and then reload it into your document.

For example, say you have a photo that has a cloud in the sky, and you want the center of the cloud to be transparent with a dog showing through.

Size the dog so it will fit in the cloud.

Click on the picture that has the cloud in it. Go to the “Format” tab. On the left hand side, click on Remove Background. PowerPoint 2007 doesn’t give you a whole lot of control here, but 2010 is much better. Use the plus sign to mark areas to keep. Use the plus sign to mark everything that is not a cloud. Use the minus sign to mark the cloud to remove. Leave some of the edges of the cloud there. If you don’t like the results, click on “Remove Background” again and modify your work.