If you use a busy photo as a background for your slides, text may not show up clearly. One way to improve legibility is to put the text in front of a separate solid background. You can fill in background of the text placeholder or add a separate text box or other AutoShape. You can add some interest to the text background by using transparency to create soft edges. Partial transparency also lets your background show through slightly. Full control over the level of transparency is available in PowerPoint 2002 and 2003. In this example, I give the instructions to create an AutoShape with soft edges and partial transparency.
The basic idea is to create four or five copies of the AutoShape, each one slightly bigger than the previous one. Then you increase the transparency for each AutoShape so that the last two are mostly transparent. This gives the appearance of soft edges. Here are the steps:
1. Insert the shape that you want. It should be big enough to hold your text, because it will be the innermost of the five shapes.
2. Select the shape. Copy it to the clipboard and paste it three times to get a total of four AutoShapes.
3. Move the shapes away from each other. They can overlap, but you want to be able to select each one easily. You can move them off the slide if you want.
4. Right-click the first shape and choose Format AutoShape.
5. Click the Size tab and note the height and width. Write down the desired height and width for the other four shapes, adding .05 inches to each dimension for a smaller area of softness or .1 inch for a wider area of softness. For example, if your first AutoShape’s height is 4.86 and width is 8.84, the rest would be 4.91 x 8.89, 4.96 x 8.94, and 5.01 x 8.99, using a .05 inch differential.
6. On the Colors and Lines tab, change the transparency of the first shape to 35%. Of course, you can use your own numbers. I chose 35% because I wanted the background photo to show through a little.
7. Choose the second AutoShape. Change its size according to the dimensions you wrote down and change its transparency to 55%.
8. Do the same with the last two shapes, changing their size and setting their transparency to 75% and 95% respectively.
9. Select all the shapes. From the Draw toolbar’s Draw menu, choose Align or Distribute> Align Center .
10. With the shapes still selected, choose Align or Distribute>Align Middle. These two commands center all the shapes on top of each other.
11. With the shapes still selected, from the Draw toolbar’s Draw menu, choose Group.
12. You might need to change the order of the set of shapes. For example, if you’re creating them on the slide master and want them behind the text placeholder, you’ll need to move them back. Right-click the shapes and choose Order>Send Backward, until you get the result you want.
Here you see an example. Can you see the effect of the soft edges?