Understanding Shapes

Pretty much anything on a slide is a shape; the only thing I can think of that can appear on a slide that’s not a shape is a slide background. There are between six and ten different types of shape, depending how you count. I’ll explain some of the general shape concepts you’ll need to make sense of how to work with them and then we’ll jump right into working with the specific types.

Technically there are six and only six different types of shapes that can be placed on a slide:

auto shape
This is a regular shape, like a rectangle, an ellipse, or a block arrow. They come in a large variety of preset shapes, in the neighborhood of 180 different ones. An auto shape can have a fill and an outline, and can contain text. Some auto shapes have adjustments, the little yellow diamonds you can drag to adjust how round the corners of a rounded rectangle are for example. A text box is also an autoshape, a rectangular one, just by default without a fill and without an outline.
A raster image, like a photograph or clip art is referred to as a picture in PowerPoint. It’s its own kind of shape with different behaviors than an autoshape. Note that an auto shape can have a picture fill, in which an image “shows through” as the background of the shape instead of a fill color or gradient. That’s a different thing. But cool.
graphic frame
This is the technical name for the container that holds a table, a chart, a smart art diagram, or media clip. You can’t add one of these by itself, it just shows up in the file when you add a graphical object. You probably won’t need to know anything more about these.
group shape
In PowerPoint, a set of shapes can be grouped, allowing them to be selected, moved, resized, and even filled as a unit. When you group a set of shapes a group shape gets created to contain those member shapes. You can’t actually see these except by their bounding box when the group is selected.
Lines are different from auto shapes because, well, they’re linear. Some lines can be connected to other shapes and stay connected when the other shape is moved. These aren’t supported yet either so I don’t know much more about them. I’d better get to these soon though, they seem like they’d be very handy.
content part
I actually have only the vaguest notion of what these are. It has something to do with embedding “foreign” XML like SVG in with the presentation. I’m pretty sure PowerPoint itself doesn’t do anything with these. My strategy is to ignore them. Working good so far.

As for real-life shapes, there are these nine types:

  • shape shapes – auto shapes with fill and an outline
  • text boxes – auto shapes with no fill and no outline
  • placeholders – auto shapes that can appear on a slide layout or master and be inherited on slides that use that layout, allowing content to be added that takes on the formatting of the placeholder
  • line/connector – as described above
  • picture – as described above
  • table – that row and column thing
  • chart – pie chart, line chart, etc.
  • smart art – not supported yet, although preserved if present
  • media clip – video or audio

Accessing the shapes on a slide

Each slide has a shape tree that holds its shapes. It’s called a tree because it’s hierarchical in the general case; a node in the shape tree can be a group shape which itself can contain shapes and has the same semantics as the shape tree. For most purposes the shape tree has list semantics. You gain access to it like so:

shapes = slide.shapes

We’ll see a lot more of the shape tree in the next few sections.

Up next …

Okay. That should be enough noodle work to get started. Let’s move on to working with AutoShapes.