Inserting and Positioning Colored Boxes

How to place colored boxes on your cover to add interest and make text pop.


This chapter discusses the addition of colored boxes to your cover to set off your text from a busy background and to add a variety of interesting visual affects to your book cover.

And that’s all you need to know to make book cover: how to insert images, add text and then use colored boxes to highlight your images and text.

See, I told you it would be simple.

Uses for Colored Boxes and Other Shapes

Powerpoint provides a variety of shapes that can be easily added to your book cover, but I find that the rectangle is the most common shape I employ. Shapes, particularly rectangles, can be used in many ways including the following.

Place a solid colored or gradient rectangle behind text to make the text readable against a busy background.

Rectangles and other shapes can be used to produce interesting geometric patterns when creating your own book cover backgrounds.

Once added, shapes can be configured to change their color, outline and opacity. In the rest of this section, we’ll be exploring the many uses of shapes when creating book covers.

Inserting a Shape

To insert a shape, select the Insert->Shapes menu item. You’ll be presented with a drop down menu displaying most of the available shapes. Note that additional shapes can be found under the Insert->Icons menu item. As already discussed, shapes can be easily resized and moved, have their color changed or effects applied.

The most common shapes that I use are the rectangle, rectangle with rounded corners, circle and line.

Adding Text… or Not

Note that shapes can contain text. Instead of placing text over a shape, you can make the text part of the shape so that it can be easily centered and will move with the shape. To add text to a shape, double click in the middle of the shape and type your text.

Of course, the other option for adding text over a shape is to simply insert a text box and position it over the shape. I prefer, for simplicities sake, to add text to a rectangle when it will be centered or justified and to position a text box over a rectangle if the text will be at an odd position relative to the rectangle or even flowing outside the rectangle.

Configuring Shape Outline and Fill

Select a shape and access the Shape Format menu ribbon to use Shape Fill and Shape Outline to configure the fill color and outline color of a shape. I quite often set the outline of my rectangles to “No outline” so that my rectangles are not outlined. Powerpoint provide several color picking options to choose your colors and even allows you to set the width and style of your outline.

Applying Effects to Shapes

To apply an effect to a shape, display the Shape Format->Shape Effects drop down menu and choose your desired effect from those.

Using Colored Boxes to Highlight Text

My primary use of colored boxes on book covers is to put the boxes behind text to make the text stand out against a busy background. If you find that your text is getting lost in the background, simply place an appropriately colored box behind the text to make it pop as in the following example.

Figure 1. Souring Library

A picture of a library of books soaring in the sky -- Tall Library

Layer Ordering

Powerpoint elements are stacked one upon the other. New elements are placed on top of older elements. There may come a time that you want to change the stacking order of your elements; for example, bring an element to the front or move it to the back.

The easiest way to change element stacking order is to right click on an element and select “Send to Back” or “Bring to Front” from the pop up context menu. These options will send an element all the way to the back of the stacking order or bring it all the way to the front respectively. By clicking on the arrow to the right of each of these menu items, you can send an element back only one layer or bring it forward a layer.

When working on complex element layer ordering, the easiest way to order element stacking order is to select the Home->Select->Selection Pane menu item to display the Selection Pane to the right of the work area. The selection pane displays all the elements on your book cover in stacking order from top to bottom. You can click and drag any of the elements in the display to reorder the very precisely.

Note that element names are very similar in the Selection Pane. To identify the element you want to work with, simply click on an element and it will be selected in the work area. Keep selecting elements until you find the one you want to modify.

Grouping and Ungrouping Elements

Sometimes it’s convenient to work with a group of elements rather than working with them one at a time. For example, you may want to move a group of elements to a new location.

To select a group of elements, hold the Shift or Control keys and click on each element you want to effect. While the elements are selected, your can more permanently group them by right clicking on the edge of any of the selected elements and selecting Group from the pop up context menu. Later you can ungroup the elements by selecting Ungroup in a similar fashion.

Note that while elements are grouped, you can still work with a single element in the group by first selecting the group and then selecting the individual element in the group you want to effect.

I often group a text box with the underlying colored box to be able to move the two as a single element. Merging a block of multiple text boxes is another excellent application of grouping.

Using Gradients with Shapes

To apply a gradient fill to a shape, right-click on the shape and select Format Shape from the pop up context menu to display the Format Shape pane along the right side of the work area. In the Gradient stops section of the pane, you can select and move the gradient tabs to adjust your gradient. With a tab selected, you can adjust its color, transparency and brightness. To add a new tab, click on the scroll bar where you want the tab to exist. You can remove a tab by selecting it and clicking on the tab button with the red “x” on it. You can also control the Type and Direction of the gradient using the drop down displays above the Gradient stops.

The following example shows a simple gray to white linear gradient coming from the upper right of a rectangle to the lower right.

Figure 2. Gradient Box in Space

A picture of a gradient box against and image of space.

The following example uses a gradient on a rectangle to bring it from red to transparent producing a red smear. Text is placed inside the rectangle so that it will stand out against the image of space used as the book cover background.

Figure 3. Lost in Space

Lost in Space against a red speared box in space.

To produce this effect, right-click on the text box and select Format Shape from the pop up context menu to display the Format Shape pane to the right of the work area. Select gradient and remove the extra gradient tabs from the gradient scoller by selecting the tab and clicking on the tab icon with the red “x” on it. You should be left with only two tabs, one to the extreme left and the other to the extreme right. Select the right tab and make it red. Select the left tab and make it black. At the same time, increase the transparency of the black tab to 100%. You should have produced the same box as shown in the above image. Insert text into the box by double clicking in its middle and configure the text to your liking.

Though I’ve demonstrated gradients applied to rectangles, you can apply gradients to any shape.

Using Transparency with Shapes

Adjust a shapes transparency to that you can see through it to the background. To do so, right-click on the shape and select Format Shape from the pop up context menu to display the Format Shape pane to the right of the work area. When filling the shape with a Solid, Picture, Texture or Pattern fill, you can use the transparency slider to adjust the transparency of the fill. When using a gradient, you can adjust the transparency of the fill at every tab on the Gradient color bar.

I like to use slightly transparent rectangles behind text to make the text stand out against a busy background but still show a little of the background through the rectangle.

Creating Shape Drop Shadows

To add a drop shadow to a shape, simply place a black rectangle behind it, make the rectangle somewhat transparent and blur the edges. This is how you perform these steps.

  1. Insert a rectangle and stretch it so it’s the same size as the shape.
  2. Place the rectangle behind the shape by right-clicking on the rectangle and choosing “Send to Back” from the pop up context menu.
  3. Position the rectangle so that it just barely shows beneath the shape. The more of the rectangle you show the higher it will appear that the image is off the background.
  4. Right click on the rectangle and select “Format Shape” from the pop up context menu.
  5. In the Format Shape pane, increase the rectangle’s transparency to about 50% so that you can see through it.
  6. With the rectangle selected, select the Shape Format->Shape Effects->Soft Edges menu item and choose a fairly soft rectangle from the display.

Note that the Shape Format menu ribbon also provides a Shadow effect, but I like to create my own drop shadow manually for more control.

Using Colored Boxes for Interesting Shapes

In addition to backing text, colored boxes can be used to create interesting geometric shapes as in the following example in which I overlayed various colored rectangles to produce a color mosaic.

Figure 4. Colored Box Mosaic

A picture of colored boxes used to make a mosaic.

Colored Box Exercises

To demonstrate your proficiency at the topic addressed in this section, produce a book cover with a busy image background. Place a solid rectangle behind text to make the text pop. Apply a gradient to a rectangle and see if you can reproduce the red smear effect.