There’s a powerful tool in MS PowerPoint 2013 – and that’s the Merge Shapes option. If you don’t know Photoshop but you want to create complex custom shapes, the Merge Shapes function in PowerPoint is a nice alternative.


This great feature is already present in MS PowerPoint 2010 but is named as Combine Shapes. It was not available by default in the ribbons so in PowerPoint 2013 it was given its own space.


However, the option is not easily visible unless you are already working with shapes. It is located under the Drawing Tools Ribbon which is a contextual tab - it only opens when a shape is selected. The Merge Shapes option is also grayed out unless two or more shapes are selected.




There are 5 options: Union, Combine, Fragment, Intersect and Subtract.

Using these options you can easily create your own custom shapes that you can use in other MS Office applications.

The general rule to follow when using the Merge Shapes options is:

1) Select the shapes you want to work on. A best practice is to select it in order. The first shape you select determines how the other shapes will look like in terms of formatting.

2) This will open the
Drawing Tools Tab. Under Format, look for Merge Shapes.

3) You can hover over each option to see the effect. Once you are satisfied with the preview, just click the option to achieve your desired shape.


Now allow us to quickly demonstrate what each option can do for you!


Union – The Story Behind a Unified Shape

When you use Union, the result is a single, unified shape. It combines all overlapping and non-overlapping areas of the shapes involved. Nothing is subtracted and the formatting of the first shape is retained.




Combine – Removing Common Areas

Through Combine, all overlapping parts of the shape are removed. Only the non-overlapping areas are retained. In case there are no overlapping areas, it acts like the Group option in PowerPoint. However, there is no ungroup option. Once again, the formatting of the first shape selected is retained so when choosing the shapes, make sure to choose in the correct order.





Fragment – Creating Smaller Shapes

Fragment is the new addition in PowerPoint 2013. It’s not available in the Combine Shapes option in the 2010 version. With the Fragment option, overlapping areas of shapes and in-between empty spaces are turned into new, smaller shapes. However, the areas that do not overlap are retained as shapes. Nothing is subtracted and again, the formatting of the first selected shape is retained.



In preview, you may not notice anything new. In fact, even after you apply the option, it will appear as if nothing changed with the shape except for it to retain the formatting of the first selected shape. But when you try to select the shapes, you’ll notice that they are now split into smaller shapes – like a puzzle version of the original one.


Intersect – Retaining Only Overlapping Areas

The Intersect option retains only overlapping areas of all shapes selected. Take note that ALL shapes selected must be overlapping each other. In case there is no common overlap in all the shapes selected, no shape is retained. All non-overlapping areas are not retained and only the formatting of the first shape is followed.




Subtract – Creating Cutouts

The Subtract option retains the first selected shape. Any overlapping area from other shapes are removed from the first selected shape resulting in a cut-out effect. When there are no overlaps between shapes, the original look of the first selected shape is retained while all other shapes are removed. Once again, the formatting of the first selected shape is followed.




There you have it. Now you know how the different options under the Merge Shapes menu work. You can use this knowledge to create your own complex custom shapes in PowerPoint 2013. It also works for texts and images so watch out when that next blog comes out!