Layers & Levels

Every object on a slide in paragraph has its own layer. The objects you put on a slide in a PowerPoint presentation exist within a level; there are four main levels in a PowerPoint presentation.

Layers in PowerPoint

In PowerPoint, every object is on a layer. Imagine, for example, that you want to make a picture of a lion attacking a man using a cell phone. You have a photo of a natural background; you have a photo of a lion; and you have a photo of a man with a cell phone. The lion and the man are each on clear plastic sheets. You lay the sheet with the lion on top of the background, and then the sheet with the man on top of the lion's. The result may look like this:

Notice that the man appears "in front of" the lion, and the lion "in front of" the background. This is how many traditionally animated cartoons are made—using clear plastic "cels" which can move over a static background.

PowerPoint works the same way: each object—a shape, a photo, a clip art, a table, a chart—has a "layer." Each layer is "above" or "below" other layers. Two objects are never on the same layer—even when grouped together.


To test this, let's create some shapes and see how layers work.

First, create a new PowerPoint presentation, and change the Layout of the slide to Blank.

Next, create a LARGE rectangle shape, so that it almost meets the left and right sides of the slide, but you leave some empty space at top and bottom; imitate this:

Next, create an oval shape at the top left of the slide, and change its fill color, like this:

With the circle selected, COPY the shape once (Ctrl + C), and then PASTE the shape several times (Ctrl + V); you will see the extra shapes falling slightly down and to the right of the original shape. STOP before you reach the bottom of the slide. It should look like this:

Now, click on the large rectangle so it is selected. Go to the Drawing Tools tab which appears, and note the "Bring" and "Send" buttons to the right:

The buttons have two parts: the top part will bring the object forward by one layer, or send it back by one layer. Clicking on the bottom half of the button will present a choice of bringing/sending one layer only, or moving the object to the top or bottom of all layers.

If you click on that, you will see the rectangle appear to "rise" above the top circle. Keep clicking that "Bring Forward" button many times, and you will see the rectangle continue to "move up." You can also click the other buttons, especially "Send Backward." At times, the slide may look like this:

In this way, you can get a better sense of what the layers are and how they work.

Levels in PowerPoint

There are deeper layers in PowerPoint, which we will call levels.

Every object in PowerPoint must be above or below any other object; therefore, we use layers. However, all of these objects we have used so far are just at the "top" of a presentation. In any PowerPoint presentation, there are actually four levels: two object levels, and two background levels.

The Slide

Each slide has two levels: the object level and the background level. On the object level, we can place shapes, text boxes, pictures, and many other objects we will go over in future chapters. On the background layer, we can add a fill (solid color, gradient, texture, or picture) which acts as a background to the slide.

The Slide Master

"Below" the slide, there is a Slide Master, a pair of levels similar to the slides. Just like with the slide levels, the "Master" levels have an object level and a background level. The main difference is that the master levels appear on every slide as part of the layout. If you create shapes in the Slide Master, they will appear on every slide; if you create a background in the Slide Master, it also will appear on every slide.

However, each of these appears below the slide level. The slide-level objects appear above the master-level objects, and the slide background appears above the master background. The levels are:

  1. Slide objects
  2. Master objects
  3. Slide background
  4. Master background

Those levels would appear like this:

Creating Backgrounds

Creating a background is fairly simple. Right-click on an empty space on the slide, and choose "Format Background" from the pop-up menu.

This opens up the "Format Background" dialog box, almost the same as the other "Format" dialogs we looked at earlier.

From here, you can apply the same kinds of fills to the background as you did to shapes: solid colors, gradients, textures, and pictures—with the same kinds of controls.

Notice, however, that at the bottom of the pane, there are two buttons; one of them, Apply to All, will erase all individua slide backgrounds, and apply the current setting to the Slide Master, which will change the backgrounds of all the slides in the presentation.

Getting It Straight

What happens if you have both a background for a slide, and a Slide Master background, at the same time? Simple: the slide background covers up the Slide Master background. If you delete the slide background, the Slide Master background will be revealed "beneath" it.

Similarly, if you create objects on a slide, they will always cover over objects on the Slide Master, no matter what layer the slide object is on.

Once again, the levels are, from top to bottom: (1) Slide objects, (2) Slide Master objects, (3) Slide background, and then (4) Slide Master background.

Applying Changes to Each Level

How do you put something on each level?

The top level, Slide Objects, is easy: just create the objects normally, creating them right after opening PowerPoint.

The second level, Slide Master Objects, is a bit more difficult: you must open the Slide Master and create objects based on Layouts. I will describe this in more detail below.

The third level, Slide Background, can be created by choosing a background in the "Format Background" pane.

The fourth level, Slide Master Background, can be created the same way as the regular background, except you click on "Apply to All" instead of just closing the pane. However, since this destroys existing slide backgrounds, it might be better to go into the Slide Master and change (format) the background of the appropriate layout.

The Slide Master View

So, how do you put objects on the second (Slide Master Objects) level?

First, go to the Views tab in the Ribbon. On the left, you will see a row of buttons. These buttons are in groups. The second group is named "Master Views"; the first button in that group is called Slide Master. Click on that button.

When you enter the Slide Master, all of the slides you created before will disappear; don't worry, they're still there. Instead, you are now looking at the slide layouts.

You may recall that in the Home tab, there is a menu button for Layouts; these are a selection of page layout templates. These are part of the Slide Master. The designs for the layouts are visible along the left sidebar in the image above, and are accessed for any slide as shown below.

Effectively, by entering the Slide Master, you made the 1st and 3rd levels invisible, leaving only the Slide Master levels visible. Note that the Ribbon has changed: now, the second tab says "Slide Master," and the other tabs to its right are slightly different—these tabs apply only to the Slide Master.

It is important to remember that the left-hand sidebar now displays the slide layouts—Any change made to most of these layouts will only be visible if that slide layout is used. Each Layout can have different objects and backgrounds. For example, you can set a specific background design and specific objects which will appear only when you use the "Title Slide" layout, and then you can set a different background and set of objects which will appear behind the actual slides, only when you use the "Blank" layout. Just click on the layout you want to change, and apply the changes. Conversely, if you want an object to appear on all slide layouts, then you must place it in the largest box at the top—the one I have shown below as Master Layout.

Note that a change to one of the lesser layouts only changes that one layout; however, a change to the larger Master layout at the top will affect every slide using every layout.

Note: you can place any object you wish on the Slide Master object level—shapes, text boxes, tables, charts—even sounds and movies which will play on each slide in which they appear.

Remember, if you want Slide Master objects and backgrounds to appear on every slide, then you must scroll up to the top of the left sidebar and click on the largest layout at the very top:

When you are finished, click back on the Slide Master tab, and then on the right side of the Ribbon, click the red "X" button to leave the Master View.

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