Creating shapes for Keynote

Monday, May 14, 2007

Keynote can handle a lot of content. Almost any QuickTime movie, almost any image, and any text you like can be used in Keynote with a high degree of control and with excellent cinematic quality. Another kind of content that’s unique to the iWork apps are shapes. You get to these by choosing Insert -> Shape, then picking from the list. The shapes you can create range from Polygons and Stars to Circles and Squares and even include lines with and without arrows.

The most powerful of all these shapes is the Bézier curve (in iWork it is named Draw a Shape). You can use this to create completely custom shapes using smooth paths and then fine tune those shapes by modifying the curves and adding, removing, or altering points. If you’re already an artist familiar with drawing programs, while Keynote has it’s limitations, you can still create some good looking artwork fairly quickly. However, if you’re not an artist or aren’t familiar with how these drawing controls work, you may have a tough time getting the look you want. Also, if your task is quite complex, say, recreating your company logo, you may find that it makes sense to use a true drawing program to create it.

The problem with using most drawing programs is that while the artwork you create can be copied into Keynote like any other image, the resulting artwork in Keynote doesn’t have the same flexibility as Keynote’s native shapes. Because the artwork is being copied in as an image instead of line artwork, you can’t change the colors, you can’t change the line thickness, and you can’t give it a textured fill as you can with native shapes. In many cases, this may not be an issue as company logos are generally used in a small subset of colors and in those approved colors ONLY! If you’re illustrating a presentation with spot artwork dropped throughout; however, you’ll find that having the freedom to change your mind and pick a different color right within Keynote will become essential.

The perfect solution would be to have the option to use the right tool for the job and maintain the editable features of native shapes. Simple shape creation would be handled within Keynote and more complex shapes would be created in a dedicated drawing program then brought over as a true Keynote shape.

Back with version 1 of Keynote, there weren’t a lot of options and the available options, weren’t particularly good ones (one process required PowerPoint). Since then, we’ve seen programs and tools appear that make it possible for anyone to cross the boundary from almost any illustration program to Keynote with all the curves and flexibility you desire. In this series, I’ll go through how to create Keynote shapes – from creating your own artwork, to using clip art.

[update: Ken is hoping to finish this series in 09]