Did you know you can use tools and skills you already have to produce higher quality graphics for your presentations, without paying for or learning expensive image editing programs?

This is part of a series of cheap tricks. Each post in this series will be a short tip to accomplish tasks quickly using what you already have. You don’t need to be a techie to appreciate these, it doesn’t even matter what version of Windows you have. In fact, these tips will even work on tablets running Windows RT.

Today’s tip involves inserting an image and setting a transparent background for crisp graphics.  For demonstration, we’ll capture and insert an image of the mouse pointer into a demo slide, since the mouse pointer doesn’t show up in screenshots.

I use this often when creating training graphics, because the mouse pointer provides subtle but important context (where should I be looking?) in an otherwise lifeless screenshot of a software interface.

  1. First, I’ll search the Start menu for mouse and open the Mouse Properties Control Panel, and capture an image of the mouse pointer with the Snipping Tool.
    Use the snipping tool to capture the image.
    Use the snipping tool to capture the image.

    If I was to paste this into a document now, there would be a white square block around the pointer. I couldn’t set that white to be transparent, or the white cursor itself would become transparent as well.

  2. So paste the image into paint, and flood the exterior with any color.  The result will be this:
    Flood the area around the cursor with any image. We'll remove this extra color in the next step.
    Flood the area around the cursor with any image. We’ll remove this extra color in the next step.

    Now we can paste this into any document, and set the masking color to be transparent.  You can do this with Paint directly, Office programs, or many others.

    • With Paint: open the image you want to add the pointer to, and set “Color 2” in the palette to be the same color you used above.  Paste your masked cursor, and turn on “Transparent Selection” from the Select menu. Any “Color 2” areas on the pasted image will become transparent, removing the masked color and allowing a clean cursor on your image.

      With "Color 2" set to match the masking color, the Transparent Selection option will remove the color and leave you with a transparent cursor image for your instructional graphics.
      With “Color 2” set to match the masking color, the Transparent Selection option will remove the color and leave you with a transparent cursor image for your instructional graphics.
    • With Office, it’s even easier.  Paste in your colored image, then chose “Set Transparent Color” from the Color menu.  Click the masking color to remove it from the image, and be left with a crisp image.

      Office lets you remove any single color from an image.
      Office lets you remove any single color from an image.

This tip is certainly useful outside of the case of mouse pointers, and can be used to remove colors from images on any PC with Paint or Office installed.  No need for 3rd party tools or expensive suites like Photoshop for simple instructional design tasks.