Help with graphics

Hello everyone.  I'm an e-learning professional who has had the luxury of having a team of graphics experts for the past ten years but is now trying to make a go of it on my own.  The problem is that I know NOTHING about graphics!   So I will probably have many questions for you all.  But today's question is this:  I've read all the directions and watched tutorials on setting the background of cutouts to transparent so that I can integrate them into my scene.  However, the free cutouts available from this site and others have colors and patterns behind their heads in addition to a white background.  I can make the white background "disappear" but what am I supposed to do with all the other stuff?  Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated!!!

12 Replies
Brian Duvall

Katie . . . most of the graphics found on the eLearning Heroes site are saved an PNG files and should have transparency behind the actual object.  Can you provide an example of one of the graphics you got off this site that had a white and/or patterned background?

Also, what tools do you have access to . . . PowerPoint (2003, 2007 or 2010), any other graphic programs?

Rebecca Fleisch Cordeiro

Hi Katie,

Brian has asked some good questions. In addition to an example graphic, can you give the URL itself of where you got the graphics? Also, what have you done so far to make the white background disappear: what tool did you use (e.g., PowerPoint or a graphics program) and what exactly did you do?

Phil Mayor

I would get hold of a copy of photoshop elements or gimp and learn how to use the select/magic wand tool.  Keynote has a nice built in tool called instant alpha which will remove the background on most images.  PPT 2010 also has a built in background removal tool but I find this to be difficult to use.

My best advice is to get photoshop or gimp and follow tutorials for background removal.  This is the most common thing I do in photoshop.  So it is a skill worth having.  What you will notice is you will start to learn which images are easier to remove the background and start to choose your images based on this.

Christopher Dobson


Before you start investing any money, go through Tom's Rapid E-learning Blog and see some of his posts on working with graphics, clip art, PowerPoint, and other resources.  GIMP  and Inkscape are free and are pretty powerful applications; but if you are used to working with other graphic applications, there is a  bit of a learning curve. 

You may want to check out Pixlr for quick photo and simple online image editing.  PNG is definitely the way to go as it uses a lossless compression as opposed to jpeg which is a lossy compression. See the Web Style Guide online Graphic File Formats for more infomation. Hope some of this helps, You can find a ton of tutorials out there, and I have a plethora of graphic tutorials bookmarked, so let me know what you find is suffiecient, otherwise I could post some. Good luck getting started and most importantly have some fun learning!

Katie L.

Thanks for all your help.  I discovered that the background only appears when I open the image in my free graphic editor (VicMan's Photo Editor)...they appeared fine when I inserted them directly into PowerPoint.  I'm using 2003, and I can make the background transparent with no problems.

However, that leads me to a follow-up all of you do your own graphics work?  I guess I have been spoiled by having a team of graphic artists over the years.  I'm fairly computer savvy and I can usually manipulate the graphics to the proper layout, but actually creating them is way beyond my skills...and my interests!  I have absolutely no desire to learn PhotoShop or Gimp or any other graphics tool.  I'm strictly a words person!  Am I in the minority here?

Natalia Mueller

There are definitely people in the community that outsource graphics. I'm pretty sure Bruce does. Maybe he'll chime in and give you some tips on where to go for those.

I have found that for my purposes I can do most of what I need right inside PowerPoint. Granted, I have 2010 so there is a bit more to work with than 03. 

As you're working through this transition, keep the community here in mind. On any given day there are usually several of us willing to jump in and help out with that sort of thing and even give you steps and screenrs (short online tutorials) showing you how we did it.

Keep hanging around in here, read the blogs, view the tutorials, ask/answer questions and you will seriously see your skills explode.

Bruce Graham


I use iStock usually, as it is a tax-deductable UK-business expense. They can be pricey though, however, if I buy images that are "conceptual", they can always be reused in other projects. I spend about $200 per month on images, the most I ever really do is crop them.

For me - frankly, it is a time issue. image creation and editing is something I would like to be better at, however, I am lucky to be swamped, so have to prioritise my time elsewhere.

Many of my larger corporate clients have their own image banks and marketing departments. I position myself as the person that "brings flat imagery and slides alive" in this scenario, and use what they already have and are familiar with. There's no point me busting a gut to try and find a good image of a specific burger restaurant for example when I know they will already have thousands!

I'm about to do some work for a Chinese audience, so for that I need to prototype/design in "Western" graphics, and then will need to subcontract to a Chines image expert to "translate" the imagery appropriately. You MUST be careful and have have some cross-cultural sensitivities when working across boundaries.

One technique I'm working with at the moment with one client is wire-frame. We realised that a wire-frame representation of e.g. a food preparation area, created from photos, can be used across many courses.  If people look at a photo, they immediately seem to say and think "That's OK, but OUR xxx area does not look like that". Using a wireframe representation, and then using (Storyline) markers to illustrate different areas and the products used works wonderfully, all we need to change is the product detail by region/country, not the main image.

For Story Lion, I use an illustrator via

Hope this is useful.

Good luck, and just shout when you need help


Pam Jones

Like others above, I also use stock libraries (istock and shuttershock) for sourcing mainly photos. They may not always have what you want, but a good starting point for ideas.

Shuttershock has some good vector graphics which can then be edited by a more skilled graphics person - this is useful if you have technical image which needs amending in some, (adding labels or making certain colour changes.) At least the graphics person does not have to create the image from scratch, only to edit so helps to keep costs down.

I have to say, before joining Articulate commnunity i wasn't particularly good at editing and creating my own graphics, but thanks to the community, I have picked up a ton of useful tips and feel confident creating my own, (simple) graphics. So watch out for all the graphic themed tutorials - before you know you'll have a certain level of skill which you've developed.

Good luck.