The Rapid Elearning Blog

Budgets are tight and stock photos cost money.  Because of this you end up using the same stock photos over and over again.  The stock characters are treated like a team of improv performers.  One day they’re all compliant managers and the next day they’re those dreaded sexual harassers from the cubicle down the hall.

One possible solution is to shoot your own photos, which I covered in a previous blog post on creating your own stock images.  However, you can run into issues with the image quality and who can and cannot be in the photos.  Stock photos also raise the issue of representing diversity.  It sure would be great if everyone looked the same. 🙂

There is an easy way around these issues.  And that is to use silhouette characters.  Plus, the silhouette look is kind of hot right now and it’s a good way to make your courses look a little different.

In today’s post, I’m going to show you some easy ways to create and use these characters in your elearning courses.

Microsoft Office Clip Art

There are already quite a few silhouette characters available in the Microsoft Office clip art.  Do a search for: “style 1568” or “silhouettes” to get started.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - PowerPoint style 1568

Some of them will be vector images that you can ungroup and manipulate.  You can learn more about that in this post on working with grouped clip art.  And some of the images are going to be bitmapped images where you can’t edit as easily.  In either case, there are quite a few to choose from.

There are also a lot of ideas on how to use the silhouette images.  So even if you don’t use the ones that are provided with the Microsoft package, you can still get some inspiration from the designs that are available and how they’re used.

Create Your Own from Clip Art

I’ve already covered how to ungroup and manipulate clip art in a number of posts.  If you can’t find the silhouette’s that you want, why not take a different clip art image and convert it to a silhouette image?  It’s easy to do.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - create silhouettes with clip art

  • Find your clip art.
  • Ungroup it.
  • Select the clip art character and fill with black (in the demo above, I left the notebook white).
  • Regroup the character.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - create various looks

Tip: You’re not limited to black.  And you can make use of some of the graphic effects in PowerPoint to add variety.  You can also right click and save the silhouette as its own image rather than keep it a PowerPoint object.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - save the images 

Create You Own from Photos

You can pull characters from stock photos or your own pictures.  All you do is separate the character from the background and then color the person with a solid color.  This approach is effective because you can shoot your own photos and not worry about lighting and getting the best image.  As long as it is clear and has the right pose, you’re fine.  Once it’s filled no one can tell what the original looked like.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - paint images black

  • Open the photo in a graphics editor.
  • Pull the person out of the background.
  • Fill the character with black and save the image.

Tip: If you want a transparent background with the image make sure to save as .gif or .png.  You don’t need a fancy graphics application to do this.  In fact, I did this demo in which is a free download.

Download Some Free Ones

I’m always amazed at the free resources available online.  Do a search for “free silhouettes” and you’ll come up with all sorts of resources.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - free vector graphics

Tip: Before you use the images for a commercial project, you want to verify the rights that you have for the images.  Some are only available for personal use. Also, only download stuff from reputable sites.

There are a lot of interesting things you can do with silhouettes.  The trend today seems to be mixing them with very vibrant colors.  Using them is an easy solution to having enough images to use in your courses and creating something that is also visually compelling.  To learn more, search how silhouettes are used in advertising and print media.  The iPod ads are a good example.  You might get a lot of cool ideas.

How would you use them in your courses?  Share your ideas by clicking on the comments link.


Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

37 responses to “3 Easy Ways to Create Silhouette Characters”

As always, a wonderful post Tom.

I came directly to your website this evening as I was looking for some inspiration and some direction on finding great clip art to use in a course I am writing – very pleased to see this post.

Your ideas are most appreciated.



Great tips! I’ve been doing this for years. It’s also important to remember that you don’t need the expensive industry strength graphics program that everyone else in the industry has. I use Paint Shop Pro ($99) and it does EVERYTHING that I need the bigger product to do.

H Tom, great post as always. Such simple and obvious tips! The
ungroup clipart idea has helped a great deal with my course…
and now this silhoutte idea will help me even more. It certainly
can be used as a money saving technique if I don’t want to buy
new images every time.Thanks!

That’s an awesome tutorial! I learned something new from this. By the way, thank you also for linking to my site.

I use silhouettes all the time – it’s a great way to add some visual flair without dominating the screen. What I like to do is have my characters or objects appear on my slide, then have a silhouette of that character or object fade in to replace it – so the character or object appears to fade to a background shadow. Then I can have my onscreen text appear over the top without worrying about legibility.

– Chris

Super easy way to make a clipart image into a silhouette while in PowerPoint 2007.
1. Insert clipart
2. Right click clipart and select Format Picture.
3. Drag the sliders for Brightness and Contrast all the way to the left (-100%).

Also, I’ve sued the Recolor option to make quick changes to clipart images. Saves so much time since I don’t have to take the image into another editing program.

– Becky

March 24th, 2009

You’re correct: Paint.NET is a great resource. We’ve downloaded it for many of our subject matter experts (SME) to use when preparing photos for eLearning, technical documentation, and a host of other applications. It’s robust yet simple… and of course, FREE!

Another great post! I am motivated to go out and start using silhouettes! Thanks for all of the great tips and insight!

Hi Tom. Wow, working with you is a fantastic opportunity, and sounds realy fun! What is your deadline for submissions?


@Darla: I’ll keep it open for a week, maybe two. It just depends on who and how many apply.

Great tips on making silhouettes! I have a suggestion for anyone who might want to take and use their own pictures. Using a bright blue or green background when taking pictures of your subject makes isolating what you want a snap. I do this when I shoot video and it works just as well for photos too. Its call green screening. My preference is to use a bright blue material which can be purchased at most any fabric store.

As to your job posting, I was like the kid in class who ardently raises their hand and says “Choose Me! Choose Me!” I sent you an email to apply shortly after I received your post.

My Best,

Interesting to note MS Clipart has so much. Not sure if everyone are aware of that OR are already using it. Some of the points are quite simple but does help to be reminded of. Great tips!

Great post as ever Tom!

I’ve been using the MS silhouette cliparts and had exhausted their stock. Good to know there’s other resources such as turning a photo into a silhouette.

Question: would you use a silhouette and a photo on the same slide?


[…] There is a great post in the Articulate Word of Mouth blog about creating Silhouette images.

I use silhouette images in EMT elearning lessons when I want to portray a violent or dangerous event. My EMTs/models don’t want to be shown doing something dangerous or controversial. Thus a silhouette can convey the message with associating a specific identity.

@Greg: good use of the silhouette.

@Tess: Chris had a good idea about having the photo fade to a silhouette. I’ve done that in the past. Or I might have a team of people that are silhouetted and then you click on one to see the real person.

Great tips Tom! Its a wonderful alternative to the more expensive photoshop. You give freelance designers a great way to save me.

Hi Tom, re Chris’ suggestion to have the photo fade to a silhouette, how do I do that in


Tess: What you do is have a silhouette version of the photo layered on top or below the real photo. Then just set one to appear over the other. You can do that on the PPT slide.

I use this a lot the concept of silhouette .. It nice to refers this as part of this learning .I have to work this with the new microsolf 2007 . I think I have to go back to refresh this new program .Thank I have this in mind when I begin using this .

[…] a recent post, I showed how to easily create your own silhouette characters.  Today I share show some ways to use those silhouettes in your elearning courses.  […]

Tom- I thought I’d share a few video tutorials that I created showing ways to create silhouettes and highlight screen elements. Both methods use native powerpoint features. I hope other readers find these useful. 🙂

Brightness method.

Re-coloring method:

Way cool Tom, as usual. I have trouble finding “blue collar” clip art as related to supervising and such, so this will work great! I even changed out blue suit guys with blue collar guys, leaving it in color. I can create my own very specific clip art! I am having fun playing with the possiblities. On to manupliating photos next…

[…] 3 Easy Ways to Create Silhouette Characters shows three ways to quickly create silhouette characters for your slides. […]

April 27th, 2010

I just started following you on twitter and I can truly say the information you provide is timeless. Like this blog! I just came across this entry while checking out your site. I will be using it as a reference/guide as I re-tool most of my e-learning for Summer Professional Development for Educators.

@Marcelle: glad you like it and find it helpful

Tom, great article and very helpful. What I want to do is something like your header. Can you point me in that direction? Thanks!

@Jimbo: I found a vector artist on istockphotos and had him do the banner for me. Deviantart is also a good place to find some artists.

Awesome, I will check it out. Thanks!

[…] digital photos of yourselves, or give it a try yourself, it’s actually really simple – here’s a tutorial. You can even just use some random silhouettes from Google images – no-one’s going to […]

Thanks for the concept of silhouette.

This is a great idea. As a freelance graphic designer I have certainly purchased my share of clip art silhouette images. Creating my own silhouette images will save me some money.

[…] of actually saving it first. permalink E-learning Circus – E-learning design tips and tutorials 3 Easy Ways to Create Silhouette Characters Budgets are tight and stock photos cost money. 31 Manga Avatar Faces Free Vectors download give […]