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Ultimate Guide to PowerPoint SmartArt : Tutorials, Templates Tips & Tricks

We have put together a massive collection of resources for PowerPoint SmartArt. This includes free & premium tips, tricks, tutorials and templates that you can access online to polish your SmartArt slides.

Ultimate Guide to PowerPoint SmartArt

About PowerPoint SmartArt

SmartArt is the default free tool available in PowerPoint. It helps presenters create more visual presentations fast.  There are a preset list of SmartArt graphics available. This includes options for bullet lists, processes, relationships, matrix, pictures and more. 

SmartArt Logo

SmartArt is a way to turn ordinary text into something more visually appealing. It can be used to draw attention to important information or to make information easier to interpret and understand.

Let us see how to work with this tool, starting with... 

How to Insert SmartArt

You can insert SmartArt in 3 different ways. They are:

1. From Toolbar Menu:

In the toolbar, go over to Insert Tab and click on SmartArt. This will popup the menu where you can select the type of SmartArt you want to insert.

Insert SmartArt from Toolbar

2. By using the default available in layout

When you use any layout with content, PowerPoint provides options to add picture, video, SmartArt, Table etc. You can click on the SmartArt icon to get started.

Insert SmartArt with Layout

3. By right clicking on a bullet list and converting to SmartArt

When you Right click on a bullet point list in a content box, a menu pop up. One of the options is to Convert to SmartArt.

Convert Text to SmartArt

More tutorials to get started with SmartArt:

If you are just getting started, you may need more step by step help to get familiar with SmartArt. The Microsoft website has some useful tutorials to help you begin.
Here is the tutorial on how to add SmartArt to your slides.

Now that the SmartArt inserted, let's see about....

Working with SmartArt

Once you add a SmartArt Graphic to your slides, you can customize the graphic.

The options available for customization include :

  • Add / Remove shape elements 
  • Customize the text and picture placeholders
  • Apply preset styles with shadow/bevel and outline options.
  • Promote & demote levels 
  • Add animations to the whole graphic 
  • Change the applied SmartArt graphic or convert it back to text

You can learn how to work with all of these features from one of these tutorials:

1. Tutorials on Working with SmartArt

The website GCF Learnfree has an article and a 5-minute video on how to perform basic operations.

GCF Learnfree Post on SmartArt

2. Tutorials on modifying  SmartArt 

This absolute beginners guide on Informit has a good tutorial on how to organize, modify and change your SmartArt. 

Informit website logo
Tutorials on SmartArt Modification

3. Tutorials on SmartArt on PowerPoint for Mac

If you are using PowerPoint on Mac, there are slight differences in the commands used to perform these operations. Geetesh Bajaj over on Indezine covers how to customize SmartArt in the tutorials here.

SmartArt tutorials for PowerPoint on Mac

Now that we have the content ready, it is time to go to the next step...

Animating SmartArt Graphics

You can apply animation to a SmartArt Diagram by going to Animation Tab in the PowerPoint Ribbon and selecting the animation type

Once you apply the animation, there are 2 additional options available:

1. Change the Direction or Setting that is available with the particular animation type

2.  Change the Sequence of whether you want the whole graphic to appear at once, by level or one by one. The SmartArt can be sequenced as a single object, or by level or one element at a time.

Applying SmartArt Animation

SmartArt Animation Basics 

You can find more information on basic set up of SmartArt animations for different versions of PowerPoint on the Microsoft website. Here is where you can read it.

Animation SmartArt PowerPoint Tips

If you are familiar with the basics, then you can proceed to...

Complete Guide to Adding SmartArt Animation in PowerPoint

Applying SmartArt Animation in PowerPoint for Mac

The Dummies series has a short and easy post on how to set up SmartArt animation in PowerPoint 2011 for Mac

As you can see, the type and extent of animations you can apply to SmartArt graphics is fairly limited. Not just there, there are other...

Common Issues in Using SmartArt 

While SmartArt is a good tool to begin with, it has a number of limitations.  

SmartArt is not going to intelligently guide you to a diagram style that is appropriate for your content.

Here are some further limitations to keep in mind while using SmartArt:

  • The number of options are limited. So presenters end up using the same graphic for different ideas.
  • The same SmartArt are used by millions of presenters. So your audience has seen similar looking slides many times before. This makes it boring
  • The type and extent of animation that can be applied is very limited. 
  • Photos cannot be adjusted. SmartArt will by default display one part of the photo. If your photo dimensions are not exact, this can lead to poor slides.
  • The element sizes, text etc. are constrained by the bounding boxes. So font sizes may be very small. Elements cannot be resized & positioned as you like.
  • Advanced options like 3D, bevel, shadow, reflecting etc. cannot be applied to many of the elements.

Common SmartArt Frustrations & How to Overcome them:

This video talks about two of the common frustrations in using SmartArt and how to overcome them...

You can find the training mentioned in this video here...

Step by Step Training Videos for SmartArt

Learn how to to get started with SmartArt, Customize and even create beautiful graphics with SmartArt. With step-by-step video tutorials...

Overcome Limitations of SmartArt

One way to overcome limitations of SmartArt is to Ungroup the elements. Once that is done, you can resize, re-position, animate and apply advanced effects to the shapes to make your slides stand out. Here are...

6 Quick Ways to Make your Graphic Standout

Stand Out SmartArt

There was a time when SmartArt diagrams had a novelty value. They made the audience sit up and listen to your message with interest. But now, the default diagram templates are so overused that audience gets bored the moment they see a slide with default SmartArt. 

What is the way out? How can you sustain your audience interest levels when using SmartArt diagrams? Here are 6 PowerPoint SmartArt Tricks

Creative way to makeover a SmartArt Graphic

For example it is possible to makeover a standard cycle into an interesting custom Spoke Diagram. 

Here is the tutorial on how to makeover your SmartArt to a Spoke diagram.

Applying 3D & Effects to a SmartArt Graphic

Once you convert a SmartArt into shapes you can apply custom effects to them. Here is an example of a regular Process Diagram madeover into a 3D Steps Diagram that is completely customized.

3D Steps Diagrams from SmartArt

Here is a step-by-step tutorial on how to do this makeover.

If you are struggling with SmartArt...

You can quickly and easily learn how to get started with SmartArt, Edit/Modify and even customize it completely to your requirements.  Click here to know more

However, if you would prefer to save time and work, you can go for...

Prebuilt SmartArt Graphics

These are SmartArt Graphics with prebuilt animations, and custom fonts, themes and colors.
It is easy to use as you just need to select & copy a suitable SmartArt into your presentation. Replace the placholder image and text to finish!

Watch the video below for a quick preview of Prebuilt SmartArt:

The graphic showcased above are from a collection of 146 Prebuilt PowerPoint SmartArt Graphics. You can find more about the graphics here.

Going beyond SmartArt for visuals

When you want to make your slides more visual, using SmartArt is a good place to start. 
However, if you create presentations regularly, then you may find these options limited.  In such cases you may like to create your own custom graphics.  
You can find a number of free PowerPoint tutorials on our website, if you are looking for tutorials for creating custom graphics in PowerPoint.

Hope you found this comprehensive guide to SmartArt useful! 

Note: All trademarks are property of their respective owners. Images are screen grabs from respective sites.

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