3. Basic concepts

This chapter presents the basic concepts that apply to working with all think-cell elements.

3.1 Toolbar and Elements menu

After installing think-cell you will find the following group in the Insert tab of the ribbon in PowerPoint:

think-cell group in PowerPoint 365.

In the following, we will refer to the ribbon group by the term think-cell toolbar. Using the think-cell toolbar you can call most of think-cell’s functions.

Note: We will also uniformly use the term Elements button to refer to the button Elements in PowerPoint, and the button Charts in Excel.

After clicking on the Elements button, the symbols in the first two rows represent building blocks for process flows (see 16. Process flow), several helpful drawing objects (see 20. Presentation tools) and agenda slides (see 19. Agenda), while the other rows represent chart types (see 4. Introduction to charting).

The following elements are available:


Element name

Section in manual


Column or bar chart

7.1 Column chart and stacked column chart


100% column or bar chart

7.3 100% chart


Clustered column or bar chart

7.2 Clustered chart


Build-up waterfall chart

9. Waterfall chart


Build-down waterfall chart

9. Waterfall chart


Mekko chart with units

10. Mekko chart


Mekko chart with %-axis

10.1 Mekko chart with %-axis


Area chart

7.6.1 Area chart


Area chart with %-axis

7.6.2 Area 100% chart


Line chart

7.4 Line chart


Combination chart

7.7 Combination chart


Pie chart

11. Pie and doughnut chart


Scatter chart

12.2 Scatter chart


Bubble chart

12.3 Bubble chart


Project timeline or Gantt chart

13. Gantt chart (timeline)


Table of contents

19.6 Inserting a table of contents



19.1 Inserting a chapter


Split agenda

19.5 Multiple agendas in a single presentation


Text box

15. Text boxes



16. Process flow


Rounded rectangle

20.1 Rounded Rectangle


Harvey ball

20.2 Checkbox and Harvey ball

Checkbox icon.


20.2 Checkbox and Harvey ball



17. Table

Picture from Online Service icon.

Stock image

18. Images

Text Field Linked to Excel icon.

Text Linked to Excel

21.5 Creating Text Linked to Excel

Named Text Field icon.

Named Text Field

24. Introduction to automation

Furthermore there are image. universal connectors to connect the elements (see 8.2.7 Universal connectors for more information).

And finally Tools menu icon. Tools offers additional valuable tools (see 20. Presentation tools) to facilitate your daily work with PowerPoint.

3.2 Inserting elements

Inserting an element into your presentation is very similar to inserting a PowerPoint shape. To create a new element on a slide, go to the think-cell toolbar and click the Elements button. Then, select the required element. You may notice small arrow markers around some of the elements. Moving the mouse over these markers lets you select rotated and flipped versions of these elements.

If you have unintentionally selected some element, you can always do the following:

  • Press the Esc key to cancel the insert operation.
  • Re-click the Elements button to select a different element.

think-cell chart smart elements.

Once you have chosen an element, a rectangle will appear with the mouse pointer, indicating where the element will be inserted on the slide. You have two options when placing the element on the slide:

  • Click the left mouse button once to place the element with the default width and height.
  • Hold down the left mouse button and drag the mouse to create a custom-sized element. Some elements have a fixed width for insertion; in this case, you can only alter the height. You can always change the size of the element later.

When you are inserting or resizing an element, you will notice that it snaps to certain locations.

think-cell chart snapping of smart elements while inserting.

think-cell chart snapping of smart elements while resizing.

The snapping behavior serves the following purposes:

  • With snapping, objects can be quickly and easily aligned. The highlighting of a border of some other object on the slide indicates that the element you are moving is currently aligned with that object.
  • When resized, some elements snap to an automatically determined and predefined preferred size. In the case of a column chart, for example, its preferred width depends on the number of columns. If you have manually changed the size of an element, you can easily change it back to the default width. It will snap when you come close enough to the default while adjusting the width with the mouse.

As in PowerPoint, you can hold down the Alt key to move the mouse freely without snapping.

3.3 Rotating and flipping elements

In the Elements menu, the small arrow markers around the pentagon/chevron and the stacked, clustered, 100%, line, combination, area, waterfall and Mekko chart symbols let you insert flipped (and—if applicable—rotated) versions of these elements.

Most elements can also be rotated after insertion using a rotation handle. Simply select the element and drag the rotation handle to the desired position: Click with the left mouse button on the rotation handle and, while holding the button down, drag the handle to one of the four possible red-highlighted positions and release the button.

Rotating and flipping charts in think-cell.

3.4 Resizing elements

When an element is selected, resize handles are shown at the corners and in the center of the boundary lines. To resize an element, drag one of these handles.

While dragging the resize handle, you can press PageUp and PageDown or scroll with the mouse wheel to switch to a different slide. The outline of the element you are resizing will appear in gray, and you can use shapes on that other slide as reference points, with the same snapping behavior as explained in 3.2 Inserting elements. When releasing the mouse button, you will be taken back to the original slide, where the selected size will be applied to the element. This makes it easy to align elements' positions and sizes across slides.

You can also set two or more elements to the same width or height. This also works if you include PowerPoint shapes in your selection. First, select all objects that you want to set to the same width or height (see 3.5.1 Multi-selection). Then, choose image.  Same Height or image.  Same Width from the context menu of an element included in the selection. All objects will be resized to the same height or width, respectively.

think-cell resizing elements.

If a Reference element is set, the height or width of all selected elements is set to its height or width. Otherwise, the largest height or width among the elements is used.

3.5 Selecting elements and features

think-cell’s elements often contain individually selectable parts that we call features. For example, a chart element consists of the segments corresponding to the values in the datasheet and may also contain labels, axes, difference arrows, connectors and so forth.

You can distinguish a feature by the orange frame that appears when the mouse pointer is over it. When you click it, the frame turns blue to mark it as the currently selected feature. Additionally a floating toolbar might appear. It contains a set of property controls you can use to give the feature a different look. It is a good idea to explore a newly-inserted element to get an overview of the features it is made of and their properties.

When you right-click on a feature, its context menu appears. You use it to add additional features to the element or remove those currently visible.

think-cell connector menu.

Buttons whose functions are unavailable for the current selection are greyed out. The context menu of the entire element is invoked by right-clicking the background of the element.

Features always belong to their respective elements and can themselves have further features. As an example, the vertical axis of a line chart is a feature of the chart itself, while the tick marks along the axis are features of the axis. Consequently you use the chart’s context menu to switch on or off the vertical axis and the axis’ context menu to toggle whether tick marks are shown.

There are several ways to remove a feature:

  • Left-click the feature to select it and press the Del or Backspace key on your keyboard.
  • Right-click the feature to open the think-cell context menu. Click the Delete icon.  Delete button to remove the feature from the element.
  • Open the think-cell context menu that you used to add the feature. Click the same button again to remove it.

Note: You cannot remove data segments from a chart element in this way. All data segments shown are controlled by the internal datasheet. If you delete a cell from the internal datasheet, the corresponding data segment is removed from the chart element.

Note: Buttons which toggle the presence of a feature, e.g. if series labels are shown in a chart or not, change their state accordingly. For example, after you have chosen image.  Add Series Label to add series labels to a chart element, the button changes to image.  Remove Series Label. In the following, generally only the state of the button for adding the feature is shown.

Detailed information on all the available features is provided in the following chapters accompanying the respective elements they apply to.

3.5.1 Multi-selection

You can quickly select a range of features that belong together—this is called logical multi-selection. It works the same way as with files in Microsoft Windows Explorer: Select the first feature in the desired range with a single left mouse button click, then hold down Shift and click the last feature in the range. When you move the mouse while holding down Shift, the range of features that is going to be selected is highlighted in orange.

To add single features to the selection, or to remove single features from the selection, hold down Ctrl while clicking. Again, this is the same way multi-selecting files works in Microsoft Windows Explorer.

Logical multi-selection is also possible using the keyboard: Pressing Ctrl+A repeatedly will successively select all features of ever more inclusive kinds to which the originally selected feature belongs. When a segment label of a stacked column chart has been selected, for example, first all segment labels of the same data series, then all segment labels of all series in the chart, and finally all labels in the chart.

Similarly when a chart segment has been selected: First all segments of the same series, then all segments of the chart, then even all segments of all charts on the same slide.

Logical multi-selection is particularly useful if you want to colorize an entire data series in a chart element, or if you want to change the formatting of a range of labels. You can even use multi-selection to paste text into multiple labels at once (see 6.6 Pasting text into multiple labels).

Further, you can use Ctrl+Alt+Shift+ to extend the current selection to all elements or features (of the same kind) in the selected direction. With think-cell, this works even for native PowerPoint shapes. Reference element

As soon as a think-cell element is part of a multi-selection of slide elements, think-cell allows you to specify a reference element, which can, for example, define the target size when setting elements to the same size (see 3.4 Resizing elements) and the alignment target when aligning elements (see 3.7 Aligning and arranging).

The reference element, if any, is indicated by a small red dot shown in its center. It can be a think-cell element as well as a native PowerPoint shape. You can set the reference element to a particular element contained in a multi-selection by simply clicking on it.

A multi-selection of a PowerPoint rectangle, a PowerPoint line, and a think-cell chart. The rectangle says "I'm the reference element" and has a small red dot in the middle.

Which element in a multi-selection initially is the reference element depends on the way the selection was created:

  • When adding to a selection using Ctrl+Click, the last element added will become the reference element.
  • When extending a selection to an additional range of elements using Shift+Click or Ctrl+Alt+Shift+ , or to all elements on the slide using Ctrl+A, the reference element, if any, will be
    • the single element initially selected if there was only one or
    • the same as that of the original selection.
  • When a multi-selection containing a think-cell element is created with the lasso, or by pressing Ctrl+A without any element being selected, it initially has no reference element.

3.5.2 Keyboard navigation

In many cases, you do not need the mouse to select other objects on a slide. Instead, you can hold down the Alt key and use the cursor arrow keys to select another object.

  • When a PowerPoint shape or think-cell element is selected, Alt with cursor keys selects the next shape that is found in the arrow’s direction.
  • When an element’s feature is selected, Alt with cursor keys selects the next feature of the same kind in the element.

However, you can only shift the focus to features of the same element. Use the mouse again to select a feature of another element.

3.5.3 Panning

When editing a slide in a zoomed view (like 400%) it is often hard to move the slide around and locate the region that you want to work with next. With think-cell installed, you can use the middle mouse button to “pan” the slide: Just grab the slide with your mouse pointer by clicking the middle mouse button and move it where you need it.

If your mouse has a wheel instead of a middle button, you can achieve the same effect by pressing down the wheel without turning it.

Note: You probably know that in PowerPoint you can zoom in and out using the mouse wheel with the Ctrl key held down. Together with the panning feature from think-cell, using zoomed views for slide design becomes easy and fast.

3.6 Grouping

think-cell elements can be grouped so that they move and resize together, just like ordinary PowerPoint shapes. To group some think-cell elements, multi-select them and press Ctrl+G or click Home > Drawing > Arrange > Group.

That elements belong to the same group is indicated by a thin orange line around all of them in addition to the thick orange selection preview when hovering over any of them, or a thin blue outline in addition to the thick blue outline around a selected element belonging to the group.

Stacked column chart grouped with a legend and a table.

To remove a group, select any of the elements in it, and press Shift+Ctrl+G or click Home > Drawing > Arrange > Ungroup.

When you select two or more elements belonging to distinct groups and group them, a new group will be created containing all elements belonging to any of the original groups. think-cell remembers the original grouping, so removing the new large group will restore the original smaller groups.

3.7 Aligning and arranging

You can use PowerPoint's familiar controls, for example those found in the Home > Drawing > Arrange menu, to position think-cell elements on the slide.

In particular, you can use the Align Left/Center/Right/Top/Middle/Bottom buttons to align one or more selected elements in relation to the slide or in relation to each other. For think-cell elements that are layout-enabled (see 14. Introduction to layout), this does not merely position them accordingly, but also introduces a snap connection between them that keeps them aligned along that edge or axis, even when they change their size or position on the slide (see 15.1 Inserting and snapping text boxes for more information).

When the Align Selected Objects option is chosen in the Arrange menu, PowerPoint will natively align the left/right/top/bottom edge of all selected elements with that of the outermost selected element in that direction, or align their center/middle axis with that of the rectangle bounding the selection. In particular for Align Center/Middle this is often undesirable, as it means that in many cases all selected shapes will be moved, and the center/middle axis of the bounding rectangle of a selection of unaligned shapes usually has no meaning in the slide layout.

As soon as at least one think-cell element is part of your multi-selection, think-cell improves upon this by using the Reference element as the alignment target: When performing an alignment operation with Align Selected Objects, the chosen edge or axis of the other selected elements are aligned with the corresponding edge of the reference element. A reference element that has a fixed position will therefore not be moved by the alignment operation.

On the left: A multi-selection of a  PowerPoint rectangle that says "Chart Title" and a think-cell stacked column chart. The rectangle is the reference element, indicated by a small red dot in its center. On the right: The result of applying Align Center with Align Selected Shapes to the configuration on the left: The horizontal center of the chart is aligned with that of the rectangle, the rectangle has not moved.

If the reference element is part of a group (see 3.6 Grouping), for example a cell in a think-cell 17. Table, the relevant edge or axis of the whole group it belongs to will be the alignment target.

If a multi-selection containing a think-cell element has no reference element set, the alignment behavior is the native PowerPoint behavior described above.

3.8 Formatting and styling

When you select an element or feature by clicking on it a floating toolbar might appear. It contains property controls to change the look of the feature. Only the controls which are applicable to the selected feature are shown in the floating toolbar.

In this chapter several general types of controls are described. Through the course of the following chapters, detailed information is provided for all property controls of the floating toolbar in the context of specific element and feature types.

3.8.1 Color and fill


The color control applies to features that have a fill color, to lines including outlines, arrows and connectors (see 8.2 Arrows and values), and to font color (see also 6.5.2 Font color).

For fill colors, the list contains Like Excel Cell if you have enabled Use Datasheet Fill on Top in the color scheme control (see 3.8.2 Color scheme). To reset the fill color of a segment you colored manually choose Like Excel Cell to use Excel’s cell formatting.

If you need other colors than offered by the color control, select the Custom option from the dropdown box. You will then be presented with a color picker where you can choose any color you like; the color you select will immediately be applied to the selected element on the slide, so you can easily judge the result without having to close the dialog.

think-cell color picker.

Hues are arranged horizontally. The vertical position in the top pane represents how muted the color is (effectively how much of the complementary color is mixed in) starting from gray at the bottom to pure colors at the top. The bottom pane is arranged around the middle axis with the brightest colors, tinting with white towards the top and shading with black towards the bottom.

You can select an RGB color specified in either hex (#82a617) or decimal (rgb(130, 166, 23) or R119 G119 B119) format by entering it into the box bottom right.

The dropdown menu top left lets you easily switch to choosing the color of other features of the selected element. You can also easily switch to selecting a custom color for a different think-cell element by selecting it on the slide.

think-cell adds the most recently used custom colors to the color control for quick access. You will find a divider line in the list of most recently used colors: The colors above the divider are saved within the presentation, so you can rest assured that your colleagues have them available when editing the presentation. The colors below the divider are available on your computer only, because you were using them in a different presentation. Both sections can hold up to 8 colors. When you use a 9th custom color, the first one is removed from the list.

You should use the color property when highlighting specific segments or one series in a chart. If you need to colorize an entire chart, use the color scheme property instead.

3.8.2 Color scheme


The color scheme control applies consistent coloring to all segments of a chart, so the first series uses the first color in the color scheme, the second series the second color and so on. The coloring is automatically updated when a series is added or removed. See 3.8.11 Changing default colors and fonts for more information.

When you check Use Datasheet Fill on Top think-cell applies the color from Excel’s cell formatting to the chart in PowerPoint. This is particularly convenient if you want to control the chart colors through your Excel data source in the case of a linked chart. For instance the Conditional Formatting can help you to color positive values green and negative values red.

If you enable Use Datasheet Fill on Top and the cell corresponding to a data segment does not have a fill color set as part of Excel’s cell formatting, then the color assigned to that segment according to the selected color scheme is applied.

Note: Using Excel’s cell formatting to set a segment’s fill color does not work if you use conditional formatting rules in Excel and these rules contain functions or references to other cells.

3.8.3 Segment sorting


The segment sorting control applies a specific order to the segments in a chart. The default Segments in sheet order orders segments in the same order they appear in the datasheet. If you choose Segments in reverse sheet order the last series in the datasheet will be displayed at the top of the chart and the first series in the datasheet at the bottom of the chart.

think-cell can also sort the segments in a category based on their value. Segments in descending order will sort all categories so that the largest segment in each category is on the baseline and sort the other segments in descending order, Segments in ascending order will display the segment with the smallest numerical value on the baseline. As a consequence of sorting, segments of the same data series, with the same color, will appear at different positions in different categories.

Of course, these options are only available for charts that have segments. The options shown here apply to segments of column and bar, pie and doughnut, as well as Mekko charts. For area and waterfall charts only the options relating to sheet order are available.

3.8.4 Category sorting


The category sorting control applies a specific order to the categories in a chart. The default Categories in sheet order orders categories in the same order they appear in the datasheet. Categories in descending Y extent order will show the category with the greatest sum of values first and then sort in descending order. Categories in ascending Y extent order will show the category with the smallest sum of values first and then sort in ascending order.

The options shown here apply to stacked or clustered column and bar charts, line and area charts, as well as Mekko charts. For each chart type, sorting options appropriate to that particular type are offered.

3.8.5 Chart type


The chart type control switches to a different chart type for displaying the same data. You can switch between the stacked, stacked 100%, clustered, area, area 100% and line chart.

When using only columns or bars on an absolute axis and lines, you can also switch individual series to a different type, creating a combination chart, by selecting a segment or data point belonging to that series and switching the chart type in the floating toolbar.

To switch to a 100% chart of the same basic type you can also set the Y-axis type to % (see Adjusting the value axis type).

3.8.6 Line style


The line style control applies to the outlines of segments of column, bar and pie charts, basic elements, agenda chapters, lines in line charts, a chart’s baseline and to value lines (see 8.2.4 Value line). You can also change a connector’s appearance using the line style control. In addition, the outline of the plot-area in all charts can be specified using the line style control.

3.8.7 Outline colors


You can change the color of an outline with this control. It works for segments of column, bar and pie charts as well basic elements and agenda chapters.

3.8.8 Line scheme

The line scheme control specifies the appearance of lines in line charts. The supported line schemes apply consistent line styles and coloring to all lines in the chart. You can also choose line schemes that highlight the data points along lines with markers.


3.8.9 Marker shape


The marker shape control can be used to add or change markers for data points in line and scatter charts. Note that the marker scheme control should be used instead of marker shapes to add consistent markers to all the data points in a scatter chart.

3.8.10 Marker scheme

The marker scheme control applies consistent markers to data points in scatter charts. The markers are automatically updated when data points, groups and series are added or removed. The marker scheme control should be preferred over the marker shape control when adding consistent markers to an entire scatter chart.


3.8.11 Changing default colors and fonts

think-cell can use PowerPoint’s scheme colors for many elements and features (e.g. axes, text, arrows, etc.). These colors as well as font definitions are always taken from the default colors and fonts of your presentation file. If the defaults are designed correctly, think-cell will follow seamlessly when you choose to switch the color scheme.

To adjust the default (font) colors and font family, change your theme in the Design tab. think-cell elements will use the font family chosen for Body text by default. If the desired color scheme or font family is not already available as an option, you can add it as follows:

For Office 2010:

  1. In the ribbon, go to Design.
  2. In the group Themes, click on Colors/Fonts.
  3. From the drop-down list choose Create New Theme Colors/Fonts...

For Office 2013 and later:

  1. In the ribbon, go to Design.
  2. In the group Variants, click on the downward button in the bottom right.
  3. From the drop-down list choose Colors/Fonts, then Customize Colors/Fonts...

In general, it is advisable to store these defaults in a PowerPoint template file (*.potx) and to derive all new presentations from this template file. Please refer to the PowerPoint help for information on how to do this.

You can also specify default and additional color schemes for charts, as well as default font colors, using a think-cell style as described in C. Customizing think-cell. The specific settings for font colors are described in D.6 Customizing text properties. It is preferable to adjust default font settings in the PowerPoint template and a think-cell style should only be used for this purpose as a last resort, when you cannot modify your template as described above.