Drop shadows are key to taking a layout from looking computer-generated to looking like you made it with actual paper supplies. They add depth and realism.  In order to achieve that realistic look, you have to venture out of the default drop shadow setting.  I promise it is easy.  (side note: I use Photoshop Elements, but in Photoshop CS you can do more things with shadows to make them look realistic like warp them and choose the blend mode.  Sadly I cannot, so this tutorial will not include changing those settings)

no shadows

This has no shadows (except for the "tickles" whose shadow was saved permanently, oops). See how flat it looks?

default shadows

With default shadows, everything seems to be 'floating' on top of each other instead of layered. Open this up larger to really see the difference between this and altered shadows.

altered shadows

This looks a little more realistic. The photos and papers look like they are 'resting' on top of the other layers rather than 'floating' in space.


1. These are the things you can change in Photoshop Elements:
Lighting Angle- changes the angle of light and
therefore the angle of your shadow
Size- changes the size of your shadow, not to be
confused with the distance.  The size will
make your shadow softer or harder on
the edges.  Small size=hard edge
Distance- changes how far away your shadow
is from the layer underneath
Opacity- changes how dark the shadow is

2. Vary your shadows for different objects.  A button makes a larger shadow than a piece of paper or a photo. Sahlin Studio recommends the settings listed below.  That's too much for me to memorize so I usually just play with the sliders until I am happy with the result.
Flat Paper/photos: distance 14/size 20
Stacked Paper/photos: distance 20/size 21
Flat Ribbons/strings: distance 33/ size 35
Ribbons/strings: distance 46/ size 49
Flowers: distance 46/ size 49
Stitches/staples: distance 7/ size 12

3. The closer an object is to the layer below, the darker the shadow will be because less light gets to it. For example, a paper sits closer to the background than a flower, so it would have a darker shadow.

4. Change the angle of the shadow.  Most people use the default 120 degrees, but I think that 45 degrees or -45 degrees looks more striking. Some of my pages use 120 degrees, some 45, some -53.  I like to live on the wild side, always changing.

5. Once you get a shadow that you like, you can right click on that layer and 'copy layer style'.  Then you can paste that layer style on any layer that you want to have the same shadow as that one.  Just right click on the layer you want to paste it to and click 'paste layer style'. My friend Brittany just barely showed me this, and it is a life saver!  I used to go through each layer one by one to fix the shadows! (I showed how to do this in the last step of the tutorial below)

6. Many times designers will pre-shadow templates for you.  When replacing a shape with an actual element, use the method in tip #4 to copy that element's layer style before deleting it and replacing it with your own so that you can paste that layer style to your actual element.

drop shadow basics.

in other news...

Wahoo for our first guest gallery poster!  Ashley submitted her layout using the Color Me Spring kit.  Didn't it turn out cute?  Her daughter is adorable!  Send me your layouts at chocolate2550@yahoo.com. You know you want to. It doesn't have to be using my stuff, just layouts that you think would inspire others. If you do submit something using another designer's kits/elements/fonts just include the credits.

4/4/2012 12:12:02 am

Yay! Thanks, I think that will be super helpful. I hope other people submit some things for the gallery!


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