Fantastic shadows on your layouts can make a huge difference. But how do you make them look great? Here’s how in 5 easy steps.

For this tutorial,  you will need:

  • Photoshop,
  • an element,
  • a background paper for contrast

I’m using a paper from Candy Lane and a bauble from the Candy Lane Baubles pack. It’s on sale at the moment for Christmas. Make sure you grab it while it is at this great price.

Fantastic shadows tutorial 1

Position the element where you want it on the page and resize it if you need to.

Step 1

Zoom in so you can see what you’re doing and apply a shadow. The easiest way of applying a shadow is by clicking on the fx icon at the bottom of the layers panel. The red arrow on the image below shows you where it is.

Fantastic shadows tutorial 2

Select the drop shadows effect and set it to 120 degrees (I like the light to be coming from the top left hand side so I will use 120 but you can change it just don’t forget to adjust the other shadows to fit in with your preferred light). The distance, spread and size will be 10, 1, 10. Click ok to accept the settings.

This gives you a very basic shadow but the ribbon looks flat. On my screen, I can barely see any shadow at all on the ribbon.

Shadow theory: when an item is close to the background the shadow will be small and crisp. As something moves or lifts away from the background, the shadow will be larger and less defined. We will account for this theory with our shadow.

Step 2

To customise the shadow, we need to separate the effect to it’s own layer. We do this by right clicking on the shadow effect of the layer and selecting Create Layer

Fantastic shadows tutorial 5

Make sure that the new shadow layer is selected and then click on edit, transform and warp. This prepares the shadow layer for the stretching and pulling we will do to make it a custom shadow.

Fantastic shadows tutorial 6

Step 3

Now we need to be creative and also keep in mind what happens to real shadows. I think of my layouts as laying flat in a book and the elements raised on it just as they would on a paper layout. The metal will remain flat on the background but the ribbon will be soft and lifted in places but flat on the background at the knot. The ends of the ribbon might curl upwards and away. I avoid moving the shadows of the metal parts and if they do move, I warp them back.

With that in mind, I would do something like this:

The arrows show the point where and the direction I’ve moved the warp tool net points. I click and drag gently and I find I have more control at the cross points of the net.

Fantastic shadows tutorial 7

Once I’m happy with the general shadow, I accept the settings.

Step 4

Now that the basic shadow looks how I think it should be, I need to tweak it.

The ribbon shadow is too harsh. It should be softer and I don’t like the brownish colour of the shadow.

First, I soften the shadow by applying a Gaussian blur. I do this by clicking on Filter, blur, Gaussian blur.

Fantastic shadows tutorial 8

Between 8 and 10 appears to work well for shadows. I’ve set it to 9 but I can still adjust it more if I need to.

Fantastic shadows tutorial 9

I mentioned earlier that my shadow had a brownish tint which I did not like. The tint is caused by the blend mode of the layer. It is currently set to color burn. The blend mode was inherited from the settings when I applied the drop shadow. To fix it, I will change the blend mode to normal and reduce the opacity to about 40%. Color burn works well on dark papers but doesn’t work so well on this light coloured paper.

Step 5

Let’s do the final adjustment. Change the blend mode to Normal and the Opacity to about 40%. You can easily make these changes in the layers panel. The arrows show you where.

Fantastic shadows tutorial 10

This is what your element looks like now. The shadow now gives the effect that the ribbon ends are lifted from the background.

Here is a close up of the bauble and shadow.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and find it useful. Leave a comment if you have any questions or leave a comment if you find it useful and don’t forget that Candy Lane kit, Baubles, Follies and Doodled Word Art are all marked 50% off at the moment.










2 Comments. Leave new

  • Thank you for this tip, I use the create layer on my shadows but had been using the smudge tool for the curling effect, your way seems to give much more control can’t wait to give it a go!

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