For the first in my new series of digital scrapbooking tutorials, I want to touch on the subject of drop shadows. Shadowing in digital scrapping is one of the most discussed topics I’ve seen. There are a variety of techniques you can use and what looks ‘right’ to one scrapper may not to another. Today, I’m going to share my basic shadowing techniques that I use on my own layouts.
Drop shadows are super important. They can make a digital layout go from ‘meh’ to ‘WOW’ in just a few simple clicks, and they lend that ‘real-life, paper layout’ look to your layouts. For example, here’s a layout I created without drop shadows:
And here’s the same layout with drop shadows:
See the difference? The layout with no shadows is flat, and it’s difficult to see where one element or paper ends and another begins. The shadowed layout has depth, dimension, and that real-life look. It looks like you could just reach out and touch it!
Now how do you get there? Firstly, I use Photoshop CS4, so this tutorial will use that program. Photoshop Elements is a tad more restrictive as far as adding and manipulating layer styles, but there are tons of great tutorials out there if you’re an Elements user. I’m also going to assume you know some of the basics of Photoshop, including how to apply a layer style.
We’ll start with this flower on a background paper.
For my basic drop shadow style, I choose a dark chocolate-y color (hex# 1f1303 or thereabouts). I set my blend mode to linear burn, which creates a truer shadow than ‘multiply’ does by picking out the colors of the background. I set the opacity to around 40%. On a darker background, you may want to lower the opacity a bit. The angle determines where your light source originates, and will vary from scrapper to scrapper. I personally prefer an angle of -45 degrees, which throws the shadows towards the upper left. Leave the ‘Use Global Light’ box unchecked. My distance and size for this particular flower are both 17. These numbers can be adjusted according to your personal preference, the size of the object you’re shadowing, and the distance of that object from the background. Generally, the more stacking you do, the greater the distance and size settings you’ll use. Then click ‘OK’ and you have a realistic shadow!
Ready to take it to the next level? In real life, many objects on a scrapbook layout do not have a uniform shadow. Objects like ribbons, strings, flowers, leaves, etc. which do not have straight, flat edges, will create more movements with their shadows. So how do you achieve that in a digital layout? Easy Peasy!
Let’s start with a string on a background paper. Go ahead and apply your basic drop shadow style as we did with the flower above. Here’s what we have now:
This is is a perfectly acceptable, ordinary shadow. But we’re not going to be satisfied with ordinary. We want Rock Star shadows. What we need to do now is put the shadow on its own layer. Highlight the string layer in your layers palette, and right click on the ‘fx’ symbol on the right side of the layer.
Then, on the pop-out menu, choose “Create Layer”. This places the shadow on a separate layer beneath the string.
Now it’s time to get creative. Look at the string and decide where you want it to ‘lift’ off the paper. It’s really up to you, and it will vary according to the other layered elements and the kind of look you want to achieve. In this example, I’m going to ‘lift’ the two ends and one of the loops a little bit.
To do that, select the shadow layer in the layers palette. Now select the Smudge Tool (R) from the toolbar. You’ll find it underneath the Paint Bucket.
Now you need to select a soft-edged brush from the brush pallette at the top left. For this particular shadow, I’m using a brush with a diameter of 300 px, Hardness of 0%. Leave the Mode in Normal, and put the Strength at 50%. Now you’ll very gently ‘nudge’ the shadow little by little until you achieve the effect you’re after. Check out the image below. See how I’ve moved the shadow away from the string so that the end looks as if it’s lifting off the paper?
Now just follow the same procedure anywhere you want to lift the string off the page. Check out my finished string and shadow.
Need an even easier way to create Rock Star shadows? Have a look at my Rock the Shadows Layer Styles at Scrap Orchard. They’re compatible with Photoshop and Elements, and they’re the perfect tool to help you create amazing shadows with just one click.