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6 Steps to a Better Shadow in Photoshop

Updated: Dec 27, 2021

Here's a quick Photoshop tip. If you want a better shadow than Photoshop’s built in Drop Shadow effect this shadow technique will do the trick. For most times the drop shadow effect is enough but this alternative technique gives you a more real shadow. In 6 steps your designs can have a realistic shadow that is easy to work with and will cause your creations to pop out and demand attention ( I’ll be working with a Mac and Photoshop CC version 22.4.2 ). If you don't use shortcut keys yet, start using them, they save tons of time. Here's a link to a list of popular default shortcut keys from Adobe. #Photoshoptips


Check out the Marching Ants link to find out more about selecting in Photoshop

Step 1. I’ll use this text to work with, ( Arial Black, 77pt, green) but you can use this technique on any kind of text, object, brush stroke, or wherever you would use a drop shadow.

Select the text by holding down the command key and clicking on the text Layer thumbnail, you'll know it's selected when you see the Marching Ants around around the text. Create a new Layer below the Text Layer and fill it with black by hitting the option and delete keys, hold down the command key and hit the D key to deselect the text (before you fill the layer make sure your foreground and background colors are at default by hitting the D key).


Step 2 creates a sharp shadow

Step 2. Name the new layer you just filled Lighter Shadow and select that Layer. I want the light to come from the upper left so the shadow will be going down and to the right. I also want the text to really pop out. I achieve this by increasing the distance between the text and the 'shadow'. With the Lighter Shadow Layer selected, hit the down arrow key a few times to move the black 'shadow' down. Since this will be the lighter and bigger part of the shadow I’ll hit the down arrow key about 10 times down and hit the right arrow key about 10 times. If you hold down the shift key and hit the arrow key it will move in increments of ten.


Click on the Gaussian Blur link for some cool info

Step 3. We’ll blur this layer, but first up go to Filter and click on Convert to Smart Filters. This way you can preserve the Layer's editability. Go back to Filter and down to Blur then to Gaussian Blur. Since this will be the lighter part of the shadow I'll increase the Gaussian Blur to 20 px. Of course, you might use a different number according to what effect you want. For more of a pop out effect from the shadow you want to have more blur and distance. It might take some tweaking to get it just right , which can easily be done because of Converting the layer to a Smart Filter.


Copying layers is a great time saver

Step 4. Now to add the darker part of the shadow to make it look more real. Select the Lighter shadow layer and hold down command key and hit the J key to make a copy of the layer. Rename the copy Dark Shadow and move the darker 'shadow' in towards the text by using the up arrow key. Hit the up arrow key about 5 times or so, next hit the left arrow key about 5 times, also. Then double click on Gaussian Blur on the Dark Shadow layer to bring up the Gaussian Blur dialogue box. Reduce the blur to somewhere between 6 px and 8 px, depending on what looks best to you.



The Multiply Blending Mode is a great way to clean up any dark colors

Step 5. After some tweaking to get it just the way you want it, we can clean up this shadow by selecting both shadow layers at once by holding down the shift key and clicking on both the lighter Shadow and Dark Shadow Lay. Then click on the Blending Modes option to access the drop down menu and click on Multiply.


Managing the shadow Layer fill is a great way to get the perfect look

Final Tweaking: If you think the shadow looks a little too strong you can decrease the Fill on the dark Shadow Layer, I decreased to 50% and then decreased the Lighter Shadow Layer Fill to 90%. It’s easy to move the shadows around and do additional adjustments as needed and even add a third mid tone shadow for more realism. Now that’s a nice looking shadow, a shadow you can’t get with the built in Drop Shadow Effect.

Written by Wendy Wittner | Illustration, Graphic Design | June 2021

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