Making it Real with Shadows: Six Ways to Add Shadows to Clusters

Clustering elements is a popular style these days, but creating the cluster is just the start. Adding drop shadows can add a wonderful level of realism. Basic drop shadows help, but you can get even better results with a few clever techniques.

These fall into several categories. Here is a short look at each, with links to fuller tutorials if you’d like to delve deeper:

Smudge Technique

As you’ve probably observed, flat things just aren’t completely flat. To give flat objects a realistic look you will want to ever so slightly alter the shadow. The best way to do this is to put the shadow on its own layer and use the smudge tool to move it.

Image1 227x300 Making it Real with Shadows: Six Ways to Add Shadows to Clusters Quick Tut:

  • Separate the shadow onto a new layer. PS: right-click on the fx symbol in the Layers panel, and choose Create LayerPSE: Ctrl-click on the layer’s thumbnail to make a selection, make a new layer, fill selection with black. Choose your Move tool and nudge the shadow a little bit down and to the right (or in whatever direction the other shadows on your page are going). Go to Filter> Blur> Gaussian Blur and move the slider until it looks the right amount of blurry to your eye, click OK. Change the blending mode of the layer to Multiply, and lower the opacity until the shadow looks right to you. (For another method for PSE users, see this tutorial by Scrappers Workshop.)
  • Click on the new shadow layer in the Layers panel to make it active.
  • Choose the Smudge tool (under the Blur tool) and set a large soft brush.
  • Click and drag VERY slightly in several places along the edge.
  • Lighten the opacity of this layer if it looks too dark to you.

Detailed Tutorials:

PS by Gennifer Bursett

PSE by Hummie

 

Warp Technique

To create a realistic flower, bow or other object that rises off the page you can warp or bend the shadow to create the illusion of depth. This starts with moving the shadow onto its own layer (see above) then uses the Warp transformation or Liquify filter to change the shape of the shadow.

A couple of principles to keep in mind when doing this:

  • The farther away from the background the object is, the bigger distance between the object and the shadow.
  • The farther away from the background the item is, the lighter and blurrier the shadow will be.
Image2 300x255 Making it Real with Shadows: Six Ways to Add Shadows to Clusters Quick Tut:

  • Create a shadow and separate it onto its own layer (see quick tut for “smudge technique” above).
  • Using the Marquee tool, draw a selection around the part of the shadow you want to move.
  • In PS: Go to Edit> Transform> Warp. When you click on Warp, you’ll see a box come up around your object that has handles on it and lines through it. You can click and drag on any line or handle to move just that part of the image, thus skewing the shape. Click and drag until it looks the way you want then press Enter to commit your changes.
  • In PSE: You don’t have the Warp function, so we use the Liquify filter to do this. In the Menu bar go to Filter>Distort>Liquify and a dialog box will open showing just the portion of your shadow that you put the selection around.
  • Make sure the Push tool is selected (top tool at left) and press your ] key until the brush is larger than the part of the shadow you want to move.
  • Click on the shadow and move it ever so slightly. The problem with this method is you can’t see the layer above the shadow to know how much you’re moving the shadow, so be cautious. Move it a little then click OK to go back to the layout. You may need to repeat the process several times until you get the look you want.
  • You can also get these results in most situations by using the Smudge tool with a really large brush, which does allow you to see what you’re doing but sometimes won’t let you move the shadow as much as you need to.
  • In PS and PSE: lighten the shadow as it gets farther from the object by using the Eraser tool with a soft brush and a very low opacity.

Detailed Tutorials:

PS by Danielle at Something Blue Studios

PSE by Christine Smith

 

Dual Shadow Technique 

Since most of our rooms have more than one source of light (a window and a lamp, more than one window) objects that stick up off the page can have more than one shadow. This can give a very realistic look to flowers!

Image3 300x229 Making it Real with Shadows: Six Ways to Add Shadows to Clusters Quick Tut:

  • Add a drop shadow to your object and place it on a separate layer using one of the techniques outlined above.
  • Use the Smudge or the Warp techniques (above) to adjust this shadow for a realistic look. You will want the shadows at the ends of the petals to be farther away from the flower so it looks like the petals are up above the paper.
  • Now duplicate that shadow layer by right-clicking on it in the Layers panel and choosing Duplicate layer.
  • Go to Filter> Blur> Gaussian Blur and move the Radius slider to about 25 pixels (more or less, it should look very diffuse, you can adjust it to your liking). Click OK.
  • Now you want to lower the opacity on both shadow layers so it’s not too dark.
  • Try using your arrow keys to nudge the blurred shadow just a few taps in the direction it’s already headed, in my example that’s down and to the right. If you like this better, leave it. If not, you can undo.

Use this technique on anything that has some depth: buttons, brads, flowers, even bows.

Detailed Tutorial:

PS/PSE by Peppermint (scroll way down to get to this part or read the whole tutorial, it’s good!0

 

Split Shadow Technique 

When the shadow of an object falls across things of different thicknesses, a realistic shadow will appear differently on each surface. The closer your objects are to each other, the thinner and sharper the shadow will be.

Image4 300x263 Making it Real with Shadows: Six Ways to Add Shadows to Clusters Quick Tut:

  • Create a shadow for your object that looks right for the majority of the object. In my example, I made the shadow on the ribbon so it looked good against the background and photo.
  • Put this shadow on its own layer (see above). I renamed that layer, “wide shadow.”
  • Create a new shadow that looks good where your object crosses a taller object. In my example, that would be the flower. The shadow needs to be smaller and less blurry.
  • Put that shadow on its own layer also. I renamed this layer “narrow shadow.”
  • Locate the layer where the tall object (flower) is, and hold your CTRL key while you click on the thumbnail image in the Layers panel. This will select that object.
  • In the Layers panel, click on the wide shadow layer to make it active, then press Delete or Backspace to clear the wide shadow from the flower.
  • Right-click inside the selection around the flower and choose Select Inverse.
  • In the Layers panel, click on the narrow shadow layer to make it active, then press Delete or Backspace to clear the narrow shadow from the rest of the ribbon.
  • You will be left with a split shadow – thin where the ribbon crosses the flower and wider everywhere else.
Image5 300x156 Making it Real with Shadows: Six Ways to Add Shadows to Clusters You will be left with a split shadow – thin where the ribbon crosses the flower and wider everywhere else.

Detailed Tutorial: I was not able to find one, if you know of one post in the comments and I’ll link it here!

Edge Definition Technique

If you look at the shadows on an object in real live, you’ll notice that the edge opposite the drop shadow also has a very slight shadow! This serves to provide edge definition and works really well on papers to make them look very real on the backgrounds.

Image6 293x300 Making it Real with Shadows: Six Ways to Add Shadows to Clusters
Quick Tut:

  • Create a drop shadow that you like.
  • In PS/PSE double-click on the little fx symbol on the layer in the Layers panel to open up the Style Settings dialog box.
  • Nudge the distance slider to the left 2-3 pixels (shouldn’t take more than this, but it depends on your settings) just until you see the shadow start to peek out on the side of the paper opposite of the drop shadow.
  • Click OK.


Detailed Tutorial:

PS/PSE by Megan Turnidge Designs (Scroll down to very bottom for this technique)

 

Shortcut with Styles

You can cut down on the amount of tweaking you have to do by using a Shadow Style to apply your shadows. In both PS and PSE, they work just like any other styles. Here are some free style sets you can grab and if you look around there are more sets for sale from various designers.

More useful tutorials:

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  • JACKIE

    Thank you very helpful.