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:
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.
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.
PS by Danielle at Something Blue Studios
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!
Use this technique on anything that has some depth: buttons, brads, flowers, even bows.
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.
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.
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.
- Studio Flergs: Tutorial and free style set
- Designs by Megan Turnidge: Tutorial and free style set
- Scrappers’ Workshop: Style Set – includes three styles with the opposite edge definition
More useful tutorials:
- Internal Shadowing on Digital Elements by Mad Genius Designs
- Getting rid of shadows inside a frame by Lisa Hanks at Scrapper’s Guide