Ah Drop Shadows, beloved by designers the world over. Photoshop as you know, allows you to easily add a drop shadow to an object on any layer (except the background layer when it’s locked). More often than not though, new designers will add a black drop shadow to their objects, when there is an option there to pick any color drop shadow you want, including white. There’s nothing wrong with using black drop shadows, but if you’re looking for a more subtle effect you can use colors other that the default black. Let’s have a look at the options.

1. I’ve made up a very simple image with a number of layers of text and two shapes. You can see the layer structure below. The top layer (Dirty Texture) is blended over the layers below it using Multiply and the text is set in Arial Rounded. The Correct Mark and the Badge are shape layers created using Photoshop’s Custom Shape Tool.



2. Select the layer that you want to drop shadow and click the “Add a layer style” button at the bottom of your Layers panel. From the pop-up menu, choose Drop Shadow. I’m adding a shadow to the word “Indeed”.


3. The Layer Style dialog box opens up. Make sure the Preview check box is checked so you can see how the changes affect your image. By default, the Blend Mode is set to Multiply and the color is set to black, and that’s often the way most people will leave their drop shadows. Click on the color swatch or color well to open up the Color Picker. You can either choose a color from the color picker swatches or you can use an eyedropper to choose a color from your design. I chose a slightly darker red than my main background color. Drag the Size slider down to 0px and then drag the Distance slider to a point where you are happy with how much the object is “lifted” off the page.


The image now looks like this:


Now if you’d like to add a white drop shadow, the process is the same but this time you need to chance the Blend Mode.

4. Select the layer that you want to add a white drop shadow to, then click on the Add layer style button as before and choose Drop Shadow from the pop-up menu. When the Layer Style dialog box opens, change the Blend Mode to Normal otherwise you won’t see the white drop shadow. I also increased the Opacity to 100% to get a solid white and set the Distance to 10 pixels as before.


And this is what it looks like:


Finally to finish up this image, I want to add the exact same drop shadow to the badge as I’ve added to the word “Indeed”. Rather than go through adding a layer style dialog box again, I can use a shortcut to copy a style from one layer to another.

5. Hold down the Alt (Windows)/ Option(Mac) key, then click on the word “Effects” on the layer you’re copying the style from and drag it and drop it onto the layer you want to apply the style to.


My final image now looks like this:


If I had accepted the default options for the Drop Shadow effect, the image would look like this instead:


So two different looks achieved with the Drop Shadow layer effect.

Tags: Design, Photoshop Tutorials & Articles, Web Design Tutorials & Articles
Jennifer Farley is a designer, illustrator and design instructor based in Ireland. She writes about design and illustration on her blog at Laughing Lion Design.

  • http://www.jonathanpenny.co.uk jonpenny

    Nice tutorial. Thanks for the tips.

  • http://www.andrew-brundle.com andrew-bkk

    Do you know how to create two or more drop shadows in the same PSD file but at different angles.
    In the example above, both shadows are set to 120 degrees. But if you alter one of the shadows to, say, 35 degrees then you’ll find that the other shadows are similarly altered.
    How can this be avoided? I often need a 45 degree shadow here, a 90 degree shadow there, and a 60 degree shadow over on the left. I’ve never been able to work out how to do this.

  • http://www.laughingliondesign.net Jennifer Farley

    Hi Andrew, yes indeed you can have drop shadows in different directions on the same psd file and it’s really easy to do.

    In the Drop Shadow dialog box, there is a check box that says “Use Global Light”. Just knock off the check box and then you can have different angles on every layer if you want. The “Use Global Light” just makes sure that your angles are consistent (if you want them to be).

    Hope that helps.

  • http://redeyedesigner.com DavidVII

    Very nice! Thank you!!

  • Grimmie

    Not entirely sure what’s “subtle” about these.

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