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Designs By Megan Turnidge


“Is that really digital?!” | Realistic shadows in Photoshop CS4

I love showing off my scrapbook albums to people who are new to digital scrapbooking. I almost always hear something along the lines of: “These pages look so real! They don’t look digital at all! I feel like I could reach out and touch everything on the page.”

It’s in the shadows, peeps.

I love doing the shadow work on my pages. I really try and analyze the elements and their lighting and shadow them accordingly in order to make my pages look as realistic as possible. My previous shadow styles & tutorial from way back in the day (2009) kinda made me a bit famous around digi land. Due to popular demand, I’m here with a brand new tutorial (with bits from the last tutorial). Oh, and I’ve whipped up some more free layer styles for you! Woot woot! My first set of styles was a little more dramatic. I have softened the new set a bit because I prefer this softer shadowing better. While my pages looked pretty good and had a lot of depth when I resized them down to 600x600px for web display, I noticed that when I printed them in 10×10″ size, the shadows were a little too drastic and it didn’t look quite the way I wanted.

I’m going to take this tutorial to a new level. I’ve also changed the direction of my shadows, so new styles were a must. I design all my kits with this new lighting angle in mind, so when you buy my awesome stuff, your shadows will be perfectly matched to the elements in my kits! Awesome, right?! Right. It’s a major pet peeve of mine when I buy a kit and the elements have different lighting (i.e. a kit has a plastic alpha with lighting coming from the upper right and the elements in the kit have lighting from the lower left), but rest assured that I keep this in mind when I’m designing my kits. I’m a perfectionist like that.

So let’s get started.

  1. First, download the new layer styles here. This set contains different settings than my first set. It also has MORE styles in it than the other set. 

This set contains styles for the following:

  1. Small shadow for paper layers
  2. Small shadow for stitching
  3. Shadow for buttons
  4. Shadow for elements that have a little bulk to them
  5. Large shadow for 3D elements that lift off the page
  6. Shadow for ribbons and bows
  7. Shadow for thin elements like strings that lift off the page
  8. Shadow for transparent/acrylic elements

Please note, this tutorial and set of styles are designed for Photoshop CS4 (and other versions of PSCS), not Photoshop Elements. I’ve been told my last set of styles worked fine in Photoshop Elements, but you will not be able to separate the shadow onto its own layer or change the blending mode of the shadow as we can in the full PS. Just keep that in mind. EDIT FOR CLARIFICATION: YES, Elements users CAN use these layer styles. I was simply letting you know that most of this tutorial would not apply to you because you are unable to separate the shadow onto its own layer and you don’t have the warp tool. BUT the good news is you can still use the layer styles and edit the opacity, distance, and size. 

Oh, and GUESS WHAT?! These are COMMERCIAL USE friendly! You may use these in your designs, digital scrap previews, etc… just don’t resell them as layer styles. Coolio, right?!

Just FYI: I have no idea how you install layer styles in other versions of CS or Elements or even on a Windows computer. I have CS4 on my iMac and all I have to do is drag and drop the .asl file onto the PS icon in my dock and it automatically installs it for me. Do some googling if you can’t figure it out or if some of you have links to tutorials on installing layer styles, leave them in the comments! Thanks!

  1. Analyze the lighting in your scrap supplies and match it in your shadowing. When you scrap a page, first analyze the lighting in the elements of the kit and try to match it. You can rotate elements to match your preferred shadowing angle, but some elements don’t rotate well (like an alphabet). My kits are designed with the light coming from the upper right, casting shadows to the lower left. My shadow styles match this lighting so you’re good to go on my kits, but analyze other kits and figure out where the light is coming from. Here’s an example of the alpha from Mermaid Lagoon. This is an epoxy alphabet and it’s really easy to identify the light source. You can see the reflection of light on the upper right and the shading on the lower left.

3. Not everything needs a shadow. Some things DO NOT need shadows, including paint, stamps, and journaling text. No floating journaling, please!

Alrighty, now onto the actual styles and warping and all that fun stuff! Please keep in mind that it would be impossible to create a set of styles that will fit EVERY single page – there’s no one size fits all when it comes to shadows. There are so many types of embellishments in all sorts of shapes and sizes and I can’t provide styles for everything. You’ll probably need to do a little tweaking on stuff to get them just right. These are a great starting point.

4. Scrap your page and apply the layer styles you just downloaded from the most awesome, nicest designer ever. (okay, I may not be the most awesome… but let’s just pretend I am, k?) Here is a page I whipped up real quick with the basic shadow styles applied and VERY minor adjustments made to them. Paper (frame, paper circles, rainbow, sun) has a low, small shadow (style #1 in the set). The large flower is very 3-dimensional and in real life, this flower would be attached at the back just under the jewel and the petals would curl up towards you and away from the page. This is the perfect element for that large shadow (#5 in the set). I used the stitching shadow on the stitching (this style is more for medium-sized stitching like the kind done with several strands of embroidery floss – if you have very small stitching, make the shadow smaller and lower). I used the ribbon shadow on the curly ribbon. The pink flower and paper leaves have the “a little bulky” style applied (#4). I also used that same shadow on the pennant banner but made a slight opacity adjustment.

Just like with the last set, the blend mode on these styles is set to LINEAR BURN. I like this setting because the shadow will pick up the color of the layer(s) beneath it. Shadows in real life are not all black. Linear burn does not always work well though. You’ll notice that on very dark shades (like black or navy blue), the shadow will be really strong. You can change the blend mode to find something that works better or take the opacity of the shadow down.

5. Let’s warp those shadows! We can take it up a notch and warp the shadows to make them even more realistic! I do not warp every shadow when I do my pages. That would take forever! On this page, I’d just warp the shadows on the leaves, ribbon, banner, flowers, and the frame. Before you can warp them you need to put the shadows on their own layer. Simply right click on the fx icon next to the layer in the layers palette and select “Create layer.”  The shadow will now be on the layer below the element. I’m going to show you the warping on the twirly ribbon.

Now I want to warp the shadow so the ribbon looks like it’s lifting off the page in some areas, but keep some of the ribbons close to the page. Select the element’s shadow and hit COMMAND+T (Mac) or CTRL+T (PC) to put it in Transform mode. Then click the Warp Tool icon along the toolbar at the top (see screenshot below) or go to EDIT>TRANSFORM>WARP.

You will notice that the shadow now has a different bounding box that is split into 9 sections.

You can pull at the lines and points to warp the shadow the way you like it. Play with it to see how it affects your shadow… in particular, play with the ends of the ribbon’s shadow where you want the ribbon ends to look like they’re lifting off the page. When you’re done warping, hit ENTER to commit.

Here I am warping the large flower’s shadow. I pulled on the right side to bring a little bit of the shadow to add some definition between the right side of the flower and the photo below it.

If there are parts of a shadow you would like to soften, you can select the eraser, set it to the brush, choose a very soft round brush, set it to around 20% opacity, and brush over the areas you want to soften. You’ll also still be able to adjust the fill/strength of the shadow after you separate the shadow from the layer, which is really nice if you decide later that you wanted a darker or lighter shadow on something and you won’t have to go back and redo the whole thing! If you decide after you do a little warping that you want the shadow to have more blur, you can also go to FILTER>BLUR>GAUSSIAN BLUR and play with the settings there to make it softer.

If you had my previous layer styles, you know that I included another style to add definition to the opposing edge. I didn’t include that this time because I never use it anymore and a lot of times people use it incorrectly. If there is something that you need some definition on the opposing (unshadowed) edge, just put the original shadow on its own layer and warp it to pull a little of the shadow to the opposite side, just like I did above with the flower.

Here’s the full page after I made all the adjustments to it. Notice that the flowers and leaves have much more depth.

Enjoy your new shadow styles and have fun tricking all your friends into thinking you actually made those pages with paper and glue.

P.S. Isn’t this kit SUPER CUTE and fun?! It’s coming SOON!!!