Tips for using drop shadows effectively

Tips for using drop shadows effectively
Written by: Jo Petzer
Category: Design Tips
Drop shadows go a long way to making a mockup look more realistic but they do need to be used correctly. One feature that Canva doesn’t have that PhotoShop does is the ability to create dynamic shadows.

Tips for using shadows effectively

If you’ve browsed through my mockups, you would have noticed that most of the objects they contain have moveable shadows. Shadows go a long way to making a mockup look more realistic but they do need to be used correctly. One feature that Canva doesn’t have that PhotoShop does is the ability to create dynamic shadows. In PhotoShop you can select your light source and all the shadows you create will automatically move as you adjust your light source. Because Canva doesn’t offer this functionality, you’ll need to manually adjust object shadows in your designs to help them look as real as possible.

The shadows in my mockups and scenes are separate from their objects but are grouped together with their objects. The shadows in my scene creator bundles are supplied separately so you can apply them in your own designs and edit them as needed.

If you’re wondering why you’ll need to edit shadows, read on.

Darkening shadows

A darker background will need the object shadow to be darkened to that it’s visible. If you use a dark shadow on a light background, it will stand out to much and look overdone.

Most of my mockups have light backgrounds so the shadows are set to a lighter transparency. To darken any of the shadows in my mockups or scenes, ungroup the object, select the shadow on its own, then decrease the transparency of the shadow using the transparency tool. If you’ve used a really dark background and decreasing the transparency doesn’t make the shadow dark enough then adjust the shadow settings, like this:
Take the brightness right down to -100 and the contrast right up to +100. This will darken the shadow substantially. If it still isn’t dark enough then duplicate the shadow so there are 2 of them.

Blurring shadows

Sometimes you may want a shadow to appear more blurred. This would be done in designs where you’re wanting an object to appear as if it is floating up out of the design area. Blurring a shadow is as easy as selecting it and then using the ‘adjust’ tool to increase the blur.

Tinting shadows

All my shadows are black/greyscale by default. But tinting a shadow to match your background color can help to make your design look even more real. Once you’ve finalized the background color or texture for your design, ungroup the objects, one at a time, select the shadow then use the adjust tool to change the tint of the shadow to match the background color. You can tweak it further using the X-Process slider if needed.

Long and short shadows

You may have noticed that some objects have longer shadows than others. The size/length of an object’s shadow depends directly on the height the object would be in real life. The shadow of a piece of paper will be very short and close to the object but the shadow of a coffee cup will be longer and extend further out from the object.
The length of a shadow will be greater in oblique light than overhead light. Oblique light is the sort of light you’ll see early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the sun is on the horizon – it naturally creates longer shadows. using long shadows in your designs gives them a moodier feel.

Experiment with the shadows in your designs by moving them further away from their objects to see how they affect the overall look and feel.

Positioning shadows

When you’re rearranging objects in a design by rotating them, always make sure you take the light-source of your design into account. When shadows fall in different directions your design will look odd and unreal.

All of my mockups have their light source at either the top left or top right corner of the design, but you can have the light source wherever you like. All your object shadows should fall on the opposite side of the light source. For example, if you decide that you want your light source to be on the left of the design, then all your shadows need to fall to the right of the design. When you rotate an object, remember to ungroup it and move the shadow so that it falls in the right direction.

Perfecting shadows

It takes time and practice to master the art of working with shadows in your designs. The best piece of advice I can give you is to study shadows in real life and in different lighting situations. Photograph shadows and refer back to the photos later in your designs.

Remember to use #madewithmockupscene when you share your designs so I can reshare them.

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