Quick Tips: Rocking your Shadows on a “Time Budget”

Quick Tips- Shadows on a TIme Budget

I have to confess, I am a bit of a shadow-tweaking fanatic.  I first  learned that I could tweak my shadows about a year and a half ago and I am still learning new tricks all the time.  Playing with the shadows is my favorite part of creating a digital layout.  I love seeing the elements “come to life”and pop right out of the page at me.  Sometimes I spend more time on my shadows than the rest of the layout, and I am fine with that because I enjoy it so much.

But I also have to confess that some days I just don’t have it in me.  I home school three kiddos aged toddler to preteen and we live in the tropics – which means it is LOUD and HOT all the time at my house.  Some days I am lucky if I even get to touch my computer, and when time is running short on a project, I sometimes just don’t have the energy to spend hand- tweaking every single shadow.

BUT I really like having realistic shadows!

Over the course of the last year I have been compiling a list of little tricks I either found on the web or discovered on my own to help me create more realistic shadows when I am on a “time budget” and just cannot warp and tweak.  I work in Adobe CS6, and I understand that not all of these will work in every program, but hopefully you can find one or two tricks to help you create beautiful, simple shadows in no time at all.

Quick Hints for Creating Great Shadows in Less Time

1. Invest in a Shadow Style Set.

You can interpret this one of two different ways.

You can either invest the money, or you can invest the time.

Either way, a good shadow style set will do wonders to cut down on your crafting time.

In general, elements that are of the same type tend to have roughly the same shadow settings.  For example, all buttons are pretty close to the same in dimensions and so their shadows will fall roughly the same way.  However, a sticker and rumpled paper flower will have much different shadow settings.  Paying attention to the different ways shadows fall is one of the key elements in great shadowing, but it can take time. That is where styles are helpful.  They take into consideration the various dimensions of different elements but can be applied in a single click. Just using the default drop shadow for all of your elements leaves a very flat look to your page.  Using the preset styles costs you the same amount of time, but gives very different results.

See what I mean?

with default drop shadow only

Quick tips to Rock your shadows 01

with shadow styles (no tweaking)

Quick Tips to Rock your Shadows 02

credits: A Story Captured Vol 10 by Anita Designs

The shop has two gorgeous Shadow Styles Set both of which would work great for those times when you need to get a page done quick. (And might I add that they are priced ridiculously LOW for they amount of time the save – by far they are both an AWESOME deal!)

Quick Tips To Rock your Shadows Leah

Realistic Shadow Styles by Mommyish

Quick Tips To Rock Your Shadows Sabrina

Shadow Styles by Sabrina’s Creations

Here are some pages I made just using each of these style sets so you can see them in action.

Quick Tips to Rock your Shadows 09

credits: Crazy Cat Lady Collection by Mommyish, Realistic Shadow Styles by Mommyish, and Project Twenty Fifteen Templates Vol. 2 by Laura Passage

Quick Tips to Rock Your Shadows 10

credits: Currently Collection by Sabrina’s Creations, Everyday Life Templates Vol 4 by Sabrina’s Creations, Shadow Styles by Sabrina’s Creations

If you just don’t have the extra funds at the moment and would rather invest your time, then you can make your own shadow style set fairly easily. ( If you do not know how to do that then I have a little tutorial for you HERE.)  Choose some of your most commonly used elements and set the shadows to the settings you prefer.  Once you have them set, you can go through and save them so you can repeat that look with a single click on other layouts.  When creating your own shadow styles do keep in mind what the real life counterpart to this element looks like and how its shadow might fall, this will help you love your shadow styles even more.

2. Choose your light source/direction and keep it consistent.

I think this is probably one of the most important things to achieving realistic shadows, whether you warp them or not.

Many elements already have an established light source.  This is indicated by the highlights and shadows on the element. The highlight shows us from which direction the light is coming and the shadow tells us the angle and depth at which any shadow we add should fall.

Designers often have a favorite light direction that they use, so if you are a one kit scrapper this may not be as big of a problem. However, different designers have different preferences so if you are mixing multiple designers you will need to pay close attention to the light source and direction.

Quick Tips to Rock your Shadows 03

Why does it matter? Well when two elements have different light sources (or the drop shadow is different from the established light source of an element) it causes a disjointed feeling in the composition of the page.  The brain is trying to understand how this can be possible and so something feels a little off. Take a look at these elements, for example. It is not immediately noticeable, but they are not quite right because the light source on the elements is different from the light source of the drop shadow.

Quick Tips To Rock Your Shadows 04

This can be fixed quite simply by either rotating/flipping the elements so the light source matches or by applying a shadow that follows the light source on the elements.  In this example, I horizontally flipped the elements to go with the shadow. Can you see the difference?  This really helps the elements come to life and creates a consistency that makes our eyes and our brains happy.

Quick Tips to Rock Your Shadows 05

With most elements there is no one “right way”  to place them on the page so they can be rotated, flipped or whatever to achieve the unified light source you need.  However, elements with  letters, numbers, and text can be tricky. You cannot flip a word flair, for example, or the writing will be backwards and no longer useful.  Take a look at these two elements.  Both have an established light source (which are different from each other as well) and text.

Quick Tips to Rock Your Shadows 06

When I know I want to use an element that has both words and a defined light source I generally try to match the rest of my page to that element so as to avoid shadow issues.  In this case I would change my shadow style to match the larger red element.  The flair can then be slightly tilted to match, like this.

Quick Tips To Rock Your Shadows 07

credits: Gingham Style by The Digital Press

See how much better that looks! And it really does not take all that much time at all.

3. Set your default drop shadow to your most commonly used shadow settings.

I only learned this one this last year.  I just assumed the default was set in the program and so was constantly having to go in and alter for everything, because I hated my default drop shadow setting.  One day I found this little check box at the bottom of the layer styles palette (been right there in front of me the whole time).  I checked it and voila!  My most used drop shadow was now my default!  For me that is the paper setting I use.   If you have a drop shadow setting you find yourself using often then set it as the default and save yourself some time.

You can do that here: Layer Style>Blending Options>Drop Shadow

QUick Tips to Rocking Your Shadows 08

4. Format your shadows as you go.

This was a new idea for me too.  I used to throw everything on a page then go back and tweak shadows later, but I found that when I ran into a problem, like a word flair with lighting opposite to the rest of the page, I would have to start all over and so wasted a LOT of time.  Now obviously if you are going to be really tweaking your shadows you should probably wait to warp and smudge till you have a solid idea of your page design because who wants to re-tweak an entire page.  But if you are going the quick route with drop shadows it really does save time to add them as you go. By doing this I catch the problem areas sooner and so have less to re-do, and often no re-dos at all.  Plus, once I get that last bit on the page I am done, which always feels good right!

5. Make Actions for your most used commands.

If you just cannot give up warping and smudging, and I hear ya on that one, but still want to save some time, make actions for your most common techniques.  An action for separating your layer styles for example (Heidi showed us how to do separate our layer style here), or for adding a wave or a blur or whatever you find yourself always doing,  would give you that one click satisfaction of having a great shadow in half the time!

I hope that you are able to use some of these little tricks I have found to improve your shadows and lessen your crafting time.  I am always looking for more ideas and I would love to hear form you as well.

Do you have some quick tips for great shadows?

Share them with us in the comments below!


Erin 1About the Author: Erin is a work from home mom of three living in Thailand. She loves playing with her kids and anything artsy. She can often be found knee deep in toys with paint on her face. She is slowly learning the meaning of living an authentic life, and enjoying every minute of the adventure.

Realistic Washi Tape



Washi tape is probably one of my very favorite elements to scrap with. I love it both in real life and in digital form. In this tutorial, I’m going to show you how to use shadows and highlights to make your washi tape look a bit more realistic on your layouts. I’m going to use this layout below. I have everything finished on it, and the washi placed. The only thing left to do is add shadows to the washi tape. You can see here that it just looks a little flat with no realistic dimension.




  • First, add a basic drop shadow to the washi tape. The settings below are what I used, but use whatever suits your preference. I typically prefer a small shadow on washi tape, because if you look at a piece of real washi tape on paper, it doesn’t come off of the paper much. There’s not a lot of shadow there.



  • Now, we’re going to put this shadow on its own layer. To do this, go to Layer>Layer Style>Create Layer. This will put the drop shadow on its own layer below the washi tape.



  • Even this shadow makes the washi look better than it did, but the shadow darkened the washi tape. I like to preserve the transparency of the tape. To do this, load a selection of your washi tape layer by using Command-click (or Control-click for Windows) on the tape layer in the layers palette. This should give you marching ants around your tape. Now click on the shadow layer in the layers palette, and hit delete (make sure you are on the shadow layer before hitting delete… this is important). This will delete the shadow that sits directly beneath your tape and bring back the transparency of the tape. (You can use a layer mask if you’d rather not permanently delete it, but I never have wished I had it back, so I just go ahead and delete.)



  • Command-d (or Control-d on Windows) will deselect the tape.


I think this looks good, and you can stop here if you like. I have left my tape with a basic shadow like this sometimes when I am trying to save time and get a page done. If you want to take it one step further to make the washi tape really look like it’s stuck on your page, follow the steps below.

  • First, you need to select the item the tape is holding down. In my layout, it’s the framed photo of my boys. Command-click that layer in the layers palette to load a selection.
  • Next, select the dodge tool from your tool bar. At the top of your screen, you want a soft brush that’s big enough to brush over the bottom part of the tape covering the photo. For this particular page, I used a brush size of 125. Set your range to Midtones and the Exposure to around 50%. You may need to play around with this exposure depending on the specific tape and how dark or light it is. Most of the time 50% works pretty well.
  • Make sure your washi tape layer is selected in the layers palette on the right, and brush over the tape 2-3 times. This highlights the part of the tape that is “stuck” to the photo.



  • If you think about pressing a piece of tape over a photo in real life, it’s going to leave a little crease where photo meets the background page. In this next step, we’ll create this look digitally.
  • Your frame selection should still be loaded (meaning you have marching ants around your frame). If it’s not, select it again. But now we want the tape that outside of the frame area, so we’re going to select the inverse of what is currently selected. To do this, go to Select>Inverse. It won’t look any different, but now everything except the frame is selected.



  • We’re going to use the Burn tool to add some shadows to the top part of the tape where it is “sticking” to the page. Select the burn tool from the toolbar.
  • This time you want a pretty small brush… just big enough to shadow the tape right at the edge of the photo. I used a brush of size 35, and for this particular tape I set my exposure to 25%. If the shadow isn’t as dark as you like, you may want to change this to 50%. Use the burn tool on your washi a few times along the edge of your selection, until the shadow is as dark as you want it.



  • Command-D to get rid of your selection, and you can see the end result.



Here’s a look at the final layout:

Layout using Summer Bucket List by Amanda Yi Designs and Wishing Well Creations


JaimeAbout the Author: Jaime is a member of the creative team here at The Digital Press. She is a stay-at-home mom to 4 boys and 1 girl. When she’s not chauffeuring, volunteering at school, or helping with play costumes, she likes to digitally record her family’s memories, improve her photography skills, and read (there’s always a stack of books on her nightstand).

Tuck it in! Hide your Photo Corners under Paper

It’s Tutorial Tuesday and I’m happy to bring you something, that I just figured out to do myself (insert big smile here). Tucking in the photos into the paper. It’s like you make a cut into the paper and insert your photo’s corner. Only without real scissors, paper or  photos of course.


My first layout with this technique took me a while. I tried and failed many times. Ctrl-z was my best friend. I found it super complicated but now that I recreated it for you, it’s not too fiddly. I made it into tiny steps and hopefully easy to follow. I also tried to make it PSE friendly. For all the other software girls… you can do this too! I just don’t know how (insert giggle here)! I’m sure you will be able to recreate this with your software.

So here is my first layout with this technique:


My first try on the technique. Image is linked to my gallery, if you want to know what I used.


Want to have a try? Here we go:

  1. Choose a photo or a frame that you want to use. When you use a frame, put a clipping mask for the photo under the frame for later use. Link the frame and the mask together.
  2. Increase the size of your canvas to 130% (Image → Canvas Size → choose „percent“ from the dropdown menu and 130% on width and height). You should now see the checkered background around your photo. If this is not the case, go one step back (ctrl/cmd+z) and double click on the layer name in the layers panel, click „ok“ and repeat the canvas resize. For better visibility of shadows put a paper layer under the photo. The paper will not be part of the tucked in corners later.
  3. Create a shadow for your photo (on a separate layer)
    For PS users: create a drop shadow for the photo and put it on a separate layer (right click on the fx icon of the layer → create layer)
    For PSE users: ctrl/cmd+click on the layer icon to get the marching ants around the photo → Select → Modify → Feather → 10px. Create a new layer beneath the photo and fill the selection with a dark gray, brown or simply black. Deselect the selection with ctrl/cmd+d. Nudge the shadow to the side where you need it. In my example I left it pretty much where it was. For a deeper shadow simply copy the shadow layer (ctrl/cmd+j) and maybe decrease opacity of the upper shadow layer when needed. Link the photo, frame, clipping mask and shadow together.
    It should now look something like this:


A cherished photo of my parents’ wedding in 1963.


  1. Create a new layer above the photo and draw a triangle. You can use any method you like. I always use the polygonal lasso tool and fill the selection with a color. The triangle will later be invisible. Make the triangle so, that you cover one corner of the photo like a photocorner would (see picture). Make it so big, that you can’t see the shadow of the photo but not too big that it gets to the edge of the canvas.
  2. Create a shadow for the triangle (see also 3.)
    For PS users: create a drop shadow and put it on a separate layer
    For PSE users: Create a new layer beneath the triangle, ctrl/cmd+click on the triangle layer icon, feather the selection with 10px, fill the layer beneath the triangle with a dark color, deselect.
  3. Nudge your shadow slightly to the middle of the photo. Link triangle and shadow together.


The triangle already shadowed.


  1. Ctrl/cmd+click on the triangle layer icon to make a selection. Turn off visibility of the triangle.
  2. Delete the selection of the triangle on every layer (except for the paper and the triangle layer itself). Deselect the triangle (ctrl/cmd+d).
  3. Now you will still have some shadow of the triangle left where it doesn’t belong. Use your eraser with a brush size that is about half as wide as your triangle at 30% hardness 100% opacity and carefully erase the shadows that are parallel to the edges of the photo and a little of the ends of the „cuts“, so that the illusion of the cut ends is given (see photo).


Left you see what it looks like after you deleted the triangle selection from all layers and turned the visibility of the triangle off. Right you see the same after I erased the unwanted parts of the shadow.


  1. Now it should look like one corner is tucked into the paper. If you want this on every corner of the photo you just have to copy the triangle and the shadow, turn it around and place it over the next corner, ctrl/cmd+click on the triangle layer icon and delete the triangle from the photo and the photo shadow (and the frame and photo mat if you have them).
  2. Save your ps or pse file for later use as a tucked in template.
  3. For use in your layout just drag the photo (with its shadow) and the corner shadows on your layout and link them together. You can now move everything around to your liking.


The technique in full size view. The image is linked to my gallery.


Tipps and Tricks:

  • For your next tucked in photo just use your cut corner template.
  • Always remember to first shadow your photo on a separate layer.
  • Use your single corners for any size/edge relation of photo.
  • You could also do this directly on your layout. I only wanted to show you the technique as simplyfied as I could.
  • Instead of deleting the triangle from the layers, you can of course also apply a layer mask to the items and fill the mask with black after the selection of the triangle to make this technique non-destructive to the photo or frame.
  • You can also make horizontal or diagonal cuts with this technique to tuck in a whole edge of your item
  • Not only photos can be tucked in. Paper shapes, envelopes, flowers…

Enough said, you can do it! If any questions appear, feel free to ask in the comments! Have fun!


AlinaAbout the Author: Alina enjoys sitting in front of her large computer screens too much. Apart from that she loves walking her dog and watching sunsets while being amazed of life in general. She is married to her best friend. Tries to manage the needs of her two cats and her dog and badly fails when they all want their cuddle time at once. Everything else is scrapping, taking photos and currently crafting. Having said that, she needs a bigger craft room.






Focus on Shadows

Hi, all! Heidi here with a simple little trick that will help make your shadows a little more realistic.

I don’t know about you, but I am a sucker for premade shadow styles. Push a button and done. So today we are going to be using Sabrina’s new Shadow Styles.  One thing I have discovered though, is that sometimes, the COLOR of the shadow just isn’t right. And if the shadow looks bad, where is your focus? On what is “wrong” with the layout instead of your focus being on your subject.

So in the screen shot below, the shadow on the lace is from Sabrina’s Shadow Style. It is the perfect size, but the color is way to dark for the paper I am using.

Shadow 1

To change this takes less than 30 seconds … ready? Double click on the Drop Shadow effect (circled in red on the screen shot). It will pull up your layer style box.

Shadow 2b

Once you have the layer box open, make sure “drop shadow” is highlighted like mine is in blue. Next, you will click on the color box circled in purple below. That will open up the box to be able to change the color of your shadow.

Photoshop should now look similar to this:

Shadow 3

Notice the small white circle in the color box (bottom right)? That is the color of your shadow. It is way to dark for the paper I am using, so my next step is to move my cursor over my paper that I have my lace on and click on the paper. Notice how the white circle moved to the top right and the actual color changed from an orangish color to a little more yellow as well?

shadow 4

That means I now have a more accurate shade to create a shadow from.  Also, notice how my shadow pretty much disappeared?  It is now the same color as the paper, so it is hard to see an actual shadow.

What I want to do is move my cursor back up to my shadow color box and pick a new shadow color. When I have a hard time finding a realistic color for my shadows, I stay with a grey color. Look at shadows around you right now … grey is probably what you will see. Sometimes, I can stay within the brown color for my shadow, but just pick a lighter brown. Play around with it. Click on lighter greys, darker greys, which color works for the paper you are using?

Here is the color I finally picked:

shadow 5

Much softer and a little more realistic right? Don’t believe me? Look at my first screen shot again. That shadow is way to dark. 😉

I usually use this method with pink paper. Brown shadows overall work great! Which is why Sabrina chose the color she did. But every once in awhile, you get that one perfect paper and horrible looking shadows. Now you know how to fix it fast and put the focus where it should be!!

HeidiHeidi has been scrapping for 17 years. Her passions include dark chocolate, photography of her family and reading Christian fiction. When not doing one of these activites, she can be found working at an elementary school library or enjoying being a SAHM.