Thursday, February 21, 2013

Let's Do the Shadow Warp, Again!

Ron here with another digital tutorial for you. Back in November, I wrote a blog entry about using the Warp transformation to 'lift' the corner of a photo off the page. Today, I want to show you how to use Warp to add a custom shadow to a bow. But before we get started, let's talk about custom shadows…

Why, you ask, would you want to create a custom shadow, when programs like Photoshop have built-in 'Drop Shadow functions that do the work for you? Well, the built in drop-shadow function adds a shadow evenly across the entire graphic. Sometimes that's a good thing. I tend to use it for text, and things like beads, brads, and stuff like that. But when things have irregular shapes and depths, a custom shadow can give more natural results.

In the case of a bow, typically the knots are close to the paper, but the loops and tails hover a bit higher off the paper, and each of these parts will throw a slightly different shadow. The Warp transformation will let you customize the shape of the shadow layer so that it looks more realistic

Let's begin. I'm using a plain white background because it's a little easier to see the shadow. But keep in mind that your background can affect how light or dark your shadow will look.

1. Create a new document in your program of choice (I'm using Photoshop, so your steps may vary depending on the program that you're using). Make sure it's set to 300ppi and give it white background.

2. Drag a bow onto your document, I'm using one from the Bon Appetit digital collection.

3. Select the bow layer in the Layers Palette, and duplicate the layer.

4. Select the bottom bow layer and CTRL-Click (Windows) or Command-Click (Mac) on the layer thumbnail to select just the bow. You see 'marching ants' around the bow.

5. Select Edit -> Fill and choose Black as the fill color; click on okay. You've now created the shadow layer. You won't see any noticeable difference on your screen, but remember, you just turned the lower bow black, and it's hidden by the pink bow on top.

6. Select Edit -> Transform -> Warp. The Warp grid will appear on your screen. Now the fun begins!

7. Pick a handle (black dot or intersecting line) and drag it down and to the right. This will always be a bit of trial and error, depending on the actual shape of your bow. I've circled the handles/points that I dragged:

How much you drag and in which direction will depend on the shape of the bow and how far you think a given section is from the surface of the background. The more you practice, the easier this will become.

8. Press the Enter/Return key when you're happy with your dragging; this will accept your changes. If you don't like what you've got, you can always 'undo' and try again.

9. With the shadow layer still selected, go to Filter -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur. Choose a radius of 3 or 4 pixels and click Okay. (Rule of Thumb, the farther away an object is from the surface, the blurrier it should be - so choose a higher radius number.)

10. Reduce the opacity of the shadow layer. Use the Opacity slider on the Layers Palette and set it around 43. The lower the number, the lighter the shadow. If you think the shadow is too dark, lower the opacity even more. If you think it's too sharp, apply the Gaussian blur again. I ended up applying the blur a second time and reducing the opacity to 37%.

Compare that to a shadow created with Photoshop's 'built-in' drop shadow effect:

I think the custom shadow looks better. Right?

It does take a bit of practice, but it's not too difficult. The more you play, the easier it gets. It's also a good idea to pay attention to shadows in real life! Study objects on your desk, craft table, or counter and notice where the light source is and what the shadows look like. This is really the best way to get a feel for how your shadows should look when you create them digitally.

Leave a comment below, and I'll put your name in a drawing to receive a free Bon Appetit Digital collection! Winner will be announced in my blog entry next week Thursday.

That's all for this week. Go create something wonderful and make sure you give it a shadow!


  1. Thanks Ron - this is really cool! I will have to try it right after I gain a grasp on the stenciling for this week.

  2. Awesome Ron - I love custom drop shadows!


  3. Thanks for the great tutorial Ron! Who knew? Not me, much more realistic shadow.

  4. Ron - I am too inept to do digi layouts, yet I read your blog posts every week.
    So I gotta ask - is your title a play on the "time warp" song from Rocky Horror? (My favorite part of the movie!!)

    1. Donna Lee, it most certainly is a play on Time Warp (I LOVE that song)! Thanks for noticing :)

    2. Some day I am gonna get up enough nerve to dress as the tap dancer for Halloween!

  5. thanks Ron I forgot about how to do this

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. Ron this tutorial is AWESOME! Thank you :)

  8. Wow, a lot easier than I imagined! Thanks for the tutorial.

  9. Excellent tutorial, Ron!


  10. Thanks for the tutorial. I haven't tried digital yet, but I am planning to soon.

  11. Jac has tried to teach me before but maybe it was my ADD that it didn't set in. It's like a lightbulb went off in the "DUH" room.

  12. Hey, everyone! Thanks for leaving a comment to enter the drawing for the Bon Appetit Digital kit.

    We had 14 comments over all, and our random drawing winner (using is comment #1...janieinMN!!!

    Congratulations, Janie. I'll be in touch soon via email with more information about your prize.


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