How to Add a Drop Shadow in Photoshop Elements


Drop shadows are simply shadows "dropped" behind an object. For example, if the sun is right in front of you, the drop shadow is the shadow on the ground and wall behind you. Making drop shadows, is easy, and a great way to learn some Photoshop basics.

Part 1
Shaping the Shadow

Shaping the Shadow on How to Add a Drop Shadow in Photoshop Elements

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You can add a drop shadow to any layer in Photoshop Elements, from singular objects in a picture to text and graphics. Open up a copy of the image you need to add the shadow to. If you want to make a drop shadow on text, you'll need to write it out and turn it into a layer by right-clicking on it in the layers menu (on the right) and clicking "Rasterize Type."[1] If you just want to learn how to make drop shadows, use the text as described above on a white background -- it makes it much easier to learn.

Shaping the Shadow on How to Add a Drop Shadow in Photoshop Elements

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Selections are when you outline an object with the moving dotted line. You can use the quick selection tool, the lasso, or the square selection tool to trace out your exact selection. For simple objects or text, you can Ctrl-Click or Cmd-Click on the layer's picture in the palette to automatically create a selection. Don't worry about getting the selection exactly right-- you just need a rough enough outline for a shadow. If your selection is on a one-color background, you can use the magic wand to select the background. Then press Ctrl/Cmmd+Shift+i to get the inverse of your background -- the image. You can Alt-click with your selection tool (magic wand, quick selection, etc.) to subtract a spot from your current selection. You can press Shift-click or Cmd-click to add a spot to a selection.

Part 2
Refining the Edge (Optional)

Refining the Edge (Optional) on How to Add a Drop Shadow in Photoshop Elements

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Otherwise, you can skip to the next section by pressing Ctrl + J or Command + J on a Mac. This will copy the selected area to a new layer without refining. Alternatively, if you want a quick fix to your selection and don't mind a little trial and error, you can play around with Select (from the top menu bar) -> Modify -> border, expand, smooth, feather, etc. which offers some of the same features with refine edge. But Select modify method doesn't preview the changes before they are made so you will have to try and retry.

Refining the Edge (Optional) on How to Add a Drop Shadow in Photoshop Elements

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To bring up the Refine Edge menu, make sure you're on the layer with your selection. Then, you can: Press Alt-Ctrl-R (PC) or Alt-Cmd-R (Mac). Click "Select" from the top menu, then find "Refine Edge." Right-click on the selection with a selection tool on (like magic wand) and choose "Refine Edge."[2]

Refining the Edge (Optional) on How to Add a Drop Shadow in Photoshop Elements

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This is not the actual shadow -- you're making a copy of the layer that you will then place and adjust. Still, there are some features to note that may help you create a great shadow: Radius: Shrinks the selection slightly. Remember that the size of the final image is important. For example, if you have a 300x200 image 4px will sure have effect, but it won't in a 3000x2000 image. Smooth: Takes out hard edges, making the shadow more blob-like. In general, nearer shadows are clear and sharp and far away shadows should be smoother. Feather: Blurs the edges of the selection. This, however, will be accomplished later, so only set it to 1-2 pixels now. Contrast: Makes the selection sharper -- the inverse of "smoothing." Shift Edge: Grows or shrinks the selection by percentage. You can play with this depending on your desired effect.[3]

Refining the Edge (Optional) on How to Add a Drop Shadow in Photoshop Elements

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" At the bottom of the Refine Edge menu, there is a box labeled "Output." Under the section "output to:" make sure you select "New Layer" from the drop-down menu.[4]

Part 3
Creating the Shadow

Creating the Shadow on How to Add a Drop Shadow in Photoshop Elements

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To do so, make sure your layer is selected. From there, there are three ways to open up the correct "Layer Styles" menu: In the layers palette on the right, select the Effects button. It is small "fx" on the bottom of the palette. Click on "Layers" then "Layer Styles" from the top bar. Right-click on the layer in the layers menu and select "Blending Modes."[5]

Creating the Shadow on How to Add a Drop Shadow in Photoshop Elements

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It is usually on the bottom of the menu on the left side of Blending Modes or Layer Styles. Once you click it, you should see a checkmark in the box next to the words Drop Shadow. There are only a few settings, namely "spread" and "size," that really matter here. However, you should feel free to adjust the rest of the settings at will to get your perfect shadow.[6]

Creating the Shadow on How to Add a Drop Shadow in Photoshop Elements

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With the Layer Styles menu open still, click on the image and drag. This will show you the shadow. You will be able to move it later as well, so just put it somewhere you can see it well for now.

Creating the Shadow on How to Add a Drop Shadow in Photoshop Elements

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Spread will take each bit of the shadow and grow it, meaning some parts of the shadow may blend into others. While the amount you want is different for each project, 5-10% will create a nice fuzz.

Creating the Shadow on How to Add a Drop Shadow in Photoshop Elements

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Play with this until you find your desired amount of blur. For reference, remember that hard, bright light sources make very sharp shadows. Weak or far-off light creates blurrier shadows.[7]

Creating the Shadow on How to Add a Drop Shadow in Photoshop Elements

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Once your layer is fully styled, hit okay. You'll see a set of "eyes" appear under your layer in the layers palette, one labeled "Effects" and one labeled "Drop Shadow." Right-click on the "Drop Shadow" one and click "Create Layer." A box appears claiming "Some aspects of the Effects cannot be reproduced with layers!" Ignore this -- a drop shadow can be reproduced.

Part 4
Placing the Shadow

Placing the Shadow on How to Add a Drop Shadow in Photoshop Elements

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With the new layer selected, click on "Edit" → "Free Transform" from the top bar. You can also click Ctrl-T (PC) or Cmd-T (Mac) to start Free Transform. You will see a box with eight small squares appear around your shadow.

Placing the Shadow on How to Add a Drop Shadow in Photoshop Elements

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This special click lets you adjust just one point of the shadow, allowing you to angle the shadow diagonally away from your image. You can Ctrl/Cmd-Click on any square, allowing you plenty of control to shape your shadow how you'd like it.[8] Remember that shadows always point away from a light source. Look at other shadows in the image and try to follow their arc and length.

Placing the Shadow on How to Add a Drop Shadow in Photoshop Elements

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Keep moving, twisting, and transforming your shadow using the Free transform tool. Remember to Ctrl/Cmd-click to change the angle of the shadow, and use regular clicks to adjust the size and placement. You want the shadow to start on the bottom of the image. So, for a person, the shadow's feet need to be lined up with the feet of the person in the image.[9]

Placing the Shadow on How to Add a Drop Shadow in Photoshop Elements

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Check out your shadow. Unless the light source is very close, very bright, or both, most shadows fade the further away they get from you, or if there are other lights from other directions weakening the shadow. Making your shadow fade, however, is easy. To do so:[10] Click on the shadow layer. In the layer's palette, click "Create Vector Mask." It should be right next to the Fx from earlier, and is a square with a circle in the middle. Click on the white square that appears in the layer's palette. Select the gradient tool (press G), and use a normal linear gradient. Create a gradient across the face of your image. To lessen the effect, lower the opacity in the top bar.[11]