How Secure Is Your Shadow? Avoidable Design Disasters Series

with 21 Comments

I’ve got a riddle for you . . .

A little leafy embellishment walks into the school cafeteria. He sees four tables of friends, all of whom he knows well.
Sitting at Table 1 is a stuck-up and confident group referred to as the Nos. They claim to need no shadow in order to feel complete.
Table 2 is filled with a group of humble chaps called the Lows. They prefer to work behind the scenes maintaining a low-profile and helping out where needed.
A little farther down sits the Bolds group at Table 3. Everyone is staring at them. They are a little obnoxious and are always vying for attention.
Lastly, near Table 4 is the group of Customs. They cannot seem to make up their minds about where to sit. Some are standing up, some are sitting down. They are simply waiting for someone to direct their path.

So, where does the little leafy embellishment decide to sit?


You’ll find the answer to the riddle below my signature. But for now, all this was designed as a reminder to you. You really do have a choice when shadowing the embellishments you place on your page, and your choice can have a high impact.

Things Requiring No Shadow

These include: Brushy Photo Masks • Type • Doodles • Stamps • Word Art • Overlays • Brushes • Rub-ons • Paint • Tape • etc.

This group of embellishments could be described as things that you could not reach down and pick up off your page. As a whole, these things are stamped, written, or brushed right onto a surface. Adding a shadow to any of these would remove their believability.



Things Requiring Low Shadows

These include: Brads • Stickers • Paper • Stitches • Confetti • Buttons • Flat Ribbons • Low Profile Flowers • Alphas • Low Profile Frames • Staples • and the list goes on forever

In the digi world, this shadow category is by far the biggest. It is comprised of anything that lays flat on your scrapbook page.
A few of these things, like stitches, could actually go without a shadow. But, that is because the designers build the slight shadow into the stitch.


Low Drop Shadow Description
I consider a low drop shadow to have an Opacity of 50%, a Size of 10 pixels, and a Distance of 5 pixels. This is just a jumping off point, however. Depending on the item, the size and distance may need to go up or down—very slightly.


Things Requiring Bold Shadows

These include: High Profile Flowers • High Profile Frames • High Profile Embellishments

This is by far the smallest category but has the greatest chance to be the biggest disaster. Things belonging to the bold drop shadow group all are things that would make your scrapbook page way too bulky in real life. In fact, these are mostly things that belong in a shadow box. Think big. Think bossy.


Bold Drop Shadow Description
In short, a bold shadow is everything that a low shadow is not. Bold shadows are generally defined by their high Size and Distance values. I would describe a bold shadow to be 2x the size and distance of a low shadow. Although, sometimes it’s just the high opacity (+75%) that makes the shadow bold.


Things Requiring Custom Shadows

These include: Curly Ribbons • Knotted Strings • Branches • Foliage • Bows • Banners • etc.

When done correctly and applied in moderation, custom drop shadows will add the oh-so-perfect touch to your layout. In fact, using only one or two custom shadows per page will produce the grandest effect. Less is actually more in this case.


Custom Drop Shadow Description
These are things that sit BOTH on and off the page at the same time. In reality they would have both a low shadow and bold shadow at the same time. There’s really no easy way to accomplish that without a custom shadow.

So, how about you? I’d love for you to share your thoughts on shadowing your layouts.




Jen White

P.S. Answer to the riddle – He sits at Table 2 because he knows they would never leaf him astray.

P.P.S. The Moral of the Story – When in doubt, go with a low drop shadow.

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21 Responses

  1. Debbie Pittman
    | Reply

    Thank you for posting this on Throwback Thursday. I am relatively new to digital and this was a great tutorial.

  2. Kathy
    | Reply

    Nicely said. It took me a while when I first started not to go overboard with shadows! Love the custom shadow tutorial! Thank you!

  3. Canay
    | Reply

    This was a great tutorial. I would have guessed the custom shadow for the leaf. But now I get it. It was a paper leaf. Now maybe if it was an actual leaf a custom shadow would be appropriate.

    I use CutePDF Writer to save this series of posts to my hard drive. Pinterest is a great idea too. I forget about that and am not using it to its full potential.

  4. Jenifer Juris
    | Reply

    Thanks for posting this video!! I would also love to see a video on how to do a custom shadow for banners w/ the triangle papers on them. I hardly ever use them because I just can’t seem to get the shadows right. A monthly video or weekly tut would be awesome!! 🙂 Thanks again for this series!!

  5. Carol
    | Reply

    Wonderful tutorial-very useful.

  6. diane morris
    | Reply

    i LOVED this design disaster series…..very informative and helpful. thanks so much for all your tips and especially for sharing the custom shadow video…..that was great!

  7. Lois
    | Reply

    Very informative tutorial. Thank you. Is there a way to save the video tutorial to my desktop?

  8. michelle
    | Reply

    Thanks so much for this tutorial. I struggle with shadowing and this was very helpful.

  9. Gail
    | Reply

    Love this tutorial – so helpful – thanks!

  10. Barbara
    | Reply

    A perfect explanation! Thank you!

  11. Alisa
    | Reply

    I’ve found this helpful too! I’m eager to learn how to do custom shadows, but the video doesn’t appear even though a new page comes up after clicking the link…

  12. Lisa
    | Reply

    Thanks once again Jenn! Fantastic info!

  13. Cheryl M
    | Reply

    Oh my gosh, loved your riddle, how creative! But I loved your shadow tut even more. It’s THE one area where I need to concentrate more.

  14. mary
    | Reply

    I too would like to know how to save this tutorial. Will bookmarking this page save it? The information is so well written.I always forget to do shadows.

    • Jen White
      | Reply

      Hi Mary. Great question. Yes, bookmarking the page will save it. That is one of the great things about blogposts, they will always be there. 😀

  15. Phyllis
    | Reply

    Is there a way to save this tutorial for future reference?

    • brandi
      | Reply

      Phillis, you can always clip it to evernote.

      • Jen White
        | Reply

        I too am an Evernote user. Love Love Love it. 😀

    • Barbara
      | Reply

      If you have a scrapbooking Pinterest board, you can pin it there. 🙂 That’s what I did.

    • Jen White
      | Reply

      Hi Phyllis. Great question.
      Since this is a blogpost with its own unique URL, you can bookmark the page or even save it right to your desktop. All that can be done from your browser’s menu bar.

  16. Donna (mrs v)
    | Reply

    Thankyou Jen,
    This has been so helpful, I am always confused as how and when I should use a shadow. I always just did the photoshop auto shadow but now I know how to do a proper one.
    Thanks again

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