These tips for adding shadows to your design work will take you from newbie level to expert in no time – plus, get a quick work around for adding shadows in a free design software program called Canva!

When to use Drop Shadows in Your Work

Project Type – the first thing you’ll need to determine is your project type. Will your work be seen mostly in printed form? Will it appear only on your website or social media platform? Or a little bit of both?

We most commonly see shadows appear in photographs and they translate well to both digital and print formats. However, these shadows are real – they weren’t created in a software program and applied to your work. So it makes sense that they’ll look realistic.

When we manufacture drop shadows and add them behind text and images in work that will be printed, we’re taking a risk (one that doesn’t normally pan out in our favor) that the drop shadow won’t deliver the desired effect and will make the final piece appear “muddy” and lower it’s professional quality. Shadows do have the potential to work well in pieces that will remain in digital form like graphics for a website or a social media platform.

Purpose – Many new designers are anxious to have their work look less simplistic and more professional. Drop shadows quickly become a fan favorite because they easily add depth and interest to an otherwise flat design. But drop shadows aren’t the only way to achieve the desired effect and they usually aren’t the most creative option.

Before applying drop shadows to your work ask yourself the following – “is there another way to add interest or depth to my design?

More often than not the answer is yes, and it almost always will provide a better return than adding a drop shadow to your work. There are some cases where the answer will be “no” and adding a drop shadow is the right decision. If that’s the case you’ll need to consider both light and direction.

Drop Shadow Basics

When drop shadows are the right choice there are 2 main things you need to pay attention to – light & direction. This probably isn’t new information to you, but it’s worth reviewing because inconsistent shadows is a dead giveaway that you’re a design newbie.

Light – real life shadows are created by light. Light illuminates an object and the light that filters past the object helps create that darker shadow that is behind the object. Sometimes the light source is included in the image, often it is not. But knowing where it’s coming from is important.

Direction – when the light source isn’t included in the image you’ll need to look at the shadows to deduct where the shadows are coming from. Take a look at this bowl of grapes.

There is shadow in front of the grapes but inside the bowl that’s created by the side of the bowl obstructing the light. There are also shadows to the left of the grapes and the left of the bowl. So we can conclude that the light source is somewhere to the right of our bowl of fruit even though we can’t see it. I’m also going to guess that the light is around the same level as the bowl because of the presence of the shadow in front of the grapes (inside the bowl) – if the light was coming from above or at a higher angle, this shadow wouldn’t be there or would at least be smaller in width.

A good rule of thumb when adding shadows to your work is to first identify the light source and the direction or angle; then, keep it consistent anywhere you add a shadow in the entire piece. For pieces that include multiple elements you’ll want to pick and choose which you add shadows to so you get maximum effect.

How to Create a Drop Shadow in Canva

None of this does much if you don’t know how to create shadows in your specific design program. Canva provides you with a lot of options but there isn’t any type of drop shadow element that you can add in – so what’s a new graphic designer supposed to do?

Here’s a video showing you an easy work around.

Now you’re all set to start creating drop shadows for your graphic design projects.


Want to Design

Your Own Printables?

Be the first to know when new design tutorials hit our site, what classes are in the works and grab a chance to be a beta tester for an upcoming course!

Thank you for subscribing!