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Creating Custom Shadows in Photoshop Elements

by Kimberkatt on 11 March 2012
in Elements (PSE) Pin this scrappy stuff!

Yes! That’s right, you CAN create custom drop shadows in PSE!  No warp tool required!  This is a handy little trick that I picked up about 4 years ago and I use it ALL the time!  PSE’s drop shadow layer styles leave a bit to be desired, and if you’re like me, then you want to have the flexibility & control to make your drop shadows look a bit more “real” and have the ability to “lift” those elements off of the page the way you want them too!

So, you’ve followed along with Karen’s (Snickerdoodle Designs) PSE basic tutorials and created your first page in PSE!  Woot! Congrats!  Now, it’s time to add those drop shadows for depth and to really make your page pop!  While most of your elements will only require the basic PSE drop shadow layer styles, some elements, like bows, ribbons, string, etc… will want a little customization to make them look natural and “lifted” off of the page.   Ready?

For the purpose of this tutorial I’m only using the element I want shadowed, so as not to confuse the process with other things that would be on a full page layout and so you can see the slight changes I’m making and how they impact the perception of the element on a page.  So, first things first, you want to either have your completed page opened and ready to use (with layers!), or just open up the element you want to add a custom shadow to.    Here is the element I’m starting with:

First, create a new layer and make sure this new layer is UNDER your element:

Note:  I added a white background for the purpose of the tutorial so you can see the shadow better.

Next, you want to hold down CTRL and click on the ELEMENT thumbnail in the layers palette to select the element (you’ll see “marching ants” around your element)

Next, choose a color for your shadow (foreground color) – I usually choose either a dark grey, blue or brown because I’ve found straight black to be a bit stark and harder to work with.  With this element I went with a dark blue.  Now, make sure that you have the blank layer (under your element layer) selected.  Pick your Fill tool (looks like a paint bucket) and click INSIDE the marching ants.  This will fill your foreground color in the shape of your element so we can use it as the shadow!  Now we’re ready to start the fun!

Make sure your “shadow” layer is selected and switch to the Move tool.  Use your arrow keys to “nudge” the shadow down 2 and then to the right 2.


This is the base of your shadow.  Now it’s time to “lift” some of the pieces so they appear to be higher off the page than other parts of the element.  We’re still on the “shadow” layer, you want to choose your Lasso Tool, it looks, well, like a lasso! lol  It should be the 6th tool down from the top in your tools palette.  Now you’re going to start selecting bits & pieces of the shadow to customize.  With the lasso selected, draw around the first part of the shadow you want to work with, making sure that you go through an “overlap” in the element, like this:


Next, you want to take that piece of the shadow and put it on it’s own layer so you can manipulate it separately from the rest of the shadow.  Just hit CTRL + SHIFT + J and it will “cut” that piece and add it on it’s own layer for you!  Pretty cool, eh?  Now, with your new layer still selected, you want to go to IMAGE>TRANSFORM>DISTORT and pull/push/move the shadow until it looks the you want it to.  This does take some practice & patience so don’t get discouraged!  Here is what mine looks like:


Now, you want to repeat these steps for each piece of the shadow you want to manipulate.  Here are more screen shots of my process:


Okay, now that you have your shadow looking the way you want, we need to merge all those separate shadow layers back into one and then lighten and blur that stark shadow into a nice, soft natural looking shadow.  First, we need to select all those shadow layers.  Hold down CTRL while clicking on each layer, they should all be highlighted blue:

Now, press CTRL + E to merge all the selected layers into one.  Now you should just have that one shadow layer to work with again.  Make sure the shadow layer is selected and change the top two drop boxes in your layers palette.  The first is the blend mode, which you want to change to “Multiply” and the second is the Opacity, which you want to reduce to around 35-50% depending on how dark or light your background is.    I reduced mine to 45% but you can play around until you get it to look the way you want.

Now we need to blur our shadow to make it look more realistic.  You want to go to FILTER>BLUR>GAUSSIAN BLUR

A pop up box will come up where you can blur your layer.  Move the slider along the bottom until you get the desired blur you want.  I moved mine to 9.5 which gives me a nice, soft, realistic looking shadow.


And that’s all there is!  Once you start customizing your shadows for various elements, this process will become much easier and quicker for you.  I hope you enjoyed my little trick today and if you have any questions or need something explained better, please just leave a comment and I’ll help you out!  Thanks all and Happy Scrapping!  :)

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Karen Schulz 11 March 2012 at 5:25 pm

AWESOME tutorial, Kimberly! Very clear and easy-to-follow instructions! And the end-result is great!!


2 Karen Schulz 11 March 2012 at 5:26 pm

Awesome tutorial, Kimberly! Very clear and easy to understand, with a GREAT result!


3 Donna 11 March 2012 at 6:55 pm

OMG!!! I think your end result looks awesome & it seems like you explained everything very well! If I’m lucky I’ll get a chance to try it out later today &, if I have any questions and/or problems…I’ll be back ; ) !!!


4 Denise 12 March 2012 at 6:18 am

Thank-you SO much. I have been trying to do this sort of thing for ages with not much success – but you made it so easy. Now I am ready to ‘lift’ all sorst of things!


5 Pssequimages 12 March 2012 at 2:36 pm

Very nice tutorial, Kimberly. Thank you so much!


6 Carol 12 March 2012 at 10:03 pm

What a nice tutorial. You make it look so easy that I am anxious to try it. I really do appreciate these tutorials. Thank you very much.


7 Julia 24 March 2012 at 2:27 am

Such wonderful easy to follow tutorials!! Thanks so much!!


8 Witchy 13 May 2012 at 4:57 am

Brilliantly written tutorial, clear and precise and so easy to follow….thank you from the bottom of my heart !!!!!


9 Nootherdari 6 June 2012 at 8:43 pm

Thank you so much for your tutorial…this is one of the few tutorials that was not confusing and missing key steps! Keep up the great work!


10 Pat 25 June 2012 at 3:16 am

Wonderful! Great “trick” for making that string look REAL. Thanks so much for your hard work, creating the step-by step tutorial. Can’t wait to get off this page and go to my PSE and try it out for myself. Opens up a whole new world of digi-scrapping!! Thanks, Kimberly!!!


11 Nannaof8 20 December 2012 at 7:44 pm

Until now I have not known what a ‘custom shadow’ was. Now I understand and your tutorial on how to go about this is excellent. Thank you so much.
Really appreciate the effort that went into this.


12 granny5pics 7 January 2013 at 1:12 am

Wow, I just came here from Karen’s page/blog. I had seen directions for custom shadows–but it was using CS. I was so disappointed as I have PSE9. Now, excited to try this! Bookmarking this site, too! Thank you! (And I’ve used that very element!!)


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