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Shadow Effects in Photoshop

Creating depth in a 2D space is all about light and shadow. Understanding how shadows work and how subtle variations can have a drastic effect on the overall look of a design. In Photoshop, drop shadows and inner shadows are layer styles that are essential for creating the illusion of depth. There are small factors that add subtle changes to the look of your drop shadows, which you will learn in this tutorial.

Open Photoshop and create a new document. Mine is 700px x 500px. I made the background white. I am also making the lettering white, too. This will allow is to focus more on the shadows, without being affected by color so much. The font I am using is called League Gothic, which is one of my personal favorites. I typed a simple message of “hello”.

Double-click the text layer to bring up the Layer Styles Panel. This panel has every layer style option your could ever want. Choose Drop Shadow and a specific set of options will come up. The setting below will create a subtle effect that makes the letters appear as if they are hovering just above the page in soft light. The key here is no distance, no spread, and a fairly small size.

Subtle Shadow Effects in Photoshop 1

The result:

subtle Shadow Effects in Photoshop example

For a more angles effect, you need to adjust the angle in the layer style. Wherever the line points, the shadow will be on the opposite side. For example, if it is in the top left, at around 135° the shadow will be in the bottom right. I increased the distance to 7, which produced the results below.

subtle Shadow Effects in Photoshop example 2

The higher the distance value, the further the shadow moves in the opposite direction of the angle you set. So, like in our example above, the angle is set to the top left, the shadow will move to the bottom and right at a value of 7.

Sharp Shadows

Sharp shadows are made by keeping the size low and increasing the spread to larger amounts. You can see below that I lowers the size to 1, but the spread is 21. The distance is 4. This almost creates the illusion of 3D lettering.

shubtle Shadow Effects in Photoshop sharp

subtle Shadow Effects in Photoshop example

Bevel Shadow

To create a bevel shadow effect, change the contour of the shadow. This is a neat effect and actually makes the text look more dimensional.

bevel Shadow Effects in Photoshop

bevel shadow

You can’t forget inner shadows. They are important for depth, too. Want to create an inlaid effect? You’ll need a inner shadow. The settings below were used to create this soft bevel effect.

inner shadow settings

inner shadow example

These are just a few of the subtle shadow effects that you can create with Photoshop and layer styles. You can mix them together to create beautiful effects, too. When you combine the last two effects, you achieve the results below, which is a dimensional beveled shadow.

inner and outer shadow


The possibilities are endless. You can mix and match different settings and create an infinite amount of shadows. Combine these shadows different lighting effects, and the other layer styles, and you can create amazing results. How did yours turn out? If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments section below.