Software & Apps Design Build a Better Cast Shadow by Jacci Howard Bear Writer A graphic designer, writer, and artist who writes about and teaches print and web design. our editorial process Jacci Howard Bear Updated on December 04, 2019 Cast shadows add interest and dimension while anchoring an object to a surface. © J. Bear Design Graphic Design Photoshop Animation & Video 3D Design Tweet Share Email Like drop shadows, cast or perspective shadows add interest to elements on the page. They work to anchor elements on the page, tie components of a composition together, and add a touch of realism — even when used with unrealistic objects and clip art. Cast shadows form when an object blocks a light source. The shape of the object is projected in shadow form across surfaces opposite the source of the light. Generally more complex to create than drop shadows, cast shadows are still a relatively simple way to enhance text and graphics in page layouts and give a three-dimensional appearance to a flat piece of paper. 01 of 05 Base Cast Shadows on Imaginary Light Source Lifewire / J. Bear Unless you are intentionally creating a fantasy world that breaks the rules of light and shadow, cast your shadows using a reasonably placed imaginary light source based on reality. Cast your shadow opposite the light source. Light sources that shine down almost from directly above tend to create shorter shadows. Lights more to the side of an object make longer shadows. A bright beam creates a more pronounced shadow while low light or diffused lighting results in softer shadows. 02 of 05 Create Quick & Easy Cast Shadows Simple cast shadows are black or gray, somewhat distorted duplicates of an object that extend from the object across a visible or invisible surface. Lifewire / J. Bear The easiest cast shadow: Make a duplicate of the object.Rotate, skew, stretch the duplicate opposite the direction of the imaginary light source.Fill duplicate with black or gray.Apply a slight blur (a Gaussian Blur works well). A real cast shadow tends to be darker and more sharp-edged near the object. Further from the object, less light is blocked so the shadow becomes lighter, softer. A more realistic shadow is possible by using a gradient fill or fade from dark to light then selectively blurring the shadow -- more blur further from the object casting the shadow, less blur near the object. 03 of 05 Anchor Objects to a Surface Drop shadow (top left) leaves the wall lamp floating. Cast shadows keep lamp anchored to the wall. Lifewire / J. Bear A drop shadow gives the illusion that the object is floating in front of or above the surface. The drop shadow on the light (upper left) doesn't help to anchor the light to the wall (visible or invisible). With a cast shadow, the shadow stays attached to the base of the lamp while the rest of the shadow skews away from the lamp and onto the wall. The shadow makes the flat photo appear three-dimensional but not just floating in space. The upper right and two bottom images show just some of the possible cast shadows including solid and fading, hard and soft edges. 04 of 05 Make Cast Shadows Part of the Background Let the texture and color of the background show through cast shadows. Lifewire / J. Bear Real shadows may darken the background but they don't cover it up. Use transparency to let the background colors and textures show through. When the cast shadow strikes multiple surfaces, such as the ground and a wall, change the angle of the shadow to fit those varied surfaces. It may be necessary to create multiple cast shadows then use only the portion needed for each different surface it crosses. 05 of 05 Match Cast Shadows With Form Shadows Note how the side with the cast shadow is slightly darker, shadowed compared to the side toward the light source. Lifewire / J. Bear When an object casts a shadow, the side away from the light will also be in shadow. These form shadows are softer, often less defined than cast shadows. When taking a person or other object out of its original photograph to place in a layout, pay attention to the shadows and lighting on the figure. If the cast shadow you apply is inconsistent with the existing shadowing on the figure, you may need to apply brightness controls to select portions of the figure to recreate form shadows that match your new imaginary light source.