4 Ways to Create Long Shadow Effects in Photoshop
Part of the recent, "flat design" trend, long shadow effects are a popular but not necessarily new phenomenon. The trend's strongest impact seems to be on interface design elements and icons but it is being increasingly used as part of web designs, as well. In this tutorial, we will show you 4 ways that you can create long shadow effects in Photoshop using several different tools. Let's take a look!
You will need the following assets to complete this tutorial. Please download them before you begin, or find alternatives.
Characteristics of Long Shadow Effects
There are 2 main characteristics of long shadow effects.
- Each object of the design must have a flat, 2-dimensional shadow that extends for at least 2.5 times the diagonal of the object, which makes the shadow very long, this adds emphasis and drama to the design.
- The shadow should be cast at a 45 degree angle, preferably towards the right.
The shadow color can vary in its darkness compared to the background color, and in some cases, fade out into a transparent fill. There are many tweaks that can be added to the effect, and it's all up to you to decide what final result you're going for.
1. Prepare Your Artwork
Create a new 750 x 750 px document, and fill the Background with the color #cf3f30.
Set the Foreground color to #e74c3c, Pick the Rounded Rectangle Tool, choose the Shape option in the Options bar, and set the Radius to 10.
Press and hold the SHIFT key, then click and drag to create a 450 x 450 px rounded rectangle.
Create the text in White. In this tutorial, two different fonts are used, but you can use whatever text and fonts you like.
As for the first line of text, the font used is Bebas, and the font Size is 100pt. While the second line is created using the font Pacifico, the font Size 100, and the Leading value is set to 100 as well.
Keep in mind that the Flat Design in general uses simple, bold and crisp fonts.
Select the three layers you have so far, pick the Move Tool, and click the Align horizontal centers icon in the Options bar to make sure all the elements are properly centered in the document.
2. Create a Long Shadow Background Using Shape Layers
Set the Foreground color to Black and pick the Rectangle Tool. SHIFT + click and drag to create a rectangle that covers pretty much the whole background. The new shape layer should be placed right on top of the Background layer.
Go to Edit > Free Transform (CTRL/CMD + T) to enter the Free Transform Mode. Then, press and hold the SHIFT key and rotate the black rectangle -45° (counterclockwise).
Now click and drag the sides of the black rectangle until they reach the corners of the red rectangle.
Click and drag the left part of the rectangle until it reaches the center of the red rectangle (diagonally). When you're done, hit ENTER/RETURN to accept the changes.
Change the black rectangle layer's Fill value to 0.
Double click the black rectangle's layer to apply a Gradient Overlay effect. Start by choosing a Black to Transparent gradient. Then, change the Angle to -45, and the Opacity to a value you like, depending on how subtle or intense you want the shadow to be. The value used here is a quite subtle one, which is 15%.
This is the most basic way of creating a long shadow for simple shapes.
3. Create Long Shadows Using the Pen Tool
The Pen Tool is a complicated way to create a long shadow effect. While is might be more complicated than other techniques mentioned in this tutorial, the great thing about this technique is that it gives you a lot of control over the look of the effect.
Create a new layer between the text layer and the red rectangle layer, then pick the Pen Tool (with the Shape option selected in the Options bar).
Before you start adding the anchor points, you need to add a guide to add all the points on the same level. To do so, go to View > Rulers (if you don't have the option checked already), then click the ruler at the top and drag a guide and place it on the upper edges of the letters.
This works only for the first line of text because the letters have the same height. But for the second line, the points will be added without the need for a guide.
Click once to add points at each top corner of the letters, and in between them, starting from the top left corner of the first letter.
When you reach the top right corner of the last letter, move the Pen Tool parallel to the red rectangle shadow, and extend it so that it covers the red rectangle bottom right corner and add a point there. Then, continue the shape passing the first letter's bottom left corner, and close the shape by going back to the very first anchor point you added.
Pick the Direct Selection Tool, then, SHIFT + click the anchor points you added between the letters.
Pick the Move Tool, then press the keyboard's Down Arrow key to move the selected points downwards.
Then, press the Right Arrow key to move the points to the right, until the resulting lines become parallel to the original shadow edges. (Which you can fix using the Direct Selection Tool as well if needed).
You might need to modify some individual points after that, to remove some empty areas, or adjust the angle they create. To do so, simply use the Direct Selection Tool to select the point, then move it as needed.
Just make sure that all the shadow lines look parallel as much as possible. You can create a line using the Line Tool, rotate it in the Angle of the shadow you want to create, then move it on the corner of each letter to see where you actually need to place the anchor points.
This is a time consuming method, but as mentioned, it gives you more control over the final outcome. So you need to take your time creating and perfecting it.
Once you have the shape ready, apply the same Gradient Overlay effect used for the red rectangle shadow (Step 2.6).
To remove the extra part of the shadow extending outside the red rectangle, right click the text shadow layer, then click Create Clipping Mask.
Tip: To create the second line's shadow, pick the Pen Tool once again, and choose the Combine Shapes icon in the Options bar to add this shadow to the previous one.
If you are using the CS6 version, you can create the new shadow in a separate layer, then select both text shadow layers, and merge them by going to Layer > Merge Layers, which is what I'll be doing in this tutorial, as it better illustrates the process of creating the shadow for the text with different letters height.
If you create the two shadows in two separate layers, you can still get a nice different version of the Long Shadow effect, and it will look like the version explained in Step 4.8.
Now for the text with different height letters, you'll need to create the shadow right away. If you want the shadows to be combined, you'll need to add anchor points only where the two shadows don't overlap. But for this tutorial, the complete process will be explained in case you want to create the shadows separately.
And since the second line of text's font is a cursive/round font, you'll need only one anchor point at the very top of each letter, and an anchor point in between every two letters.
The important thing once again, is to make sure that the lines are parallel to the original shadow edges.
This involves more detailing where the shadows don't overlap, like the bottom left part of the letter S. So you basically can't connect the end point to the start point directly. Instead, you need to separate them in a way that still follows the original direction of the shadow.
This might sound more complicated than it actually is, but having the original shadow as a reference will make things much more easier.
Pick the Add Anchor Point Tool, and click to add points where there are empty areas that should be filled with shadow, then move those points to cover those areas. The top left part of both the S and l letters are adjusted here.
If you created the shadow in a separate layer, apply the Gradient Overlay effect, and clip it to the other shadow layer (by creating a Clipping Mask).
That's it for the first method. It needs a lot of precision and paying extra attention to the many details, but it is the non-3D way to control the angle of the shadow in a shape layer.
Tip: A cool variation of the Long Shadow effect is a version where the shadow fades out instead of the solid color version.
To achieve that, you simply need to play around with the Scale value of the Gradient Overlay effect. Here, it is set to 30%
So you can see how the shadow fades out to a transparent fill.
You can also move the shadow around until you like how it looks.
The Opacity and Scale values are the values that control the shadow's appearance. You can also use a Color Overlay effect instead of a Gradient Overlay if you don't want the shadow to fade at all.
4. Create Long Shadows Using Duplicate and Nudge
This is a super easy way to get a perfect 45° long shadow effect.
Start by duplicating the text layer you have, then drag the copy under the original text layer.
Change the copy text layer's font color to Black.
Go to Edit > Free Transform, then use the Down Arrow key and the Right Arrow key to nudge the copy text layer one pixel down and one to the right. Hit ENTER/RETURN to accept the changes.
Now press the CMD/CTRL + ALT + SHIFT + T to duplicate the layer with its transformation. You'll need to repeat that until the shadow covers the bottom right end of the red rectangle.
Select all the copy layers, and go to Layer > Merge Layers.
Apply the Gradient Overlay effect you like (Step 2.6).
Right click the merged layer and choose Create Clipping Mask. And there you have it!
You can use the same method to create separate shadows for each text, and they will overlay nicely creating a cool variation of the effect.
To do that, create each line of text in a separate text layer. Then select both text layers, duplicate them once, move the copy layers below the original ones, and change their font color to Black.
Select the first line's copy text layer, enter the Free Transform Mode (CTRL/CMD + T), then move it 1px downwards and 1px to the right, and hit the ENTER/RETURN key to accept the changes.
Press the CMD/CTRL + ALT + SHIFT + T keys to duplicate the layer and the transformation until the shadow covers the bottom right end of the red rectangle. Then select all the copy layers and merge them (Layer > Merge Layers).
Repeat that for the second line's copy text layer.
Apply the same Gradient Overlay effect, and create a clipping mask for each shadow layer.
You can also make the shadow fade out as explained in the Quick Tip at the end of Step 3.
5. Create Long Shadow Effects Using Photoshop's 3D Tools
This is the fastest and most efficient way, since it is both simple, and fully editable.
Select the text layer then go to 3D > New 3D Extrusion from Selected Layer. This will convert the text layer to a 3D layer.
To edit the settings you need to open two panels: The 3D panel, and the Properties panel (both under the Window menu). The 3D panel has all the elements of the 3D Scene, while the Properties panel displays the Settings of the selected element in the 3D panel.
Start by selecting the Current View tab in the 3D panel, then choose Top from the View drop down menu in the Properties panel.
Select the text mesh name, click the Coordinates icon at the top of the Properties panel, and change the X Rotation Angle to 90° so that the text faces upwards as well.
Click the Mesh icon at the top of the Properties panel, then change the Extrusion Depth to a quite big value, and the one used here is 300.
The idea is to create a really long extrusion, which will create a long shadow when the light hits it from a certain angle. So depending on the text and the light angle, you might need to use a different Extrusion Depth value. But usually you can start with a value around 200 or 300.
An important thing to keep in mind though, is to go to 3D > Snap Object to Ground Plane after each time you change the Extrusion Depth value. Otherwise, the object will extend inside the Ground Plane and you will not notice that big of a difference.
If you need to scale the text up or down, do than by zooming in or out. To do so, select the Current View tab in the 3D panel, pick the Move Tool, and choose the Scale the 3D Object icon from the 3D Mode set to the right of the Options bar. Then click and drag anywhere in the scene. Drag down to zoom in, and up to zoom out.
Once you like how the scene looks, click the Infinite Light 1 tab in the 3D panel. Then, you can go ahead and change its Y Rotation Angle to 45° in the Properties panel (after clicking the Coordinates icon at the top of the Properties panel).
Or you can use the Move Tool to click and drag the light as you like in the scene. You can see how the shadow looks as you're moving the light, so keep moving it around until you like how it looks.
To get the exact color of the original text, which is White, you'll need to adjust the Front Inflation Material settings. So change the Specular color to White, and both the Illumination and Ambient colors to Black. Then change the Shine value to 0.
After you do that, it is a good idea to go to 3D > Render to see how everything looks. You might need to change some of those values depending on the text color and the light angle. For example, if the text color is a bit dark, you might need to change the Shine value to 100%.
When you're done with the Front Inflation Material settings, click the Environment tab in the 3D panel, and scroll down the Properties panel until you see the Ground Plane section. Change the Shadows Opacity value to a value you like. Here, it is set to 14.
Go to 3D > Render, to render the final scene.
You can't create a Clipping Mask for a 3D layer. So we're going to convert it to a Smart Object by going to Filter > Convert for Smart Filters.
Then right click the Smart Object layer and choose Create Clipping Mask.
If you need to edit the 3D layer, you need to double click the Smart Object layer's thumbnail.
This will open a new file that has the original 3D layer. You can then click the 3D mesh name in the 3D panel, then click the Edit Source button down the Properties panel.
This will open yet another file, and the new file contains the text layer. You can make any changes you want there, such as changing the text, the font, the size, etc. The color, however, must be changed it in the 3D scene as you'll see next.
When you're done, save the file (File > Save), then close it (File > Close).
That will take you back to the 3D file, and it will be updated with the changes you've just made.
If you want to change the color, use the Diffuse color box to do so, and then you might need to adjust the Shine value.
When you're done, render the file once again, then save the file and close it.
The Smart Object will be updated in the original file now.
Congratulations! You're done.
In this tutorial, we explained several methods that you can use to create long shadow effects in Photoshop. The first method showed how to create a background shadow using shape layers, then we showed you how to use the pen tool to create a long shadow for text, after that, we showed you how to use the duplicate and nudge technique, finally, we showed you how to use Photoshop's 3D tools to quickly create a long shadow effect for your artwork. We hope that you learned something in this tutorial and can use these tips to help create your own long shadow designs.