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In August 2019, I released the plugin Shadowify, which enabled users to create more realistic drop shadows in Adobe Photoshop. It quickly became my most popular plugin, reaching over 1000 sales until today - apparently people love to create shadows 😃
In the meantime, Adobe introduced newer plugin technologies, so over the last months I’ve completely rebuilt the plugin and recently released it as Shadowify 2. There were several aspects that I planned to improve and I was happy to find out that things worked out the way I had envisioned them. Here's a quick overview of what's new:
- Immediate feedback when changing settings (re-render shadow)
- More shadow types (dropshadow, perspective shadow, card shadow, flat shadow)
- Smart-Filter Blur for smooth blurring towards a direction
- Layer as shared light source for multiple shadows
- Overall better performance & learnability
You might be wondering why someone would need a plugin for shadows to begin with, since Photoshop already has a built-in drop shadow layer effect. Unfortunately, that one is simply a blurred out black copy of your layer, and increasing the distance will make the layer appear to be floating instead of creating a smooth,realistic shadow. Both Shadowify 1 and 2 solve this by combining multiple drop shadows to simulate smooth transitions:
While this worked decently in the first version of the plugin, I still didn’t like the fact that after changing some settings for the shadow you always had to undo the previous result and regenerate the shadow. Apart from making the experience less convenient, it also reduced the learnability because it was hard to see how particular settings actually impacted the result.
Improving this workflow was my main goal and luckily I came up with a way to recalculate the shadow immediately after changing the settings:
In addition to the improved feedback loop, most settings are now controlled by sliders instead of input fields, which makes it even easier to play around and learn how everything works.
Just in case the settings are still unclear, here’s an overview explaining most of the drop shadow settings visually:
In my opinion, these updates alone would have already warranted a second version - but I didn’t want to stop there. I realized that drop shadows are just one specific type of shadow, so I experimented with other types as well and figured out how to automate the process of creating them. By the way, each shadow type has its own panel to keep things organized.
Theoretically, flat shadows are already achievable with the drop shadow panel by turning off blur and matching distance with steps (e.g 200px distance, 200 steps). However, by moving this use case to a dedicated panel, I could tidy up the interface and add more settings specifically for flat shadows, such as the fade option:
During the time when I was creating product mockups, I’ve noticed that shadows for cards or papers often tend to be a bit more complex than just a simple drop shadow - that’s of course due to the bending property of paper. By building a custom warp input and providing a combination of blur filters, I created a panel that lets you define more complex and unique shadows:
This type of shadow turned out to be quite a challenge, but I was excited to provide a tool that automates all of the transformations and blur calculations. Apart from the general shadow settings such as angle, distance and color, the user can also control various blur and fade effects to achieve a realistic result.
Due to the use of Smart Objects, this panel also responds to changing settings with a direct feedback by rerendering the shadow.
Shadow Direction Control
All four shadow panels come with additional options to specify the shadow direction. You can find this setting in the flyout menu (the icon at the top right). The default way, which you have already seen in the several images above, is to choose an angle via the circular input. If you turn on “Global Light”, the shadow direction will be based on the global light that’s controllable in Photoshop. What’s even better: the angle input stays up there and lets you set the global light from within the panel. This lets you synchronize the direction of multiple shadows at once:
The third option is “Layer as Sun Reference”. With this option active, the shadow direction will not be a static angle, but will be calculated individually based on actual layer positions:
This saves a lot of time when trying to align multiple shadows correctly to a (shared) light source.
Since the first version of Shadowify had a blur tab I also reimplemented that feature. This panel lets you “blur away” from a specific area of the image, which happens stepwise to create soft transitions. You can either draw a selection as the blur origin or choose a specific layer and the panel will create a selection from it automatically.
In the flyout menu there’s an option to turn off feathering of the selection, which solely exists to demonstrate the way this blur is applied:
Since this feature works with selections (which are not recreatable in Smart Filters), this panel is the only one that doesn’t update setting changes right away - instead you have to undo the previous blur and apply it again.
That’s why I recommend the following panel, which is a new addition to Shadowify 2:
Smart Filter Blur
The core of this panel is the angled blur, which creates a smooth blur transition towards any direction. If needed, you can apply a Gaussian blur and / or motion blur on top of that - both of these are also accessible from within the panel for convenience.
Let’s have a look at how the angled blur works under the hood. In fact, it’s just a clever way of applying the already built-in “Tilt Shift” Smart Filter:
The panel acts as a layer of abstraction by making specific settings controllable more easily. In theory you could of course achieve this effect manually, but especially when you quickly want to update the angle or specific offsets, the automatic calculations this plugin does will save you a lot of time.
Presets & Customizability
Admittedly, the plugin offers quite a lot of settings, which can be overwhelming at first. Of course I always try to build clean and organized interfaces, but there might still be settings that some people don’t need at all, which would leave the panel unnecessarily complex. That’s why every panel can be customized to your specific needs, by hiding or showing certain sections or shadow settings.
For example: if you don’t need a setting for the shadow color because you only intend to create black shadows, you can completely hide it from the panel by unchecking it on the flyout-menu.
Moreover, you certainly don’t want to repeatedly figure out the best settings for your specific use case every time. Consequently, each panel allows you to save presets that you can easily load at any time.
Wrapping Up & Download
Rebuilding Shadowify was a lot of fun for me as I quickly realized how much easier it would become to use the plugin due to the updates and additions. I’m definitely keeping my eyes open for more types of shadows that people might be interested in. If you have any feedback or wishes regarding Shadowify 2, just drop me a message.
Hopefully you’re just as excited about this plugin as I am. If you’re interested, you can purchase Shadowify 2 in my store.
Alternatively, you can also get it directly from within the Creative Cloud app, by first going to the marketplace and then to the plugins tab.