Create Non-Raster Drop Shadows

Drop Shadow Thumbnail

Illustrator has the ability to add raster effects to elements like outer glows, inner glows, and drop shadows. Vector art is great because you can scale them to any size. That is why I try not to use the raster effects in final output. One area this creates a problem, is drop shadows, but there are a couple of easy ways to add drop shadows using blends and gradients rather than raster effects.

Notes

This tutorial was created with Illustrator CS3.

Keyboard shortcuts are displayed in orange. ⌘ is displayed for the Command key (mac), with the Ctrl key being the Windows equivalent (not displayed).

Gradient Drop Shadows – Hover

First draw a ellipse with the Ellipse Tool (l). When you are drawing the ellipse, hold down shift to constrain the height and width to make a perfect circle. Next, fill the circle with a Radial Gradient from the Gradient Panel and take off the stoke. Make the inside color of the gradient black (the left swatch on the Gradient Slider) and make the outside color white (the right swatch on the Gradient Slider).

Create Circle

Select the circle with the Direct Selection Tool (v), grab the bottom handle, and squish the circle to about 1/8 the original size.

Squish

Next, place you artwork over the newly created drop shadow so the bottom of the artwork sits in the middle of the gradient. Done!

Place Object

If you want the drop shadow over a particular color, you have some options. You can either change the white swatch in the Gradient Slider to match your background or select Multiply from the left drop-down menu in the Transparency Panel. Multiply is great for complicated backgrounds.

Add Color

Gradient Drop Shadows – Perspective

Start with the object you want to add a drop shadow to, Copy (⌘c) the object and Paste In Front (⌘f). Create a Linear Gradient (>) from the Gradient Panel, and keep the default black and white gradient swatches. Use the Gradient Tool (g) and click and drag from the top of the object to the bottom, so black is at the bottom of the object.

Copy, Paste, and Create Gradient

Next, go Object > Transform > Shear, to bring up the Shear dialog. Change the Shear Angle to -40, select Horizontal, change the Angle to 0 and press OK. Send the gradient behind the original shape by going Object > Arrange >Send Backward (⌘[).

Shear

Select the gradient with the Direct Selection Tool (v), grab the top handle, and squish the gradient to the desired angle. Next, select both shapes and press the Horizontal Align Right button from the Align Panel, and scale and move as desired. All done!

Squish and Adjust

You can also change the color of the white swatch on the Gradient Slider or set the object to Multiply if you want to put the drop shadow on a color background.

Add Color

Blend Drop Shadows

Gradient Drop Shadow are great, but the Blend Drop Shadows are more versatile for complex shapes and objects.

Select the object you want to add a drop shadow to and Copy (⌘c) the object and Paste In Front (⌘f). Fill the object with black and take off the stroke. Next, go Object > Path > Offset Path. In the Offset Path dialog you are going to want to change the Offset. I haven’t found any consistent way to proportionately create an offset for any sized object. I have tried to use percentages, but get varied results from time to time. The best way I came up with, is the treat the offset like a stroke by filling in the Offset number with a point value. In the example I show below, I typed 20 pt for the Offset (the pic below shows .2778 in because Illustrator converts the value to your documents unit value).

Offset

Once you get the Offset how you like it, fill it with white. Next, select both the white and black objects an create a Blend by going Object > Blend > Make (⌘ alt/option b). With the blend still selected, send it behind the original artwork by going going Object > Arrange >Send Backward (⌘[). Now, scale and move the blend for the desired effect!

Blend

Just like the Gradient Drop Shadows, you can place the Blend Drop Shadows over color. You can set the drop shadow to Multiply or change the color of the white object in the blend to match the background color.

Add Color

Example Uses

Below are some basic examples of using these drop shadows, but there is room for a great deal of experimentation and exploration!

Examples

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65 thoughts on “Create Non-Raster Drop Shadows

  1. Gradient Drop Shadows is actually the oldest trick to create any decent color blend or drop shadow before filter or effect showed up in Illustrator (like Illustrator 3.0). I am glad people still remember to use this.

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  3. Nice! I like the look/vibe of your site.
    Here’s a refinement for matching the gradient into a solid color: add the background color to the black end of the gradient. EG: for 100% cyan background, mix black in gradient as 100c0m0y100K. Also fixes grayness in the middle of Black>color gradients in general.

    Thanks for tips n tuts

  4. Got it! Still not sure why this wasn’t working before…

    Not only does this scale well, it looks much better when working with tiny icons in Illustrator.

    Thanks so much! This has definitely replaced ‘Apply Dropshadow’ for me.

    • I’d love to know how you sorted this. My shape is an offset of some rounded text, but when I offset my offset and blend them, I get a grey bar as well :-(

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  7. Helpful, I was really looking for shadows on type. I was have a problem when trying to repeat a logo on a package upside down on the file. When flipping the logo image it does not flip the shadow. I find shadows in illustrate so frustrating and can’t understand that they still don’t work like the do in photoshop. Can you help?

  8. With effects you could duplicate your object behind the original, apply a gaussian blur filter and shift it to the side a little.

  9. @ Dan

    That is a great way to add a drop shadow, but it creates raster artwork. If you have uploaded vector stock artwork to a site like iStockphoto.com, you will be annoyed that they don’t allow raster objects in the artwork. That is when I use a technique like this, to get the same effect, but still be considered vector art.

  10. hey, great site i really like your tutorials.

    now to my problem. I have a transparent object (70% transparency) which represents a stripe of white-yellowish paper. and underneath it should get a drop-shadow but i dont want the drop shadow underneath to make my paper-stripe look greyish.

    • You could try Copying the transparent object, Paste in Back, and change the fill to a 100% white. That way the only color showing through is white and it is the same shape as the transparent object. Let me know if that helps.

  11. When making drop shadows for multiple/complicated shapes using the blend method, I get a thin faint line where the shadows overlap (from the Multiply mode I suppose). To correct this, I created a third white object (largest) which then is blending a white object to a white object to a black object. Gets rid of the faint lines….but creates enough tone that it makes the shadow look bigger (not good).

    Any suggestions?

  12. Hi,

    I am having a problem with this as the drop shadow shape I want needs to have a circle cutout in it (it’s a label) and I’ve not found out how to get the blend to work with the hole cut into the rectangle shape? Is there are way around this?

    Yours gratefully,

    Lorraine

    Ps.
    I am so grateful to you for what you share on your site, it rocks.

    • Thanks! The way Blends work, it make it almost impossible to get the drop shadow looking right without the “cutout” being blacked-out. You might just have to get more creative. Create the Drop shadow blend, mask out the hole in the middle and then create another blend for the hole in reverse. I’m not sure that makes much sense, but just experiment.

      What is the project for? I tend to use the non-raster techniques for stock illustration purposes. If the element you are creating is for print or web use, you can probably get away with using the raster Effects drop shadow.

      • The project is for stock illustration purposes,… I tried the raster effects drop shadow and it didn’t look as good as your idea, so I opted for doing a blend in a circle placed on top, it ended up looking just fine.

        I appreciate your comments, it was nice knowing that I managed to work it out for myself (bit of a confidence boost for me) (\:D

        Keep up the super work!

        Thanks a lot.

        Lorraine

  13. Hello, Great tutorial. But for some reason when I create more than one icon with this drop shadow, illustrator starts to slow down. For example ill try to move the icon and illustrator just lags for a while before I can move the icon. I’m assuming this method makes your files really large?
    Or maybe I’m dong something wrong.
    Would appreciate any help, thanks!

    • Yeah it will probably add to the file size. I don’t seem to have to much a problem. What kind of computer are you running? I find that the raster drop shadows at 300 dpi (Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow) adds a lot size to my files as well.

  14. What about if the background is not a flat color. How can I make a drop shadow with a texture background color?

    • It kind of depends. Are you creating the piece for stock art? Is there any requirements about transparency? If not, you can select Multiply from the Transparency panel.

  15. To offset a oddly shaped object, I give it a stroke and fill then expand it. I delete the newly expanded stroke shape, then give the newly expanded fill shape a stroke, fill it, and expand that. I continue this until its small enough that it fits nicely inside the original shape :)

  16. ….’fill the circle with a Radial Gradient from the Gradient Panel and take off the stoke.’
    What does ‘take off the stoke’ mean and how to do it? My gradient panel (or result) doesn’t look like yours. I fill it with a radial gradient but I can’t have not a radial or get rid of the little left and right ‘boxes’. As you can tell I am a newbie on AI! Please explain this anyone?
    Thanks, Lina

  17. Thx a lot for the tip!

    I was making a A0 size scientific poster and wanted to add dropshadows around the frames of various sections. The built-in raster drop shadows sent my file size to a whooping 800Mb. With your vector version, the file weights 5 MB. lol!

  18. hi there, Nice tips but it has the same problem as the real drop shadow effect when it is flatten… I did every things as instructed looked great but when I flattened the transparency form the object menu I can see the white thick lines around the drop shadow!!!

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