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Design Bloopers: Only the Shadow Knows

A group of chess pawns forming a circle and casting their shadows

I can spot it a mile away, and after this post, I hope you can, too. It’s the mark of an amateur who is dabbling in design. What gives them away?

They lurk in the (drop) shadows.

Drop that shadow, and take your hands off that mouse!

Drop shadows are one of those graphic “tricks” that people are drawn to like moths to a light bulb. The downside of drop shadows is that they give type or objects a fuzzy edge, and they make text very hard to read.

There are a few very limited times when drop shadows can be useful, however.

It’s much easier to show you, so watch this quick video:


When not  to use drop shadows

  • If your text or object is dark, and is sitting on a light or medium-toned background, don’t add a drop shadow.

When drop shadows are handy

  • If you need to add contrast between your text or object and the background it is sitting on, a drop shadow might help.

Check the video for specific examples. You’ll see with your own eyes how adding a drop shadow can ruin perfectly good text, and an example of when a drop shadow can be helpful.

Still in the dark? Drop shadows add contrast. If you don’t need contrast, skip the drop shadow!

Pamela Wilson

Pamela Wilson is the Chief Marketing Officer at DCS. She’s the creator of the Offer Accelerator Program. Learn more about Pamela’s content marketing books, and read reviews of the tools used to run this site.
Pamela Wilson coaches people in midlife to build profitable online businesses
I’m Pamela Wilson

In 2010, at the age of 45, I started this site and grew it into a business that offers freedom, flexibility — and consistent revenue.

16 thoughts on “Design Bloopers: Only the Shadow Knows”

  1. GREAT video! I’m certainly one of those moths! Now I better understand when to use a drop shadow and how to better apply it. This is information I will use when creating my business materials but ALSO in digital scrapbooking!

    Thanks for sharing!!

    • Mary and Paula, I’m glad to hear it was helpful. It was a lot of fun to put this together, and nice to be able to show and tell. i’ll do more of these in the future, so stay tuned.

  2. thank god I don’t use drop shadows,
    I totally get your point. I love clarity in design.

    But I have another addiction: Every pic that I photoshop gets a lensflare, I’m obsessed with that effect.

  3. Great tip–and great use of video! This is definitely a case where just reading your advice wouldn’t have made the same impression.

    As a drop-shadow over-user I’m a happy to have a rule of thumb.

  4. Drop shadows are a relic from the 90’s Photoshop introduction… Holy Moly! Digital effects! (Remember how much Word Art used to happen?)

    You should do a post about gradient fades across… well… everything. Thanks “Web 2.0”! 😉

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