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Adding a Drop Shadow in Photoshop Elements

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In this tutorial, I will show you how to make a drop shadow in Photoshop Elements (PSE) and how to change it for different types of elements. I’ll also show you some shortcuts that will make this task a breeze. If you are just learning about drop shadows, read this tutorial first: Drop Shadow Basics for Beginners.

I’m starting with this simple page made in Photoshop Elements with no drop shadows. Take a look at the flower cluster. Do you see how “dead” these elements look. They just don’t look real.

Layout sample of no shadows

Layer Style Settings Menu

There are drop shadow styles built into Photoshop Elements, but they usually won’t give you the look you want for digital scrapbooking. In this example, I added a default shadow to the frame. This shadow is much too harsh to look realistic, so let’s change it. While on the frame layer, choose LAYER>LAYER STYLES>STYLE SETTINGS. This will bring up the Style Settings menu. Here you can adjust your drop shadow. For paper, I like to use a small drop shadow. You can use the sliders or just type a number for each setting.

Shadow Tutorial menu

Lighting Angle: This setting tells you the direction of your lighting source. For digital scrapbooking, we usually use 120 or 45 degrees as these angles are generally more pleasing to the eye. When you move into more advanced shadow techniques, the lighting angle can change. With 120 degrees, the shadow will fall to the bottom and right of the element.

Size: This is simply the size of the drop shadow relative to the element. The larger the element, the larger the size of the drop shadow. For paper, 5 px is a good number.

Color: The little black box shows the color of your shadow. For basic shadowing, you can just use black. As you explore more advanced shadowing techniques, this is something that you might want to change.

Distance: This is the distance that you want your element from the page. For example, if you want a butterfly to hover over the page, you should increase this number. Stacked paper is usually a very small distance, so you want a smaller number here. Since the frame is made of thicker paper, I chose 10 px.

Opacity: This is the darkness of the shadow. The opacity changes based on the size, distance and hardness of the element. For paper, I chose 50%.

Here is my new frame shadow. I think it looks much better.

Shadow tutorial settings

Copy and Paste the Style Settings

If you want to use the same shadow on all of your paper elements, you can simply copy and paste this layer style. This can be a significant time savings. There is now a little fx next to my frame layer. This indicates that there is a style on this layer. If you right-click on this frame layer, you see a menu that allows you to copy the layer style. Then go to a layer without a shadow, right-click and choose PASTE LAYER STYLE.

Shadow Tutorial sample

Pre-Made Style Sets

Using the layer styles menu, you can create any shadow you need for your digital scrapbook layouts. However, you can also use pre-made styles to make your job a little faster. There is a free Drop Shadows Set download in the Gotta Pixel store. Make sure you are logged in to download these styles from Stacy Carlson’s store. Once you have loaded the styles into Photoshop Elements (look for another tutorial on this task), you can quickly add drop shadows to your pages.

Drop Shadow Style set

To use these styles, choose your layer. Then select the Effects menu and, from there, Dropshadows SLC1. Here you have twelve pre-made shadow styles in either 120 or 45 degrees. Just click on the style you want and it will change your chosen layer. You can play around with these styles to see what looks best on your page.

Shadow Tutorial menu

Realistic Shadow Settings

On many layouts, you will have more than just paper elements. Realistic shadows will be different for different types of elements as you saw in the first tutorial. There is more than one way to make your shadows, so use what looks good to you. Here is my final layout along with a table showing the shadow style values I used. These can be a starting point for your own drop shadows.


Element Type Element Size Distance Opacity
Paper 5 5 50
Bead Spill 10 10 40
Leaves 29 30 60
Large Flower 29 45 58
Button 29 18 60
Ribbon 30 50 50






For this layout, I used 12 Days of Holiday Cheer by Stacy Carlson, which you can find in the Pixel Club catalog.

If you have any questions about this tutorial or would like to request a tutorial, please visit and post to the Tutorial Help & Requests Forum.

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