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InDesign FX is a collection of self-contained effects projects designed to be completed in ten minutes or less. Taught by expert Mike Rankin, the series explores every aspect of InDesign's graphic effects capabilities through real-world examples, all without relying on Photoshop or Illustrator. The intent is to reveal the quick, practical, and sometimes surprising application of InDesign effects to creative projects.
It may sound strange that you would want a blur something in InDesign but actually there are lot of cool effects, you can create with a little blur magic. Blur can add realism to a design where perfectly sharp edges leave everything seeming a little too digital. You can also use blur to simulate all kinds of materials with diffused edges, wispy things like smoke and fog, grainy things like powder and sand, and even spray paint. While there's no Blur command in InDesign, we can still easily blur objects and text by making them invisible and using their drop shadows as blurry stand-ins for the actual objects. Let's take a look.
So here I have a little eye-chart and my goal is to make this look blurry like our vision is deteriorating here. And to do a blur maybe you would think, okay, I will just use a Feather. That seems natural. So I will target it, open the Effects dialog box and I will try to turn on a Basic Feather and right away I can see this isn't really creating a convincing Blur effect. The text down at the bottom is pretty much invisible and the text up at the top, while the edges are becoming a little soft, it's not really like a good Blur effect.
So I could try changing the Corners to Rounded and that makes it even worse. Now most of my letters are broken or completely gone. Sharp doesn't really do much of anything. There is a whole lot of noisy junk going on right here. So let's turn Basic Feather off. Now we will try the Drop Shadow method instead. I'll just cancel out of this dialog box. The first thing I want to do is to set my text fill from black to Paper. So I will target the text, Fill, fill with Paper. I will select my container and go to the Effects dialog box and I will apply Drop Shadow.
I will turn off Object Knocks Out Shadow and I set the transparency from Normal to Multiply. Now I have completely hidden the text and all I'm seeing here is its drop shadow. I go back to the Drop Shadow settings and now to increase the blur amount all I have to do is increase the size of the Drop Shadow. So the larger I make the drop shadow, the more I make the Blur effect. If I decrease the Size, I bring the text back into focus. I have really nice control over this Blur effect.
Let's see how we can simulate some materials using this. I would like to spray paint something on this wall. So I am going to take my Pencil tool and drag in my window and create a circle. 20 pixels is the stroke width and I am going to change the stroke color in the Swatches panel from black to Paper. In the Effects panel, I will change it from Normal to Multiply and that makes the stroke disappear. Now I can double-click to bring up the Effects dialog box, turn on the Drop Shadow, turn off Object Knocks Out Shadow, and now I can change the Size of the Drop Shadow to make it look a little more like spray paint.
I will say increase the Size from 5 pixels to 10 pixels and click OK and deselect. That's a pretty decent sray paint effect. I can easily create more spray paint by drawing some more things with the Pencil tool. I have created a little smiley face here and I will select those three new objects. Press the I key on my keyboard to get the Eyedropper and click on my circle to gather the effects that I had applied to that.
Deselect and now I have my smiley face spray painted onto the brick wall. Let's try it again on this NO PARKING sign. This one is different because now I don't want a black spray paint. I want a spray paint with white. This is text filled with paper. I am going to target the text level in the Effects panel and change its blending mode from Normal to Multiply. That makes the text disappear. Now I want to target the object level. Double-click to bring up the Effects dialog box and apply the Drop Shadow at the object level.
I am going to change the blending mode from Multiply to Screen and change the swatch from black to Paper. Now I have a Paper colored drop shadow standing in for my original object and making it look like I have spray paint. If I want it to appear where the original object at, I will just change the Distance to 0 and now it's just a matter of tweaking the effect with Size, Spread, and Noise. So if I want to increase the size, I can make it be fuzzier. If I want to be more opaque, I can increase the Spread and I can add a little noise for some randomness.
Click OK and deselect. Now there is pretty decent spray paint effect by using drop shadows. Let's try a couple of more effects. I can simulate clouds using the same Drop Shadow effect. Here I have just a blue sky background and some live text filled with Paper. I am going to target the text level in the Effects panel and change the blending mode from Normal to Multiply. Again the text disappears. Then I will target the object level. Double-click to bring up the Effects dialog box and apply Drop Shadow.
Change the blending mode to Screen, change the swatch to Paper, and click OK. Now it's just a matter of tweaking the effect by increasing the Size, Spread and Noise. I am going to increase the Size from 5 pixels to 20 pixels and I will increase the Spread to 30% to give me puffy or thicker clouds and a little bit Noise never hurts. Click OK and there we have it. That's some pretty good sky writing. We can also simulate gritty materials like sand with the same idea, if we add a bunch of Noise.
I will select the text frame. Target the text, set it to Multiply. Target the object, turn on the Drop Shadow, and change the blending mode from Multiply to Screen, and change the swatch from black to a sand color. Now I just need to apply a whole bunch of Noise to make it seem gritty. I will hold down the Shift key on my keyboard and tap the Up Arrow key and watch my sand appear.
That's pretty good sand. Blurring objects with the Drop Shadow technique is a great way to simulate interesting materials with InDesign objects and text. Anything with a soft edge is a candidate for this technique. By varying the color of the Drop Shadow and the amount of Noise, you can make anything from spray paint to sand to smoke.
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