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When it comes to simulating real-world materials with effects, the little things do matter. The difference between something that looks flat and something that has depth and life to it is often just a subtle touch. Sometimes a very small drop shadow does just the trick. To illustrate this, here I have a placed photo that I wanted to look like it was a snapshot taped up against the wall. So I added a really small drop shadow right behind the photo and I created these two objects that look like tape and they also have a very small drop shadow. Let's see how that's done.
Here is the placed photo with no effects. I will go ahead and open the Effects dialog box and I will apply a Drop Shadow. I will reduce the Opacity to 40%. I will make the Distance 0, so the shadow is right behind the photo. I will lower the size to 3 pixels and I will increase the Spread to 50% to make the shadow more noticeable right against the edge of the photo and click OK.
Now I have that subtle shadow that makes the photo seem like it's sitting on top of the woodgrain rather than one with it, sort of one object. Now, I will make the tape. I will take my Rectangle Frame tool, click-and-drag to draw a tape rectangle. I will go to my Swatches panel and I will fill it with black, and a light tint of black. How about 15%? Then I will go to my Effects panel and reduce the opacity so I can see through this. I will make the tape 30% opaque. Now, it's time for one of those teeny tiny drop shadows to add a little bit of depth to the tape.
I will double-click to open the Effects dialog box, click on Drop Shadow, and I am going to make this shadow 100% opaque. Now, this may sound weird, but if you think we made this object only 30% opaque. So if I have 100% opacity in the Drop Shadow and 30% opacity in the object itself, the most opaque the drop shadow could possibly be is 30%. So I am going to put 100 here. I am going to make the Distance 0. I am going to make it really small, just 2 pixels.
I am looking for something subtle, but still noticeable, and I am going to make the Spread really large for the same reason that I made the Opacity 100%. So I am going to increase it to 70% Spread and click OK. I am going to deselect, and zoom in to see the effect. So I have this little shadow right around the tape and when I zoom out, it's there, but it's subtle. But it's all I need in this case. I will click-and-drag to move the tape into position and I'll click-and-drag outside one of the corners to rotate it, and I will just Option+Drag or Alt+Drag to make a copy down in the lower right-hand corner.
I've taped my photo to the wall. Let's try another effect. Here is an effect that's pretty popular now-a-days. It's a sticker or a decal effect and it's accomplished with just two steps: by putting a very large paper colored or very light tint of black stroke around something and then adding another teeny tiny drop shadow right behind it. Let's do this. I will select all of these objects. I will go to my Swatches panel. I will select Formatting effects text. I'll select the stroke and check it.
It's right now 15% black. That sounds good. Then I'll go to my Stroke panel. I will change my stroke weight from 0 pixels to 15 pixels. Now I will apply a teeny tiny drop shadow. I will click on Effects. Now, I will apply a small drop shadow by targeting the Formatting Affects Container, going to the Effects panel, double-clicking to open the dialog box, and turning on Drop Shadow. I will make the Distance 0.
I will keep the Size at 5 pixels, but I will increase the Spread to 30% just to make it a little more noticeable around the edges of the stickers or decals, and click OK. I'll deselect and now I have some stickers or decals instead of just some random objects sitting on top of this woodgrain. When you want to add some life to a design, usually a little drop shadow goes a long way, especially when you're simulating a thin material like paper or tape, just a few pixels worth of drop shadow can make all the difference.
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