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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.
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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