Using Light and Shade to Bring Text to Life
So before we start the tutorial, here is a little diagram about how
light might hit an object. Here we have a square object in the middle
with light coming from the top left. You can see that where the light
hits the object, a shadow is cast on the other side. Note that the
shadow is not a Photoshop drop shadow, which makes the object look like
it’s hovering above the canvas. Here we want the object to look like
it’s a three dimensional thing stuck on the canvas, extruding if you
like. Now tell me what other Photoshop tutorial site gives you diagrams?
It’s like being back in school!
We begin the tutorial by drawing a subtle Linear Gradient from dark
grey to darker grey. Note that because we want our light to come from
the top left, that’s where the lighter part of the document is.
Now we place some text. I’ve used a very cool font called Agency FB,
which has a condensed, hard-edge feel to it. You should make the text a
grey-ish blue color – #c2c8d4 to be precise.
Next Ctrl-click the text layer and create a new layer above it. In
the new layer, with that selection still held, draw a linear gradient of
#495a79 to transparent from bottom right to left. So in other words you
are darkening the bottom right as shown.
Set your foreground color to Black (you can do this by pressing the letter ‘D’ on your keyboard which restores the defaults).
Now Ctrl-click the text layer again and create a new layer beneath
the text layer. Now press the down arrow on your keyboard once and the
right arrow on your keyboard once. Then press Alt+Backspace to fill it
with black. Then press down and right again one time and fill with
black. Each time you will be moving 1px right and 1px down. You should
repeat this process about 30 times (which is why it’s important to use
Alt+Backspace instead of the Fill tool).
Note also that to move the selection but not the fills when you press
your arrow keys, you have to have one of the Marquee tools on. If you
switch to the Move Tool (V) when you press down and right you will
actually move the black fill as well as the selection and will just be
filling the same pixels over and over.
Here’s what you should now have. Now deselect and make sure you are
on the shadow layer, then go to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur and
use values of -45 degrees and a distance of 30px.
Set your shadow layer to Multiply and about 40% Opacity and then hold
down Shift and press the down arrow and then the right arrow. This will
move your object right and down 10px each (Shift tells Photoshop to go
10px at a time instead of 1). Now you may have some of the blurred parts
of the shadow sticking out to the top and left of the object. If this
is the case, grab a small soft eraser and gently erase away anything
which shouldn’t be shaded (remember the diagram at the beginning).
Next duplicate the shadow layer, hold Shift and move it down and
right again. Then run the Motion Blur filter again with a distance of
50px this time and set this layer to Multiply and 20% Opacity. This is
just to give our shadows more of a trail off.
Now create a new layer above all the other layers, hold down Ctrl and
click the main text layer to select its pixels and back on your new
layer fill the selection with White. Don’t let go of the selection just
yet though. Instead press down and right one time to move 1px away and
then hit Delete.
Set this thin white line layer to about 80% Opacity.
As you can see, the thin white line gives a sort of highlight effect
where the light source is hitting the text and gives the impression that
the text is more three dimensional.
Next we want to create some streams of natural light. Create a new
layer above all the others and draw four or five white rectangles
approximately similar to those shown (i.e. getting fatter as they go
Now press Ctrl+T to transform and rotate and enlarge the rectangles
as shown. Now normally you’d press Enter when you’re finished, but this
time don’t let go just yet. Instead, right-click and you will get a pop
up menu showing you other types of transforms you can do. Choose
Perspective. The reason it’s important to do this in one step is so that
you don’t lose your bounding box. So take the top left two points and
bring them closer together so that the light appears to be coming from
one place and spreading out.
Here we have our four strips of “light.” Now set the layer to Overlay
and 20% Opacity and then go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and
give it a blur radius of 6px.
You should now have something that looks like this.
Now since those thin strips are meant to be light, it would make
sense if our highlight layer only showed up where the light was hitting
right? So Ctrl-click the light layer and then click on the highlight
layer from earlier, then while the selection is still on, click on the
Add Layer Mask button (it’s the one at the bottom of the layer palette
to the right of the ‘f’ icon). This will create a Mask that only shows
the highlight layer where the light overlaps it.
So you could stop here; it’s already looking pretty good, but we’ll finish this effect off by adding some warm lighting.
So first of all create a new layer just above the background and fill it with a pinkish color – #9d506c.
Now set the pink layer’s blending mode to Colour and the opacity to
20%. This gives our background a nice reddish-warmth. Over the top of
this we can now mix in some yellows. If we don’t put in the reddish cast
underneath, the result comes out looking overly yellow and not
Next we create a layer just above the pink. Fill it completely with
white and then go to Filter > Render > Lighting Effects. I don’t
often use Lighting Effects, but it does have one very cool preset called
the Two O’clock Spotlight, which you can select by going to Style at
the top and looking through the options. You can pretty much use this as
default, but for our purposes it helps to extend the ellipse to make it
a little longer (i.e. the spotlight is a little further off).
Now we set the lighting layer to Overlay and you have something like
shown below. Now duplicate that layer, move it above all the other and
set it to 40% Opacity. This makes sure that our warm lighting is also
interacting with the text and not just the background.
Finally, we duplicate the top lighting layer one more time and set it
to 65% Opacity, then click the Add Layer Mask button on the layers
palette again and draw a linear white to black gradient from top left to
bottom right. This makes the extra lighting layer fade off as it goes