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Chapter 4. Graphically Speaking > Drop Shadow Shenanigans

Drop Shadow Shenanigans

Change the Angle of a Drop Shadow

There's no angle setting for shadows in Object > Drop Shadow. The images I've placed in my movie poster all have a light source coming from the lower right, so shadows that I want to apply should appear on top and to the left. InDesign seems locked into a light source that is up and to the left.

Use a negative number in the Shadow Offset fields to move the shadow to the left and/or top of your selection. Is this as good as an “angle” feature? No. But it's all we've got. In InDesign CS2 you can save the negative offsets as part of an object style, which helps. For more drop shadow power, check out InEffects at www.alap.com

Apply a Drop Shadow to Just Some of the Words

I selected the two words in my six-word headline that I want shadowed, but the Object > Drop Shadow command is grayed out.

The only way to shadow live, editable text is to select its frame with the Selection tool and choose Object > Drop Shadow. All the text in the frame gets shadowed; it's all or nothing.

So you have two options: First, you can cut the two words and paste them into their own frame, apply a shadow to it, press Command-Option-C/Ctrl-Alt-C to shrink the frame down to the size of the text, then cut/copy that frame, and paste it back into the headline as an inline frame. The second method is to select the two words with the Type tool and convert them to outlines (Type > Create Outlines) which automatically inserts them in the same location as an inline frame, then select that inline frame with the Selection tool and apply the shadow to it (Figure 4-8).

Figure 4-8. If you isolate words in their own frame and paste it into the text flow as an inline frame, you can apply a drop shadow and retain the ability to edit the text.

The first method is the better one if you think you'll need to edit the words at some point, because it's still live text. Outlined type is a bunch of paths and not editable with the Type tool. But the second method is much faster.

Fix Drop Shadows on EPS Images

For some reason, I can't get the Drop Shadow to apply to the contents of placed vector EPS images, they appear on the image's frame instead. I know the EPS has a transparent background because I checked it in Illustrator. InDesign says the frame is transparent too (it has a fill color of None). The weird thing is that the drop shadow looks correct when I turn on High Quality Display, but it still prints or exports as a PDF incorrectly.

You've stumbled on a major bug in InDesign, and one that was not entirely squashed in CS2. Here are some ways you can avoid being bitten by it:

  • Open the EPS in the illustration program and resave it as a PDF fileinstead of an EPS. Or, if you need to use EPS for some reason, use a TIFF preview instead of PICT (or just use no preview at all, in which case InDesign will just make one for you). Since you're using Illustrator, you can also save as a native .AI file.

  • If you don't want to resave all your EPS files, you can force InDesign to use a TIFF preview on the fly by opening the Display Performance panel of the Preferences dialog box and changing the Vector Graphics slider to the right until it reads “High Quality” (Figure 4-9).

    Figure 4-9. A placed Illustrator EPS file to which a Drop Shadow has been applied in InDesign may give you an inaccurate preview (left). On the right: the same graphic after its Display Performance was changed from Typical to High Quality.

  • Another option is to change how you import vector EPS files: Turn on the Show Import Options checkbox in InDesign's Place dialog box (or hold down the Shift key while you double-click on the filename to force the Import Options dialog box to appear). In the Import Options dialog box, change the Proxy Generation from the default “Use TIFF or PICT Preview” to “Rasterize the PostScript” and click OK. This forces the image to be placed with a high-resolution preview instead of its ordinary preview, if it had one. Note that this choice is “sticky”—InDesign remembers your Proxy Generation choice and uses it for all vector EPS's you place in that document or any others from then on, even if you don't open the Import Options dialog box for them. (But it reverts to “Use TIFF or Pict Preview” if you rebuild your InDesign preferences.)

  • If that didn't fix it, open up the image in Illustrator and see if there's an old, superfluous bounding box around the image. (If there is, InDesign considers that to be part of the contents and is putting the shadow around it.) You may need to view the file in Illustrator's Outline mode to see it. If it's there, select the bounding box and delete it, then save the file and update the link in InDesign.

  • Final fix: Select the image frame, remove the drop shadow (Object > Drop Shadow), and deselect it (Edit > Deselect All). Now grab the Direct Select tool and click on the image (inside the frame) and re-apply the drop shadow. This shouldn't be necessary with vector EPS's, but sometimes it's the fix that finally works.

Increase the Shadow Resolution

The service bureau kicked back the PDF I gave them (which I had exported from my InDesign file with the Print preset) because their preflight check said the resolution of my shadows was too low—150 ppi. They want at least 225 ppi. I can't find a place in InDesign where I can specify the resolution of the shadows, so I have to recreate them in Photoshop.

We're going to ignore the fact that your output provider is obviously clueless; no one needs a drop shadow to have that high a resolution because there are no fine details in drop shadows. However, since you asked: The resolution of any raster artwork created as a result of InDesign's transparency features — and Drop Shadow is one of these — is governed by the Transparency Flattener setting. If you choose Medium Resolution in the Flattener popup menu when you export a PDF or print, InDesign creates 150 ppi shadows (and other rasterized elements).

While there's probably nothing wrong with that, we generally recommend choosing High Resolution flattening whenever we print to anything other than a desktop laser printer (Figure 4-10). The High Resolution setting creates 300 ppi shadows (and much higher resolution — 1,200 ppi — for rasterized text and other detailed elements).

Figure 4-10. Change which Transparency Flattener Preset InDesign should use in the Print dialog box's Advanced panel.

Next time, before you export a PDF to give to a service bureau or printer, ask them to send you a list of the settings they require for exporting PDFs from InDesign, especially those settings involving transparency and flattening.

Vendors should tell you this information as soon as you tell them they've got the job, but they hardly ever do. They're too busy complaining to each other about the files they get from designers.


Want more realistic drop shadows? InDesign CS only creates mathematically perfect shadows. However, InDesign CS2 lets you add some noise to drop shadows, which makes them much more natural-looking. You typically only need 4 or 5 percent to make the difference.

Crop a Drop Shadow

I need to crop out the bottom right corner of a rectangular image, to “bite a chunk out of it.” When I do that (by editing the frame path with the Direct Select and the Pen tools), the shadow I applied to the image keeps redrawing on top of the crop. I need both the image and the shadow in that corner cropped out.

Remove the shadow you applied and start again. This time, use the Direct Select tool to select just the image, and apply the shadow to that. Since your frame is presumably tightly-fit to the image, you won't see anything at first. Use either Selection tool to drag the frame sides away from the image so the shadow is revealed where you want it.


You can use this method to apply a shadow to just one side of an image, too.


If your image isn't square cut, you'll have to edit the frame edge (the one you're using to crop the shadow) to match the outlines of the image, similar to a clipping path.

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