We can add dynamism to our Illustrator artwork by the simple means of adding a drop shadow. The image shown here, for example, was first collaged in Adobe Photoshop from several photographs, then imported into Adobe Illustrator via the File menu and Place. We then used the Image Trace function to redefine the bitmap (pixel) information as vector artwork. The basic difference is that bitmap artwork consists of small pixels of colour, each one of which has a number for colour and brightness. Vector artwork, which Illustrator primarily creates, is by contrast created using mathematical formulas where each shape has code representing colour and direction. The Image Trace function uses a selection of mathematical algorithms to convert the pixel numbers into vector formulas.
After the image has been retraced we can then expand it in order to manipulate the various shapes further. For example we may wish to clean up the image by selecting the background with the Direct Selection tool (white arrow) and deleting those vector shapes.
In the example shown here we substituted the background with a plain linear gradient blend of blue to white. This was applied to a simple Rectangle shape and placed behind the artwork via the Object menu and Arrange and Send to Back. In addition the three simple buttons were created using the Ellipse tool; each was then given a small white stroke.
It's a simple matter then to create the drop shadows for the image, lending the effect of making the artwork stand out from the surface of the page. To do so we simply select the shapes and choose the Effect drop down menu at the top of the Illustrator interface. Next we select the Stylize sub-group and choose Drop Shadow. A dialog box will then appear; ensure that the bottom left Preview box is checked at this point in order to see and change the effect as it's being applied. By default the shadow colour will be black, but this may be changed by simply clicking on the colour box to open up Illustrator's Colour Picker dialog box. We may also experiment with the Offset values thereby adjusting the distance from the object that the shadow is cast. We can also reduce the Opacity value for a more subtle effect.
When we click the OK button to apply the effect we see it in the Appearance panel on the right. We may at a later stage wish to adjust these shadow settings. To do so we double-click on the effect shown in the Appearance panel in order to reopen the Drop Shadow dialog box. If the image is to be printed, keep in mind that how it appears on the screen may differ from how it will be printed, especially on various grades and types of paper stock. Therefore, it's always a good idea to print a proof before sending the final copy to the printer.
The Drop Shadow effect is just one of many listed in the Effects drop-down menu. The best way to explore these effects is to apply them to simple geometric shapes. Note the main two subsets of Illustrator and Photoshop effects. The former give vector-style effects, whereas the latter are more like the various filters in Photoshop itself, and often result in a more pixel-style effect.
Tom Gillan has been training adobe illustrator to corporate clients in Sydney for seven years. You can learn more about adobe illustrator courses at Design Workshop Sydney.