InDesign FX Debut: Using a drop shadow to create a blur in InDesign

Published by | Thursday, August 4th, 2011

Welcome to a new video series on InDesign transparency effects. I am so excited to share ways of using InDesign—yes, InDesign—to create cool visual effects that you may have thought you could only get from Photoshop or Illustrator. My favorite techniques are those that are simple but non-intuitive, ones that make sly use of InDesign’s tools in unexpected ways.

To kick things off, this week’s free video shows how to combine blending modes and drop shadows to create a blurred effect. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it unlocks all kinds of interesting design possibilities.

Why would you even want to create a blur in InDesign? I can think of two main reasons.

First, there are times when you’d like a design element to have a soft edge, and none of InDesign’s feathering effects is up to the task. This is especially true in the case of text, where feathering can be difficult to control and can quickly ruin delicate letter shapes. A drop-shadow blur works much better for creating a soft focus on text.

Second, you can use blur to simulate textures and materials with indistinct edges. For example, in this week’s video, I show how to use drop shadow blur to simulate graffiti, so that the Pencil tool becomes essentially like a spray paint tool. I also show how to change text into wispy skywriting and gritty sand (with the help of some digital noise). Check them out:

InDesign Blur Effects

As with all the techniques I’ll be sharing in this video series, drop-shadow blur is an efficiency booster, because you never have to leave InDesign. Text remains live, editable text. There’s no need to switch back and forth between applications or update linked graphics. There’s no art file to go missing in action. When you need a change, you make it right in your layout. And perhaps best of all, when you do your effects in InDesign, you get to see them in the context of your design. It’s a very natural way of working, that I think you’ll quickly come to appreciate.

I have another video exclusively for members available in the Online Training Library® on how to create properly interlocking objects right inside InDesign. And I’ll see you here again in two weeks with another free InDesign effect.

Since 1995, Mike Rankin has enjoyed working in nearly every aspect of publishing production, including design, project management, layout, illustration, prepress, XML workflow, technical support, and training. Along the line he became an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop and InDesign. He blogs at, writes articles for InDesign Magazine, and speaks at InDesign User Groups and conferences. He’s the author of The InDesignSecrets Guide to the Adobe InDesign ACE Exam and The InDesignSecrets Guide to Graphic Effects. This is his first course for

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7 Responses to “InDesign FX Debut: Using a drop shadow to create a blur in InDesign”

  1. Woo-hoo Mike! Loved the video! So excited to see your series debut.

  2. James Fritz says:

    Way to go Mike! I can’t wait to see the rest of the series. Since your tips are so sweet, this might be a good time to visit my dentist to check for cavities.

  3. Trisha Stayton says:

    Congrats on your big debut!!!

  4. Phyllis says:

    Awesome video!

  5. Bo says:

    Thank you, but I don’t think it works well. After I follow all the steps, I end up in see the very thin border line between the shadow and the text. Mmmm. I am not happy, and I am not really helped by this tutorial. But I’d very much appreciate if anyone can help me out with a more ingenious solution. Thanks.

  6. Bo says:

    Mike, I think it will be even more helpful if you mention that we shouldn’t forget using feather as well. On my tests, I see that I get very hard edges between the shadow and text(blending set to multiply in transparency pane) and it looks awkward. So, please check this draw back and add a comment about it. Thank you.

  7. Mike Rankin says:

    Hi Bo-

    Sorry you’re having trouble with the effect. That border appears onscreen if you’re working in CMYK blend space with Overprint Preview turned off. Try turning it on and see if the border goes away.

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