Almost every graphic artist will tell you that you shouldn’t use drop shadows when designing a logo, but what you don’t get is a lot of explanation why. It’s a feature that was all the rage at one point but has quickly fallen out of grace. But why?
Do logos need shadows? No, using drop shadows makes your logo look dated, and it tends to make the logo come out blurry. If you want your logo to appear modern and not drive the viewer’s eyes to go batty, you should leave the shadows behind. You may think that it makes your logo stand out and look great, but the experts disagree.
Here are some explanations why you should stay away from drop shadows. Once you understand why they just don’t work, you can find some techniques that make it more obvious that you don’t need shadows in your logos.
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Drop Shadows Are Dated
The fact of the matter is that flat, minimalist design is in, and 3D effects are out. The flat look is so trendy that anything that is not flat looks like it was designed in a former era. Drop shadows come from a different era, and unless you are purposefully calling back to the era, you risk making your logo look old in a hokey way. But just how dated are they? Opinions vary on that one.
The 1970s Called; They Want Their Shaded Logos Back
Some people say that the use of drop shadow goes back to the Abstract Illusionism art movement of the 70s. Abstract Illusionism was a style of painting that was heavily influenced by expressionistic and hard-edged abstract paintings.
The style played with perspective, artificial light sources, and simulated cast shadows. This created the illusion of 3D space on a 2D surface. Unlike traditional paintings prior to the movement where pictorial space receded into the picture plane, the pictorial space of Abstract Illusionism seemed to project in front of, or away from, the canvas surface.
Many of these techniques were appropriated into the commercial world and became staples in graphic design, leading to the popularity of such things like drop shadows.
Smells Like an Outdated Logo
Other people feel that the use of drop shadows became popular with the rise of graphic design programs in the 1990s. With the release of Photoshop, everyone was given the tools to fool around with design. Kai Krause came up with a plugin called Kai’s Power Tools that allowed one to easily create drop shadows. Once this happened, the ability to create drop shadow became a sign that a designer knew how to work with design programs and made the technique trendy. But trends come and go, and this one has been waning for years.
Either way, drop shadow has been out of style for years. If you work it into your logo, you should have a very specific reason, or your logo is going to come off as out of date. Some serious anti-shadow design reasons are up next.
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Drop Shadow Tends To Look Blurry
Another reason why you don’t need shadow in your logo has to do with how the human eye sees it. Although drop shadow looks excellent on the web, it does not hold up in print. For whatever reason, drop shadow will never look as good as it does on your screen. Once they are resized or brought up on a different screen, they just don’t look as good.
Drop Shadow tends to amass a smear of gray behind the design. This actually muddies a clean and crisp logo. You want your logo to be clear from afar and drop shadow creates a 3D effect, that smear of gray, that makes a logo blurry from a distance, causing your eyes to strain to process what they are trying to look at.
If your goal is a legible logo, drop shadow is not going to help with that unless done right. Drop shadow will help separate text from the background but only when used subtlety and with the right color combinations.
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Skip the Shadow: Other Ways to Add Depth to Your Logo
You don’t have to use drop shadow to create depth in your logo. There are several other techniques that you can use that create depth that are more modern and keep the logo looking crisp and clean. You can use:
- Lighting and shading: One of the best ways to show depth but avoid drop shadow is how you show light and shade. Light shows the viewer depth in how it acts over the surface of an object. How you shade your logo is going to communicate those actions and give a similar depth that shadow would.
- Overlapping objects: You can give your viewer a sense of depth by laying objects over each other. When one object blocks part of another, it sends a message to the eye that there must be depth. Objects that are near cover up objects that are further away. The key is making sure that the blocked object is seen as an incomplete object; otherwise, the viewer will just see two objects sitting next to each other. One way to accomplish this is to have more important information partially cover-up less important information.
- Size and scale: If you place different sized objects near one another, you send a message to your viewer. The difference in size comes from a difference in depth. If you vary the scale of similar objects as well, you can create a perspective of size and scale that demonstrates a deep composition.
- Linear Perspective: Closely parallel lines that converge in one place directly show three-dimensional space. The lines only need to be implied by the objects in the composition to cause this effect.
- Location: Objects higher on the picture plan seem to be further away, lower objects seem to be closer. Where you place your objects on the field or plane can add depth to your logo.
- Color: Warm, bright colors tend to move to the forefront, while cool, dark colors recede into the background. This may have something to do with the visual weights different colors have, but it really doesn’t matter why just know that the colors you use can give you the same depth that a drop shadow would have.
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When the Use of Shadow Is Okay
Even though you should avoid using shadow and try these other techniques to give your logo depth, there are some instances when using shadow may be needed or beneficial. It basically comes down to purpose. Here are a few instances when shadow is useful…
- Retro look: If you purposely want your logo to have a retro look, then drop shadow can help you accomplish this. But, you still need to be careful, the line between retro-chic and cheesy is a thin one.
- Contrast: If you have no choice in the colors you are using, and you need to separate words or objects from the background, you may have to use shadow. The key is to be as subtle as possible. The more obvious the shadow, the more dated your logo will look.
- Long shadow: There has been a recent trend in using long drop shadow. The shadow is a continuous block coming off the words. Although it is a drop shadow, it is more in line with the flat, minimal modern trends than with the old fashioned drop shadows.
Don’t fall victim to old fashioned styles. Drop shadow may be an easy solution for your logo’s depth issued, but you don’t have to use it. Be creative and purposeful, try some of these other techniques, and keep your logo as modern as possible with a logo template.