Reflections are “in” with Web 2.0, and there are numerous tutorials out there which detail how to produce simple shadows for text. However, in this tutorial I am going to walk you through the process of incorporating both reflections and realistic shadows to produce a stunning text effect.
This is a process that I like for creating some really eye-catching text. We’ll be using some more advanced techniques than most other similar tutorials you’ll find. While you’ll be working with layer masks, simple layer effects, a few various filters, and some basic selection tools, it’s really the way in which we use these tools that produces the effect we want. Let’s get started!
To begin with, I created a new document 1200 pixels square and 72 ppi resolution. You may want to use a larger or smaller image size, however certain dimensions and numbers given throughout this tutorial are intended for use on an image this size.
If your document is not already filled with black, use the Rectangular Marquee tool (“M” on your keyboard) to select the top half of the document and fill that area with black. Then inverse your selection (Cmd/Ctrl-Shift-I) and fill the bottom half with a medium tan color (I used #a18859) and deselect.
Next create a new text layer and type on the text of your choosing. You’ll want to use a nice bold, simple font with no descenders. I used “Abadi MT Condensed Extra Bold” all caps with a size of 400 pt. Change the text color to a light tan or cream color (my color was #eddcbb).
For the best results, we’ll want to center the text left and right. To do this, choose Select All (Cmd/Ctrl-A) and then Layer – Align Layers to Selection – Horizontal Centers. Now deselect (Cmd/Ctrl-D) and your text is perfectly centered left and right. Finally, position the text so that the bottom of the letters come about 2 pixels above the top of the tan colored background (I will be referring to this as the “floor”).
Leaving this bit of black space between the letters and the floor will really help set the text apart from the floor and create the illusion of a horizon line.
We’re going to leave our editable text behind and rasterize the text layer (Layer – Raserize – Type). Now we want to create a 3-D appearance to the text. To do this, hold down the Alt/Option key and press the down arrow about 30 times. This copies the current layer and moves it slightly downwards. I recommend doing this with your document at 100% so the layers do not move too far when the arrow key is pressed.
Select all the copied layers (CS2 or above) or select one and link the others to it (CS and before) and then choose Merge Layers (CS2+) or Merge Linked from the Layers palette. Be sure not to include your original rasterized text layer when you merge. You’ll now have an “extrusion” layer and your original rasterized layer which will serve as the face of the text. Move the extrusion layer down 1 layer so it is below the face text layer. Then apply a color overlay (Layer – Layer Style – Color Overlay) to the extrusion layer. I sampled the floor layer and chose a darker, more saturated version of that color (#4d3200).
Create a new (empty) layer now and merge it with the extrusion layer to merge down the color overlay. Now select your background layer and use the magic wand to select your floor. Select the extrusion layer again, move the selection up about 2px (equal to the bottom of your text) and delete. Deselect.
Next we want to fade the 3D effect so it looks like the text fades back into darkness. Create a layer mask, make sure black is your foreground color, and use a soft brush (around 65px) to fade out the extrusion. Brush right along the back edges of the extruded letters until it looks natural.
Our text is now set up the way we want it and it’s time to work on our reflection. This is accomplished by duplicating your face text layer (Layer – Duplicate Layer) and choosing Edit – Transform – Flip Vertical. Now the text is upside down. Move the text so that the top (what was the bottom!) of the text is even with the top of the floor.
Create a layer mask, select your gradient tool, and drag from the bottom of the reflected text to the top of the face text. You should be using black as your color and the Foreground to Transparent linear gradient. This leaves us with a nice little reflection.
With our reflection in place, it’s time to work on the shadow. The first thing we need to do is select the face text layer and duplicate it again. Put the duplicate as your top layer. As with the reflection, choose Transform – Flip Vertical. Again, move this layer so that the top of the text is even with the top of the floor.
Now use your Layer Styles to apply another Color Overlay, this time choosing black as your color. As we did with the extruded text, make a new empty layer, and merge these two together, so the appearance of the black overlay remains, but it is no longer a layer style.
Our shadow layer now needs to be transformed to give the illusion of stretching out across the “floor” at us. The easiest way to do this is to use the perspective transform option (Edit – Transform – Perspective). Expand the bottom side of the text to approximately 300% of its original width. You can see your percentage in the Options palette. Apply that transformation and then do a Free Transform (Cmd/Ctrl-T). Drag the bottom of the text down to the bottom of the image and apply.
If you wanted to create the illusion that you were viewing the text from a lower angle, you could crop the image at the bottom of the shadow after the first perspective transform. The wider the spread of the text, the lower the viewing angle.
It’s at this point that we’re going to do a couple tricky things with layer masks in order to render out a realistic looking shadow that blurs more as it approaches us. First off, add a layer mask to the shadow layer and then drag the Color to Transparent gradient (Color: Black) from the bottom to the top of the entire document. Then drag it again starting approximately 1/4 the way up from the bottom of the image up to the middle of the image (where the floor ends).
We now have a sharp shadow that fades as it comes out from the text. In the next step we’ll combine this layer with another which has a blur applied. The trick is getting a good mixture between the layers so the transition looks natural.
Duplicate the shadow layer you were just working on and delete the mask on the duplicated layer. Now create a fresh new layer mask. Now change your foreground color to a 75% gray (#404040) and fill the layer mask. Click off the layer mask and onto the RGB channel for the layer and then apply a 15-20 pixel Gaussian Blur (Filter-Blur-Gaussian Blur).
For the finishing touches to the shadow, take the opacity of the blurred shadow layer down to 75% and then select the initial (sharp) shadow layer and drop the opacity down to 40%. If you want to end up with a darker shadow, you could leave these values a little higher — just make sure to choose a combination that gives a gentle blend.
We’ve got all our elements together now, so it’s time to refine them. Flatten your image and then apply the Lighting Effects filter (Filter – Render – Lighting Effects) using the settings (approximately) seen in the image below. The goal here is to achieve a nice bright light (but not grossly overexposed) in the top center of the text which radiates out to the edges of the document. Be sure to use “Spotlight” as your light type. With a square document like this one, the spotlight should bleed off the top and bottom of the document and be about even with the sides.
The effect is looking pretty nice now, but we still need to do a couple adjustments to make our floor pop a bit more and look more realistic. Use the Rectangle Marquee tool to select the bottom half (the floor) of the image and copy and paste it into a new layer. Then apply the Noise Filter (Filter – Noise – Add Noise) with an amount of 10%, Uniform Distribution, and Monochromatic selected.
Finally, apply the Motion Blur Filter (Filter – Blur – Motion Blur) with an angle of 0 and a distance of 100px. This gives the “floor” a smooth, polished surface. As a finishing touch, change the blend mode for this layer to Color Dodge and set the opacity somewhere between 50-75%, depending on how vivid you want the floor to appear.
In moving through this tutorial, I hope you haven’t lost sight of the fact that the individual steps we used to reach this point were really fairly basic and straightforward. However, by applying them all in sequence, we’re left with a very pleasing and dramatic result. Once you get the basic idea of this effect down, you might want to try customizing it to your liking with different colors, darker shadows, or whatever else you can dream up. Enjoy!