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Within the design industry we are sometimes called upon to make simple things look much better than they actually are…like a make-up artist at the Emmy’s (aw c’mon did you watch the show?). One of the tricks that I have learned over the years is adding more depth to elements creates a better sense of reality to the image.

While I was working at Disney, we had to develop numerous events and broadcasts. Without the time to really develop a 3-D model, light it and render out I came up with a simple series of steps in Photoshop to provide more depth to a simple Illustrator logo or icon. These plates always seem to generate a positive response from all of the associated parties.

First, let’s start with some text. Once you get these steps down you can import a logo or icon as the base graphic.

Nothing too earth-shattering here, but it is just the start. Now we will add some layer styling to this simple text. I use these settings, but you can certianly experiment depending upon the look you are hoping to achieve.

Using these settings you now have a slightly beveled bit of text. Duplicate this text layer and reduce it by 99% – 99.5% (this will vary by the font used). Repeat duplicating each successive layer a couple of times; I dupe’d it four times and arrived at a file that resembled this:

Now selecting these duplicated layers, shift+command+copy them and past them onto a new layer of their own and turn off the series of duplicated text layers. Selecting this new layer choose save layer and name it silhouette.

While the layer is still selected, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. In this dialogue box select a radius of 1 and hit enter. Repeat the blur to achieve a soft blending of the extrusion. When you blur the image you will get a soft fuzziness around the text, this is where the silhouette layer comes into use. Go to Select > Load Layer and select silhouette and save it as a vector mask.

The image looks good enough, but we can still tweak it quite a bit. Let’s add some shadows and the requisite reflection. For the reflection, just duplicate the logo and flip it vertically; positioning it beneath the logo to create the reflection. adjust its transparency per your taste. For the shadows, create a layer beneath this layer and name it shadow, then select the silhouette mask again. Fill it with black and go to Edit>Transform>Distort. Manipulate tis layer so it looks like a projected shadow falling from a stage light in front of the logo. When you are satisfied with the positioning apply the transformation. Create another shadow layer for a second softer shadow on the opposite side of the “stage”.

These shadows are a bit harsh, so lets soften them up a bit. Drag your cursor across the width of the stage:

Go to Select>Feather and apply a 5 pixel feathering. Then go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur again with a small radius (since we will be applying this a couple of times to the shadow). Move the selection lower on the shadow and repeat the blur. Do this a couple of times until the shadow has a softening depth to it. Repeat for the other shadow and you should have a simple fake 3D logo.

There are a lot of treatments and adjustments you can do to this file to lend an even greater air of realism. Also the whole gamut of filter effects and adjustment layers opens up further possibilities. An extension to this is the ability to create very slick looking chrome text that makes you want to get a custom van and a mullet…well maybe not the mullet.

Having said that, some of these steps can be automated with Photoshop actions and reused in your workflow…that’s what I have done. Also you can vary the position of the extrusion so it is not always centered, but you can experiment at your will. I hope these steps are clear and this helps you on a project. As always, I am happy to talk with you about any of your design needs and develop a custom solution for your next design challenge.