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The Useless Drop Shadow Button

Ok, here’s something that absolutely drives me nuts about InDesign–the drop shadow button in the Control panel. The idea here is for you to quickly and easily apply drop shadows to multiple selected text objects or graphic frames with the simple click of a button. Sounds great, right? Wrong!

The problem here is that the button uses the application default drop shadow settings, which are horrible (see Anne Marie’s post about how to change the defaults). Even if you change the default settings by creating new application default object styles, all placed images and new placeholder frames (the ones with the X through them) default to the None object style, which you can’t edit.

So let’s say you select a bunch of placed images on a page and would like to apply the same drop shadow settings to all of them at once by clicking the magic button in the Control panel. If you click it, the application default settings are applied, which are saved as part of the None object style. This results in shadows that are usually too dark (75% opacity) and too far away from the image (0p7), and they also don’t include any noise.

So how can you make use of this drop shadow button and use your own custom settings? Unfortunately, you can’t. You must apply an object style other than None to the images first in order to apply custom settings with the button.

Here’s what I recommend using as an alternative to the useless drop shadow button. With no documents open, create a new object style and name it “drop shadow.” Turn off all of the settings in the object style dialog box except for drop shadow. Now enter your preferred drop shadow settings and click OK. Make sure not to make this the new default style for graphic frames or text frames, otherwise every new text or graphic frame that you create will have a drop shadow applied. I would recommend keeping your defaults set up the way Anne-Marie described in her workaround.

Now every new document that you create will include this drop shadow object style. Proceed to place your images. Then with all of them selected, press Cmd+Return (Mac OS X) or Ctrl+Enter (Windows) to access the Quick Apply panel. Now type in the first couple of letters (“d” and “r” in this instance) to quickly access the object style and press Return/Enter to apply it to the images.

You could also select the images and click the drop shadow style in the Object Styles panel or choose it from the drop down list in the Control panel, but if you hide your panels as much as I do (press Tab to hide and show panels), then I think you’ll find that Quick Apply is much faster and easier to use.

Notice that after applying the style, the annoying drop shadow button now appears activated in the Control panel. If you deactivate it by clicking it, the drop shadows disappear and the object style displays a + after it in the Object Styles panel, indicating that you’ve overridden the style. Click it again to bring back the drop shadows. Notice that the button now refers to your custom settings. This is because the drop shadow style is still applied to the objects. The drop shadow button always refers to the object style that is currently applied to your placed images. Therefore, the only use for this button is to toggle shadows on and off after an object style that contains usable drop shadow settings is applied.

Another alternative is to apply the duplicated and customized Basic Graphic Frame object style that Anne-Marie suggests, and then click the drop shadow button. It’s an extra step, but at least you’ll get the settings you want.

The Control panel contains a lot of useful one-click tools, but unfortunately, the drop shadow button isn’t one of them. In CS3 and CS4, it is possible to customize the Control panel and remove the button, but this can only be done by removing the entire effects section. I think having quick access to the Effects drop down list and the Transparency slider is useful, so I don’t recommend hiding the entire section. With CS5, I’d like to see the drop shadow button either removed or revised to accommodate custom settings independently of object styles. For now, at least we have Quick Apply, which works great for applying custom drop shadow settings to multiple objects via object styles.

Ted LoCascio
Ted Locasio is a professional graphic designer and an expert in Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, InDesign, Illustrator, and QuarkXPress. He served as senior designer at KW Media and the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP) for several years, and has created layouts and designs for many successful software training books, videos, and magazines. He is the author of InDesign CS2 at Your Fingertips, The InDesign Effects Book, and Combining Images with Photoshop Elements. He has contributed articles to Photoshop User magazine, InDesign magazine, and has taught at PhotoshopWorld. Ted is also the video author of InDesign CS2 Essential Training, Font Management, Illustrator CS2 Creative Techniques, and Creative Suite 2 Integration: Print Project Workflow--all available at He also teaches a Digital Graphics course at St. Petersburg College, in Seminole FL.
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4 Comments on “The Useless Drop Shadow Button

  1. Great post Ted and thanks for all the wonderful work you do on behalf of all of us who struggle with issues like this. If nothing else to let us know we are not alone.

    I find it interesting that some features in indesign are state of the art and borderline next century in terms of power and ease but other features like the drop shadow effect which is one of the more commonly used features day in and day out, is still stuck in the stone ages. Also in CS5, in addition to numeric fields (for accuracy) I would like to see a more draggable photoshop-like drop shadow placement so that a designer could also position it visually as well.

  2. Hi, Ted! Great post! I have another question re: drop shadows, and hoped maybe you could offer some insight. I created a logo in ID and grouped the elements together. When I resized the grouped image (25% smaller), my drop shadows got displaced, greatly increasing the distance between the object and drop shadow. So, I saved my logo as a .tif in PS (after designing it in ID), and it cut off my drop shadows, awkwardly. I’m starting to feel like I can’t win with these silly drop shadows in CS4. Any insight on either/both of these dilemmas?

    I appreciate your time.

  3. This is an old thread but the default setting works in Indesign CC. Make sure no documents are open and open the drop shadow options by alt-clicking on the “useless” drop-shadow icon and change the settings. From now on every time you click the drop-shadow button when an object in new documents is selected the drop shadow with your preferred settings is applied.

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