How to Enhance an Illustration by Adding Shadows

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

The Pathfinder panel is one of the most versatile features of Adobe Illustrator. It comes in handy on so many occasions, and in today’s quick tip I will show you how you can use it to enhance your illustrations by adding shadows to them.
Carefully look at the illustration you have to add shadows to. Define where the light source would be, and how the light will fall on your object. In this case, I have Super Mario holding the famous Super Star, which is our source of light, so we will work on shadowing Mario's figure.
Define where would the light source would be
To make things easier, we will separate our Mario into a few groups: head, arms, and body/legs.
Group the illustration in few objects
Let’s start with the head. Using the Pen Tool (P), draw a shape over the head where you would like to add the shadow. Try to imagine how the light will fall on the object and guess where the shadow will fall. It might sound a bit confusing, but it’s actually quite simple.
 Use the pen tool and draw a shadow shape
Copy the head and select the shadow shape we just drew using the Pen Tool. Use the Paste in Front command (Control-F) to paste it in front of the shadow shape. You can double check the order of things in the Layers panel (F7).
Copy the head group and paste it in front of the shadow shape
With a single click, select the top head layer and open the Pathfinder panel (Window > Pathfinder). Click on the first icon in the Shape ModeUnite. This should merge all of the head layer contents into one (the head, hat, everything).
Using the Pathfinder merge all of the head items
The result should look like this.
The head and its contents are merged in a silhouette shape
Now select both the merged head object and the shadow outline object and use theIntersect command from the Pathfinder panel. The part where they intersect will be our shadow.
 Use the Intersect command between the shadow outline and the merged object
The result should look like this.
Select the new shape and pick a grey color
Now, click the shape we just got, and open the Swatches panel (Window > Swatches). We are going to need a light shade of grey for the shading, so pick the eighth one in the grey row labeled as C=0 M=0 Y=0 K=30.
Open the Transparency panel (Window > Transparency). Open the Blending Mode tab and choose the Multiply one.
Use the Multiply belning mode to get transparency and shadowing effect
Voila! We made a shadow perfectly aligned to Mario’s head! Now let’s do the same to the rest of the image, going from top to bottom.
Lets move to the left hand. Using the Pen Tool we draw the shadow shape over the hand.
Using the Pen tool we draw the shadow shape over the hand
Copy (Control-C) the grouped left hand, select the shadow shape and Paste it in Front of it (Control-F). Select the hand and apply the Unite command from thePathfinder panel.

Copy Paste in front and merge the hand

Now select the merged hand object and the shadow outline. Using the Intersectcommand from the Pathfinder panel, you will get the desired shade. 
Use the Intersect command between the shadow outline and the merged object
And using the Transparency panel, we are setting the Blending Mode to Multiply.
Using the Transparency panel set the blending mode Multiply
Repeat these few steps on the rest of the parts.
  • Right hand
The progress on the right hand
  • Body and legs
The progress on the body and legs
  • And feet
The progress on the feet
Now, we have all the shading we needed! The result should look like this!
The illustration with added shadows
But, to enhance the lighting effect, we can add a dark background.
Using the Rectangle Tool (M), draw a rectangle and color it some dark color, let’s say C100 M100 Y25 K80.
Draw a rectangle and color it
Now stretch the rectangle over the artboard and move it to the back of the image.
Go to Object > Arrange > Send to Back.
Stretch the rectangle and set it to the back of the layers
And as one famous architect said, the devil’s in the details. We can add one final detail and that’s an outer glow to our glowing object: the Super Star.
Select the yellow base of the star. Go to the Effects > Stylize > Outer Glow. A dialog box will appear. Set the Mode to Screen. Choose a yellow color, drop theOpacity to 75% and set the Blur at 6 mm.
Create a glow using the outer glow effect
Well, that’s it! We managed to enhance the illustration and give it a new light!
Adding shadows to flat illustrations is always welcome—it takes the illustration to a whole new level and gives us a better image of the environment our character is in.
The final result


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