Adobe Illustrator & Photoshop tutorial: Add depth to vector art using shadows and glows

Jonny Wan shows how to keep your compositions fresh

Recently Jonny Wan set himself a personal project called Progression. The purpose of the project was to explore new ways of working and introduce new techniques that would enhance and evolve his existing illustrative style.

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“The project was born out of wanting to challenge myself creatively and to keep things fresh,” he says. As a creator of two-tone patterns, he wanted to explore how to add depth to his artwork, using shadows and glows.

Over the next eight steps, he will detail the techniques used, covering aspects of Illustrator’s Pathfinder panel, as well as applying noise and adjusting colour in Photoshop.

Jonny stresses that his aim here was not to create something dramatically different to what he already does, but to explore new skills to enhance his way of illustrating.

Time to complete

2-4 hours


Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop


The King of Spades illustration will serve as the focal point of this tutorial. Here is the outline open in Illustrator, on which I intend to build upon and evolve. I create a lot of illustrations that are flat with solid block colours, so one of the aspects I wanted to explore was depth.

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To create depth I applied an Outer Glow to all the shapes, varying the percentages of blur and trying out different blending mode settings. These tools are located under Effects > Stylize > Outer Glow.

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Be sure to play around with the opacity and blur, depending on how weak or strong you want the glow to be.

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Immediately after applying the glow, I could tell that the style is heading down a different path – it’s a fresh take on my usual way of working.

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Next I wanted to create some decorative elements, combining the aesthetic of the glow and the Pathfinder panel (open by hitting Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + F9).

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I used the Ellipse tool (L) to create a circle, then added an outer glow using the same process as in Step 2. I copied the circle and pasted it in front (Cmd/Ctrl + C then Cmd/Ctrl + F) then scaled this circle down so that it sat inside the first circle.


I brought up the Pathfinder panel and made sure both circles were selected. Then I clicked on Minus Front in Pathfinder. This effectively ‘punched’ the smaller circle through the larger one to create a ring.

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It’s easy to get lost when working up close, so I find occasionally zooming in and out (Cmd +/–) can help make sure that you are not overworking a section of the image.

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I completed the shading using Outer Glow, then exported the file to Photoshop.


I created the overlay texture using noise. I selected Filter > Noise > Add Noise. There is no always-correct setting for noise; you should always adjust the percentage by eye to get the amount of texture you want. However, I typically only set it between 6% and 9%. Be sure not to over indulge with this tool as it can overpower the illustration very quickly.

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While I was in Photoshop, I also adjusted the colour by going into the Adjustment dialogs located in the Image menu (or in the Adjustments panel).

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When you’ve finished a composition, always adjust the colour curves, exposure and brightness/contrast to enhance the overall image.

When you are completely satisfied with the result, make sure to flatten the image by selecting Layers > Flatten Image, so the artwork is ready to print or be send to your client.

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Jonny Wan is an illustrator based in Sheffield who has produced work for many creative sectors, including editorial, publishing, advertising and fashion.

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Jonny has a fascination for shapes, patterns and ancient cultures, and is always looking for fresh new ways to his work. Jonny is represented by Agency Rush.