Eye-catching special effects were once only available through time-consuming darkroom magic or the hands of a skilled illustrator. These days—thanks to the digitization of art media—things like drop-shadows, transparency effects, and dimensional treatments are each just a menu selection away. And those are just the tip of the digital effects iceberg.
It’s rarely mandatory to apply effects of any kind to a layout’s components (or to a layout as a whole) but effects are often worth considering. Sometimes, just the right special effect turns out to be exactly what’s needed to add a perfect finishing touch to a composition’s visual impact or its conceptual message.
Learn about the effects available through programs like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign by playing with them. For most visually oriented people (designers, illustrators, and artists included) there’s simply no better way to become acquainted with digital effects than by opening a document (a blank document, a photo from your hard drive, a custom-made illustration—it’s up to you) and freely exploring your program’s offering of special effects. The lessons learned during this digital playtime will almost certainly come in handy—and probably sooner than later—for real-world on-the-job projects.
All special effects are subject to the whims of fad and fancy—every bit as much as typefaces and color schemes. Drop shadows, for instance, regularly cycle in and out of favor among both designers and audiences. And not only that, but even when drop shadows seem especially popular, it’s generally only a few specific styles of drop shadows that seem to have the full approval of better designers and more discerning viewers. If you pay close enough attention to the work of leading designers, it won’t take long before you see the truth in this. Same goes for things like transparency illusions, shine and shimmer effects, and emboss and bevel treatments.