How to maintain shadow consistency throughout a design?


  • To maintain shadow consistency throughout a design, establish a single, consistent light source and adhere to it across all elements. 
  • Create a shadow style guide specifying size, blur radius, opacity, and color for different elements. 
  • Use layer styles in design tools to apply these presets consistently. 
  • Define clear elevation levels for UI elements. 
  • Test your design across different devices.

Detailed answer

Maintaining shadow consistency in a design is crucial for creating a cohesive and harmonious visual experience. Here’s how you can ensure that shadows remain consistent across different elements and layouts:

Define a standard light source 

Establish a single, consistent light source for all shadows in your design. Decide on a direction from which the light is coming (e.g., top left, directly above) and stick to it across all elements. This consistency helps in making the interface look realistic and unified.

A screenshot of the design tool where the light source for a shadow is being chosen.


Create a shadow style guide 

Include shadows in your design system or style guide. Specify the size, blur radius, opacity, and color of shadows for different types of elements such as buttons, cards, and modals. This guide will serve as a reference for designers to ensure that shadows are applied uniformly throughout the project.

Use layer styles in design tools

Use layer styles in design software like Adobe XD or Figma. Once you define a shadow style, you can save it as a preset and apply it to various elements. This not only speeds up the design process but also helps in maintaining consistency as the shadow settings are predefined and can be reused effortlessly.

Stick to consistent elevation levels

Define clear elevation levels for your UI elements. For example, buttons might have a higher elevation than input fields. Consistent use of elevation with corresponding shadow intensity and spread helps in creating a depth hierarchy that is logical and visually consistent.

Testing across different environments

Make sure to view your design on different devices to see how shadows behave. Sometimes, what looks good on one screen may not translate well on another. Adjustments might be needed to ensure that shadows contribute positively to the usability and aesthetics under diverse conditions.

Related reading: How can I use shadows to enhance visual hierarchy in a design?

🛠️ Useful tools 

These tools will make your job easier and more effective. 

Tokens Studio – manage the design tokens system in Figma. 

🤝 Credits

Our content combines the knowledge of Cieden’s designers with insights from industry influencers. Big thanks to all the influencers for sharing awesome content!

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