Use Photoshop Drop Shadow Effect To Darken an Object

This is another fun thing to do with the Photoshop Drop Shadow effect. If you are building up a graphic from different images, sometimes you need to darken an object to blend it into the correct distance from the viewer. There are a number of ways to do this, but a quick way is to use the Photoshop Drop Shadow Effect on a layer above the object to darken it.

Try the following sequence:

  1. Duplicate the object layer Right Click layer, Duplicate Layer
  2. Click OK
  3. Under the layer tab, select the fx to Add a Layer Style
  4. From the list select Drop Shadow
  5. Click OK to accept defaults
  6. Right Click on Drop Shadow layer and select Create Layer (near the bottom)
  7. If a warning appears that aspect of Effects can not be reproduced with layers, click OK
  8. Finally, delete the temp layer above the new Drop Shadow layer

The original object will now reappear, but quite dark. Simply adjust the Opacity of the flying Drop Shadow layer to achieve the desired result.

So there you have it! A quick way to use Photoshop Drop Shadow Effect to darken an object to adjust its apparent distance in a picture. Experiment, and have fun.

Add Drop Shadow Effect in Photoshop

The Drop Shadow Effect in Photoshop has a number of uses, apart from adding apparent depth to flat images. So over the next few months we are going to run a series of fun things to do with it. First of all, let us start with the normal use of the Photoshop Drop Shadow effect.

Add a Drop Shadow To A Flat Object

Shadows give a touch of 3D imagery to an otherwise flat design, so bring it to life. If we have a flat object to add to a project, we might want to add a shadow to lift it off the background. This may be a character, or text string, or an image cut out, such as a person or shape. In each case use the following sequence:

  1. Select the layer of the object to receive the drop shadow
  2. Under the layer tab, select the fx to Add a Layer Style
  3. From the list select Drop Shadow
  4. On the Layer Style window, under Structure, Select the Opacity (defaults to 75%) say 50%
  5. Set the angle of the light source, for example 135˚, which is 45˚ from the left
  6. Set the Distance slider for example 10px
  7. Experiment with the Spread slider, although 0% is fine
  8. Set the Size slider to a suitable value for example 10px
  9. Finally, click OK

Other Things To Do with the Drop Shadow Effect in Photoshop

The Photoshop Drop Shadow effect has a number of parameters which make it very flexible. Have fun playing with the sliders in the Structure group of the Layer Style window. It is so easy to produce very diffuse shadows, or highly concentrated dark shadows. Finally, try adjusting the angle of the light source to see how the shadow behaves.

Coming Soon

Watch out for the next post in the series of fun things to do with the Drop Shadow effect. Enjoy!

How to Insert a Mac Degree Symbol in Mac OS X

Something that we get asked, on a frequent basis, is how to insert a degree symbol in Mac OS X. There are at least four ways to insert a degree symbol into text, for example 45˚ or 100°C. So here is a quick guide to inserting a Mac Degree Symbol.

The quickest way is to use a Degree Symbol Keyboard Short-cut. Move the cursor to the location at which you want to insert a degree symbol. Then, use one of the following keyboard short-cuts:

  • Option-K: inserts a small angular degree symbol (135˚)
  • Shift-Option-8: inserts larger temperature degree symbol (72°C)

For a slightly slower way, use the Special Characters menu (also called the Emoji & Symbols menu in OS X Yosemite and later) which gives hundreds of useful symbols, characters, and emoji from which to choose. To access it, place the cursor where you’d like to insert the degree symbol and then either:

  • Use the keyboard shortcut Control-Command-Space
  • In the Menu Bar use Edit, Special Characters (or Edit, Emoji & Symbols)

Remember the small Mac degree symbol is correctly used for angles, like 360˚, while the larger degree symbol should be used for temperature, 37°C or 98.6°F. So there you have it; how to insert a degree symbol in Mac OS X.

Microsoft Lobbying Practices Accused Again

Once again, Microsoft has been accused over it’s UK government lobbying practices, according to an article in Computer Weekly yesterday.

In the article by Brian Glick, a former director of strategy to David Cameron while opposition leader and as prime minister, Steve Hilton has claimed that Microsoft threatened to shut down research facilities in Conservative constituencies over Tory plans for government IT reforms.

According to The Guardian, Hilton told an event in London to promote his new book that, “When we proposed this, Microsoft phoned Conservative MPs with Microsoft R&D facilities in their constituencies and said, ‘We will close them down in your constituency if this goes through’.”

It appears that Microsoft has lobbied for years to prevent the government pursuing its open standards policy, which arguably levels the playing field for other software vendors. After a somewhat controversial consultation process, the adoption of the open source Open Document Format (ODF) as the standard for document formats was confirmed by government in July last year.

The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) had previously approved the open source Open Document Format (ODF) as an international data format standard. The ODF Alliance, a cross-section of industry associations with more than 150 members worldwide, academic institutions and suppliers, had all been lobbying for the decision. The ODF Alliance was created to resolve the potential problem of proprietary software limiting the ability of governments to access, retrieve and use records and documents in the future.

While it is often good sport to knock Microsoft for being a giant of the industry, and stifling (or buying up) the competition, if these accusations are true then the criticism is justly deserved. Round the office, we suspect that the motivation may be less about open standards, and more about potential market share and loss of revenue. If government should enact the long threatened Open Source initiative, then the writing may be on the wall for the big ticket software packages, at least in public service.

Perhaps that would be a good thing for consumers in general, and tax payers in particular.

For more on the story of the open source Open Document Format see the following links:

New Windows XP Support Deal Vetoed by Whitehall Technology Chiefs

In an amazing new twist to the seemingly endless death throws of Windows XP, it seems that someone in the corridors of power has managed to negotiate a contract with Microsoft to further extend support, and so prolong use in government departments.

Sales of Windows XP licenses to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) ceased on June 30, 2008, although they continued for netbooks until October 2010. Extended support for Windows XP ended on April 8, 2014, after which the operating system ceased receiving further support or security updates to most users.

When the previous XP support arrangement was signed last year, the intention was to give 12 months breathing space for government users to move off XP. However, in a move that seems to be right out of an episode of Yes Minister, the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) had negotiated a contract with Microsoft to replace the one-year deal with a contract to support XP and Windows Server 2003, which reaches its end of life on 14 July 2015.

However, according to Computer Weekly sources, the proposed deal was put together without involvement from the Technology Leaders Network, the forum for government CTOs that governs Whitehall technology policy. Fortunately the Whitehall technology chiefs have vetoed new Windows XP support deal.

It is difficult to describe the continuing use of this ancient and venerable Operating System (OS) in government circles, without making reference to zombies, or the walking dead. Whether the metaphor refers to the Windows XP operating system, or the civil servants haunting the corridors of power, we will leave it to your imagination.

For more information on Microsoft and the Extended Windows XP Support see:

UK government Confirms Open Document Format

In a move that goes against proposals by Microsoft, the UK government has confirmed Open Document Format (ODF) as the standard government document format. Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has today announced that the ODF will be the standard for sharing or collaborating on government documents, with PDF or HTML also approved for viewing.

The decision follows a long and often controversial process that first started in 2011, and led to a consultation that concluded in February. The possible open standards were published on the Government Standards Hub website, with requests for ideas and comments. Microsoft had urged the government to include Open XML (OOXML) which is the standard used for its Word documents, however opponents say is not a truly open, vendor-independent format.

According to the article in Computer Weekly, the government said that the benefits of Open Document Format would include:

  • Citizens, businesses and voluntary organisations will no longer need specialist software to open or work with government documents.
  • People working in government will be able to share and work with documents in the same format, reducing problems when they move between formats.
  • Government organisations will be able to choose the most suitable and cost effective applications, knowing their documents will work for people inside and outside of government.

It would be interesting to know how much the delays and procrastination over open standards, has cost all the users, citizens, businesses and voluntary organisations who interface with government. Meanwhile revenue for Microsoft continues unabated. Go figure!

To find out more about Open Standards Principles visit Government IT Standards Hub

Government Signs Deal to Extend Microsoft Windows XP Support

In a move that sends shivers down the spines of security and IT professionals across the country, the government has signed a deal with Microsoft to provide Windows XP support and security updates across the whole UK public sector for 12 months after regular support for the operating system ends on 8 April. The agreement is worth £5.548m, and covers critical and important security updates for Windows XP, Office 2003 and Exchange 2003, all of which have reached end of life in Microsoft’s normal product cycles.

While it is difficult to get any accurate figures for the numbers of Windows XP desktops which are still in use in government circles, approximately 800,000 PCs in the NHS still ran XP as of September 2013, and 27% of all desktops worldwide still run XP (

Perhaps some bold MP would like to ask Parliament why government users are still using using this outdated operating system. You could buy an awful lot of Linux support for £5.548m.

For more information on the Extended Microsoft Windows XP Support see:

7 Ultra Useful WordPress Plugins

WordPress, one of the most popular content management systems now powers over 16.6% of all websites. The great thing about WordPress sites is the community support that it gets, which means WordPress developers are busily created useful plug-ins that help with SEO, social media, editorial, site speed, and more.

There was until recently a useful list of seven helpful plug-ins at, compiled by Eric Siu which we have found could significantly enhance your site. They’re simple to install and will have effects that scale across your site. Keep in mind that not every plug-in will be a fit – mix and match and see what works for you.

  1. Scribe SEO – this plugin will help you do keyword research, grade your post in terms of overall SEO, and also help you find external or internal links. In short, it’s like having an SEO assistant in WordPress. If you have multiple editors writing for you, Scribe SEO is a must.
  2. Facebook for WordPress – enable your posts and pages to include Like, Send, Subscribe, Social Publisher, Recommendation Bar, and Comments capabilities. This plugin also includes Facebook Insights in your backend. In a nutshell, this plugin connects your site to Facebook.
  3. Tynt – if you are worried about scrapers or people that manually cut and paste your content without giving you credit, you can use Tynt to automatically create a link back to your site when people scrape your content. By doing this, you’re adding a wall of defense from scrapers and gain some SEO value by acquiring more links. Tynt states that you can expect to get up to 40% traffic from these added links. If you’re a big news site, you can expect to see 8,000 to 10,000 more links per week. Not bad for a plugin, right?
  4. WordPress SEO – this is the best SEO plugin out there for WordPress. Control indexation, breadcrumbs, RSS feeds, sitemaps, authorship, titles, and more. A must have.
  5. Social Sharing Toolkit – if you want to add social media buttons before and after your posts, this is the plugin to do so. You have the option of displaying various social network buttons such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and more. The added benefit is the ultra clean look and feel of the buttons.
  6. WP Touch – with mobile usage slated to overtake desktops by 2015, it’s no secret that you need to have a mobile site. This plugin will create a simple mobile version of your site.
  7. Zemanta – this plugin allows you to add relevant links and images around the web to your blog posts. It’ll also help you tag your posts and give you more additional research points. In short, this plugin can help drive more traffic to your site.

Update: eMarketer’s estimates US Time Spent on Mobile to Overtake Desktop by 2014

How to Use the WordPress Media Manager Gallery

As of December 2012 and the release of WordPress Version 3.5, the new Media Manager has changed the way photo galleries are created. If you are new to WordPress, or have been using one of the photo gallery plugins and themes, then this post might help you use the built-in WordPress Media Manager to display photographs on your site.

Place your cursor at the point on your post or page where you want the photo galley to appear, and follow the following easy steps:

  1. Click on the Add Media button on the left, just above the Editor quick menu bar.
  2. Click on Create Gallery
  3. Click on the image you want to add
  4. Under Attachment Details fill in the following fields:
    • Title
    • Caption
    • Alt Text
    • Description
  5. Add as many photos from your media library into the gallery as required, repeating 3 and 4 above for each
  6. Click on Create a new gallery
  7. At the Edit Gallery screen drag the images into the required order.
  8. Under Gallery Settings Select the number of columns of thumbnails to display
  9. Click on Insert Gallery to finish.

You can then preview or publish your gallery of photographs in the usual way. If you decide that you need to add more photographs to the gallery, or change the order the pictures display, follow the following steps:

  1. Edit the post containing the gallery.
  2. Click on Visual editor tab, if not already selected.
  3. Click on the gallery you want to edit
  4. Click on the top left icon in the gallery (a camera picture)
  5. To add new images click on Add to Galley and proceed as before.
  6. Reorder or make any other required changes then click on Update Gallery.

That is it! All you need to do to use the new Media Manager to display photographs on your WordPress site.

For more information about using the built-in WordPress Media Manager, including a video of inserting a gallery then click here to visit How to Insert a WordPress Photo Gallery into Your Blog

Top 10 WordPress Plugins

When we get asked “What are the Top 10 WordPress Plugins?”, it is sometimes a challenge to limit the list because there are so many out there. The ones which we are currently finding the most useful are (in alphabetical order):

  1. Breadcrumb NavXT
  2. Broken Link Checker
  3. CMS Tree Page View
  4. Contact Form 7
  5. Quick Page/Post Redirect Plugin
  6. Types – Complete Solution for Custom Fields and Types
  7. Viper’s Video Quicktags
  8. WordPress Database Backup
  9. WP-PageNavi
  10. WP-Table Reloaded

The details of our Top 10 WordPress Plugins are listed below, together with links to further information. Each is given a TechCo Rating, which is an indication of the level of use which we would expect to see.

TechCo Rating:

  • Basic – Every site must have a plugin like this.
  • Intermediate – Most sites should use this plugin
  • Advanced – Plugin could provide functionality to make the site special.
  • Admin – Plugin provides administrators with tools not seen by the public.

Breadcrumb NavXT
TechCo Rating: Intermediate
Breadcrumb trails are a good supplementary navigation system that aid in site usability, and can provide SEO benefits. This plugin adds a breadcrumb navigation showing the visitor’s path to their current location. These represent the page hierarchy leading to the current page.

For details on how to use Breadcrumb NavXT plugin visit Breadcrumb NavXT.

Broken Link Checker
TechCo Rating: Admin
This useful WordPress plugin checks your blog for broken links and missing images and notifies you on the Admin dashboard if any are found.

Among other things it will detect missing images and files, and links to deleted YouTube videos. New and modified entries are checked immediately, while the plugin periodically checks links in posts, pages, comments, custom fields and the blogroll. If any problems are found you get a notification on the Dashboard.

You can run a full site scan from scratch by Settings, Link Checker, Advanced and then click on Recheck All Pages. You might get a surprise if you add this plugin to a mature WordPress site!

For more information on the Broken Link Checker plugin visit the Broken Link Checker site.

CMS Tree Page View
TechCo Rating: Admin
This plugin is for admin use only, and adds a CMS-like tree view of all pages on the site. You can use the tree view to edit, view, add and search pages, while drag and drop allows you to rearrange page order.

To find out more about CMS Tree Page View visit the CMS Tree Page View site.

Contact Form 7
TechCo Rating: Intermediate
Not just another contact form plugin, Contact Form 7 is simple and flexible. It allows you to flexibly design the form and mail, and allows you to manage multiple contact forms. In addition, it supports many features including AJAX submitting, CAPTCHA, Akismet spam filtering and file uploading.

To find out more about Contact Form 7 visit the Contact Form 7 site.

Quick Page/Post Redirect Plugin
TechCo Rating: Advanced
This plugin can be useful for managing permalinks without losing existing SEO to the page, or for sites converted to WordPress. It allows you to redirect Pages, Posts or Custom Post Types to another location quickly, for internal or external URLs.

The options available are extensive, so for more information on how to use the Quick Page/Post Redirect Plugin visit the Quick Page Post Redirect plugin site.

Types – Complete Solution for Custom Fields and Types
TechCo Rating: Advanced
This is a useful plugin if you need to create custom fields, custom post types, or a custom taxonomy to your website through the WordPress admin screen instead of adding PHP code to your theme. For PHP developers, Types provides a comprehensive PHP API and documentation.

To find out more about the Types plugin, check out the Types User Guide

Viper’s Video Quicktags
TechCo Rating: Intermediate
Easily embed videos from various video websites such as YouTube, DailyMotion, and Vimeo into your posts. Since version 2.9, WordPress has featured native easy embeds. However this plugin offers more customization than the default options. It will work alongside the easy embed code, and you can opt to use either embed method.

For more information about Viper’s Video Quicktags, visit the Viper’s Video Quicktags site

WP DB Backup – WordPress Database Backup
TechCo Rating: Basic
Everyone should have a regular backup of their WordPress database, and this plugin provides on-demand and scheduled backups. To configure your backup go to Tools, Backup, and backup your WordPress database.
To install this plugin search for “WP DB Backup” Keyword on the Install Plugins page.

To find out more about WP DB Backup

TechCo Rating: Advanced
This is a handy plugin if you want to replace the old Older posts and Newer posts links with some more advanced paging navigation.

This plugin provides the wp_pagenavi() template tag which generates fancy pagination links. See the installation instructions for using it in your theme.

To ind out more about WP-PageNavi, visit WP-PageNavi site

WP-Table Reloaded
TechCo Rating: Intermediate
This plugin allows you to create and easily manage tables in the admin-area of WordPress. However it has been superseded by the TablePress plugin, which at time of writing stands at 0.9-RC

You can still download WP-Table Reloaded, but if you are starting a new project, we recommend waiting for the full release of TablePress.

For more information on the table plugin see TablePress replaces WP-Table Reloaded from the plugin author.

Well, that is our current stab at the Top 10 WordPress Plugins. This list may change in a few months as trends and available plugins, so is not fixed in stone. In future we will offer deeper insight into some of these plugins a give examples of how they can be used.