Photoshop has lots of tools available to both photographers and designers. One of those is Blend Modes, which allow you to control how things like layers interact with each other. You can change the effect of lighting in your image, take out specific pieces of a graphic or add special effects, all through blend modes.
In this LinkedIn Learning video, instructor Julieanne Kost walks you through Blend Modes in Photoshop and how to use them.
Blend Modes allow you to control how something, like a layer, interacts with another layer. However, Blend Modes aren’t limited to layers, you can also find them when you use the painting tools or apply layer styles, when you choose the fill stroke and fade commands, and even within the applied image in calculation commands.
In this video we’re going to use the Layers panel as the example, but the math behind the Blend Modes behaves the same throughout the application.
In this document I have two layers, the beach layer, which I’ll consider is the base color, and the watch layer, which will be the blend color. And as we change the different Blend Modes, the resulting color is what we’re going to see on screen. I’m going to hide the beach layer for a moment just to point out that the white on the watch layer is indeed white, it is not transparent, and that’ll be important in just a moment.
So the Blend Modes are grouped together in the list and they’re separated by thin, gray lines. Let’s start by taking a look at the first group, Normal and Dissolve. When the top layer, in this case the watch, is set to Normal, which is the default mode, the pixels don’t blend, even though we could change the opacity to blend the layers, that’s not truly the same as a Blend Mode. When we choose the Dissolve blend mode, it appears that there’s no visible difference when the layer is viewed at 100%, but when I decrease the opacity, all of the sudden some of the pixels are randomly replaced, revealing a speckled effect, which is either the watch or the beach, but it’s not really a blend of either. So the actual pixels aren’t blending together, they’re not combining, I’m seeing one or the other.
Alright, I’ll change the opacity back up to 100% and let’s take a look at this next group of Blend Modes. So, all of these Blend Modes, Darken and Multiply, Color Burn, Linear Burn and Darker Color, all have a stronger effect as the blend color becomes darker. And Darken and Multiply are the two most commonly used Blend Modes in this group. So, Darken is going to look at the color information in each channel, and it selects the darker of the base or blend colors as the result. So you’re always going to get a darker image. Multiply actually multiplies the base color with the blend color, so again, you’re always going to get a darker color and if you multiply any color with black, you’ll always get black. Multiply is a bit like sandwiching two chromes or two slides and projecting them together. The Blend Modes in this group have what’s called a neutral color of white, which means white will have no effect, and in fact, we can see on the watch layer, all of the white values have been hidden.
Now, the third group of Blend Modes, Lighten and Screen, Color Dodge, Linear Dodge and Lighter Color, all have stronger effects as the blend colors become lighter. They’re basically the inverse of the second group of Blend Modes, and Lighten and Screen are the two most commonly used Blend Modes from this group. If we select Lighten, we can see that it’s choosing the lighter of the base color and the blend color as the result color. So basically, whichever pixel is lighter between the watch and the beach, it’s going to select that color and that’s what we’re going to see. If I switch to Screen, it’s actually a stronger effect because it’s multiplying the inverse of the blend and the base color. Again, the resulting color is always going to be lighter and here the effect is similar to projecting multiple photographic slides onto the same screen, so not through the same projector, but two different light sources under the same screen which would make it lighter. And, the Blend Modes in this group have what are the neutral color of black, which means that black will have no effect, and sure enough we can see that all of the black in the watch layer has disappeared and we can see through to the beach layer.
The fourth group of Blend Modes, Overlay, Soft Light, Hard Light, Vivid Light, Linear Light, Pin Light and Hard Mix, all add contrast to an image because they lighten when using colors brighter than 50% gray, and they darken when using colors darker than 50% gray. And Overlay and Soft Light are the two most commonly used Blend Modes in this group. So with Overlay this Blend Mode multiplies colors that are darker than 50% and screens colors that are lighter than 50%. And it has the potential to add significant amount of contrast in the resulting image. If I change to Soft Light, while it also adds contrast to the image, it adds a lot less than the Overlay mode, so the darker areas are still darkened and the lighter areas are still lightened, but only as if they were mildly dodged or burned. The Blend Modes in this group have a neutral color of 50% gray which will have no effect, or which is hidden when blended.
Now the fifth group of Blend Modes, Difference, Exclusion, Subtract and Divide, have both scientific as well as creative applications, but they’re really not used as often as the other Blend Modes.
The sixth group of Blend Modes, Hue, Saturation, Color and Luminosity have no neutral colors and the most common are Color and Luminosity. Color is often used for special effects like hand painting and Luminosity is often used to suppress the way that an adjustment layer interacts with layers below it.
Alright, I’ll return to the Normal Blend Mode and we’ve seen that each of the Blend Modes has a live preview when we roll over the name of the Blend Mode, but if you want to quickly cycle through the Blend Modes, as long as you have one of the tools selected that doesn’t have a Blend Mode option in the Options bar, you can use the keyboard shortcut Shift + plus (+) to move down through the Blend Modes and Shift + minus (-) to move back up through the Blend Modes. If you do happen to have a tool, like a painting tool that has a Blend Mode option, then you’ll be changing the Blend Modes in the Options bar. So there we go, a quick overview of the power of Blend Modes in Photoshop.