When it comes to layer panel, one of the most important things is the blend mode. With the mighty power of it, you can totally change the scenario of an image. Be it the color, style, luminosity, or dimness, you can alter it with just one click.
This tutorial, What are Blend Modes in Photoshop, is dedicated to showing you the power of blend modes in Photoshop.
The good part of blend mode is its vastness, and the sadly the bad part of it is also its vastness. With its vastness, you need a good amount of time to master it. In our busy world, it’s difficult for every one of us to dedicate a good amount of time to learn something, but time invested in something good will always get you a nice result. The same goes here. Blend modes are like leg-fingers of Photoshop; not so useful because we can live without that, but extremely important as they provide balance to our body.
So what is Blend Mode?
Blend mode is basically the behavior of pixels that is based on the behavior of the pixels presents in the below layer. Too much technical? You’ll understand it when I start to explain in blend mode one by one. Till then, ignore the above definition. But make sure you read it again as soon as you’re done with this chapter.
You must be wondering now “where the hell blend mode is located in layer panel?”, “I don’t see anything as blend mode”, the thing is that it’s kind of hidden, and it’s kind of not. For a first time user, it will be a little difficult to find the blend mode as Adobe did not give any title like Blend Mode. In fig. 6.1, you can see the location of Blend Mode. In that drop-down list, you’ll find all 26 blend modes listed there.
This is the most basic blend mode. In this mode, anything drawn on the current layer does not give any effect to the below layer. It basically edits or paints each pixel to make it the resulting color. This is the default mode.
In Fig. 6.2, I painted the baby’s cloth with white color. The result is white color, and there’s nothing special. There’s no special effect, no additional activity, nothing at all. That’s why it is called as the default mode.
This mode only works when there’s transparency in pixels. To show it, let’s use Brush Tool and reduce its hardness to 0%. Now the edges of the brush will not be razor sharp, rather it’ll be soft. In Fig. 6.3, I have painted the cloth with the brush with its hardness 0%. Right now the blend mode is Normal.
Now if I change the blend mode to Dissolve, just see the change. Now the edges are a random distribution of dots of the same color. To sum up, Dissolve blend mode edits each pixel to make the resulting color. However, the resultant color is a random replacement of the pixels that depends on the opacity at any pixel location.
Now the fun begins. Above two modes were boring, and you probably will never use Dissolve.
Darken blend mode compares each pixel of the current layer and the layer below it, and shows the pixels that are darker. Just refer to Fig. 6.5. In that image, I have painted the sheet with a dark orange color. Areas where the orange color is darker than the sheet’s white color will display orange color. And the area where the sheet’s dark gray color is darker than the orange color will show the dark gray color.
In Adobe’s language on adobe.com: Looks at the color information in each channel and selects the base or blend color—whichever is darker—as the resulting color.
This blend mode does a comparatively more complex task. If you paint an area with a color that is darker than neutral gray, the resultant area will be darker. But if you paint an area that is lighter than neutral gray, the resultant area will not show any effect. In short, it only darkens the image.
Refer to Fig. 6.6 for more clarification. I have painted the baby’s cloth with a color that is darker than neutral gray color. So the resultant color is a darker shade of gray. In Adobe’s words: Looks at the color information in each channel and multiplies the base color by the blend color. The resulting color is always a darker color. Multiplying any color with black produces black. Multiplying any color with white leaves the color unchanged. When you’re painting with a color other than black or white, successive strokes with a painting tool produce progressively darker colors. The effect is similar to drawing on the image with multiple marking pens.
5: Color Burn
Works same as Multiply blend mode, the only thing different here is that it results in greater contrast.
In Adobe’s words: Looks at the color information in each channel and darkens the base color to reflect the blend color by increasing the contrast between the two. Blending with white produces no change.
6: Linear Burn
Works same as Multiply blend mode, the only difference here is that it dims the brightness.
Now that you have understood from Darken to Linear Burn, the thing to cheer up now is that you don’t have to remember anything from Lighten to Linear Dodge. This is because it works exactly opposite to how the above blend modes work. For example, Lighten works exactly opposite of how Darken works.
As you might have guessed its working, unlike Darken, it lightens the image.
Works exactly opposite of how Multiply works. In Adobe’s words: Looks at each channel’s color information and multiplies the inverse of the blend and base colors. The resulting color is always a lighter color. Screening with black leaves the color unchanged. Screening with white produces white. The effect is similar to projecting multiple photographic slides on top of each other.
9: Color Dodge
Works exactly as the screen, but it decreases the contrast also.
10: Linear Dodge
Works same as Screen but in increases brightness additionally.
The basic function of the mode is to increase the contrast drastically. Whenever I see pretty much dull image, I use this blend mode to make it more drastic. The best way is to duplicate the background layer and change the mode of the duplicate layer to overlay. You can use Cmd+J/Ctrl+J as your keyboard shortcut for this.
This mode lightens the pixels that are lighter than neutral gray color and darkens the pixels that are darker than neutral gray. The result is pretty much high contrast image that sometimes looks like a wedding filter as shown in Fig. 6.13.
12: Soft Light
This mode works same as Overlay but the only difference is that it’s a little bit subtle. Here you won’t see that the colors are washed out like the overlay. Fig. 6.14 is a nice demonstration of that. In that image, Soft Light has increased the contrast of the image by making light color pixels lighter and dark color pixels darker, but the result doesn’t contain any washed out image like Fig. 6.13. The effect is somewhat similar to shining a diffused spotlight on the image.
13: Hard Light
Like the above two modes, this mode also multiplies the colors. The effect is somewhat similar to shining a hard spotlight on the image.
14: Vivid Light
It dodges and burns the colors by increasing or decreasing its contrast. So basically it increases or decreases contrast by two folds. The rest of work is same as overlay blend mode.
15: Linear Light
It works same as Vivid Light but rather than increasing or decreasing contrast additionally, it brightens or darkens the image.
16: Pin Light
This mode is usually used to decrease the contrast. According to the Adobe “Pin Light replaces the colors, depending on the blend color. If the blend color (light source) is lighter than 50% gray, pixels darker than the blend color are replaced, and pixels lighter than the blend color do not change. If the blend color is darker than 50% gray, pixels lighter than the blend color are replaced, and pixels darker than the blend color do not change. This is useful for adding special effects to an image.”
17: Hard Mix
As the name is suggesting, this mode gives the hardest contrast than any other mode can provide. Fig. 7.7 is an example of that. According to Adobe “Adds the red, green and blue channel values of the blend color to the RGB values of the base color. If the resulting sum for a channel is 255 or greater, it receives a value of 255; if less than 255, a value of 0. Therefore, all blended pixels have red, green, and blue channel values of either 0 or 255. This changes all pixels to primary additive colors (red, green, or blue), white, or black.”
With this, a new category of blend modes starts. This blend mode subtracts the color of the source from the target layer (or target from source whichever is brighter.
This mode inverts the color if the source image has white color and keeps the color if the source layer has black color. In Fig. 7.8, you can notice that the area where the layer has white color (encircled part), the color inverts in that part in the main image. And the area where it’s black, the color remains the same.
This mode works same as Difference, but it results in lighter contrast.
Blending with white inverts the base color values. Blending with black produces no change.
It subtracts the blend color from the base color. Any pixels that are giving negative value will be clipped down to zero, and hence gives black color as output. This is why the lower half of the image is black in color.
This works exactly opposite of what Subtract does, and hence the result will be opposite of what you get in Subtract.
And here starts a new category.
With the help of Hue blend mode, it creates a result color with the brightness and saturation of the base color and the hue of the blend color. Fig. 7.11 is a perfect example of that. It took the hue of blend color i.e. red, and brightness and saturation of the base color.
Same as Hue but the difference is that it takes saturation of the blend color rather than hue.
It takes hue and saturation of the blend color and brightness of the base color.
Creates color with the luminosity of the blend color but hue and saturation of the base color.
With this, we’re done with blend modes. With this done, there is two good news.
The first is the blend mode is one of the most confusing things in Photoshop. With this done, you’re done with one of the most confusing things in Photoshop.
The second is that you don’t need to remember all these 25 blend modes. The blend modes that you’re going to use frequently are Normal, Multiply, Screen, Overlay, Soft Light, and Color. Rest of the blend modes and used rarely.
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