Blending Modes in Adobe Photoshop

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May 7, 2021
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Photoshop has a really neat feature that allows layers to interact with one another. Instead of having one layer sit on top of another, completely covering the lower one’s visibility, we’re able to use something called a Blending Mode to enhance the look of both layers that gives a corrective or create appearance. Blending modes can also be used with a few tools, so we can reach even further when it comes to applying uniqueness to our photos. Really, with blending modes, our creativity is unlimited.

In this post, I’ll talk about what blend modes are, where to find them and how to go about using them in your workflow.

What are Blending Modes?​

There really is no better resource to read through than Adobe’s own blending mode descriptions and examples page. I’ll give you a quick excerpt here and then offer a link to their page. Believe me, it’s much more in depth than this one.

The blending mode specified in the options bar controls how pixels in the image are affected by a painting or editing tool. Think in terms of the following colors when visualizing a blending mode’s effect:

– The base color is the original color in the image.

– The blend color is the color being applied with the painting or editing tool.

– The result color is the color resulting from the blend.

With blending modes, you can combine colors to correct something that’s wrong or unappealing in a particular photo. You can also create various effects with different modes. It’s sort of a challenge to describe a feature that has so many tentacles, but by the end of this (first of many) post, I think you’ll have enough data to open up Photoshop and play around a bit.

If you’d like, you can visit Adobe’s blending mode page. There, they offer descriptions of each blending mode, along with the effect it has on a layer. They also offer examples of each mode via some small thumbnails.

Where Can I Find Blending Modes?​

You can find blending modes in two different locations in Adobe Photoshop. The first and most commonly seen is in the Layers panel. If you have a layer that’s not locked, you can use the pull-down menu that’s located right above the layers themselves to access the modes.


Also, if you use the Brush tool, the Clone Stamp tool or the Healing Brush tool, among others, you find the blend modes as well. They’re located up in the options bar.


Please note that not all tools show all available blending modes. Also, some blending modes are only available for images that have specific qualities. This is what Adobe has to say about that:

Only the Normal, Dissolve, Darken, Multiply, Lighten, Linear Dodge (Add), Difference, Hue, Saturation, Color, Luminosity, Lighter Color, and Darker Color blending modes are available for 32‑bit images.

Groups of Blending Modes​

When I first began working in Photoshop, years ago, I had no idea what blending modes were and what they could do. I remember duplicating the layer I wanted to enhance and then flipping through each and every mode with my down arrow until I saw something I liked. Usually, I thought something looked cool for a few minutes until I just deleted the layer and started working on something else. Such is the life of someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.

Today, I know that blending modes are grouped together. If you look at an enlarged view of the drop-down that contains the modes, you can see that specific ones are clustered with others.


Let’s take a closer look at these modes.

For this section, I’m going to look specifically at the modes that are contained in the Layers panel. They shift around in the options bar and I’d be here all day trying to chase them down to explain them. So, for now, I’ll stick to the one area.

The first mode is Normal and the second is Dissolve. We’re going to ignore them for right now because, well, the first one is Normal and the second one has more to do with use during the application of tools from the toolbar. For the rest, I’ll show you what type of groups exist.

Darken Modes​

Color Burn
Linear Burn
Darker Color

Lighten Modes​

Color Dodge
Linear Dodge
Lighter Color

Contrast Modes​

Soft Light
Hard Light
Vivid Light
Linear Light
Pin Light
Hard Mix

Inversion Modes​


Cancellation Modes​


Component (Color) Modes​


While each of these modes does something different, it helps to group them in your mind and explore them with intent as opposed to in a random manner like I used to do. For instance, if I wanted to add a lighter area in one of my photos, I would work with the Lighten group. I wouldn’t know exactly which blend mode I’d use until I began exploring them, but at least I wouldn’t be messing around with one of the Cancellation modes. Trust me when I say this – knowing that individual blending modes fall into groups is half the battle.

Blending Mode Examples​

This post was merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this area of Photoshop. In later posts, I’m going to dive much more deeply into this area, but for now, I just wanted to introduce you to the topic. Now, I’m aware that I haven’t exactly shown you anything that has to do with blending modes yet, so below, I’ll put some photos together as examples. I’m going to do with quickly with no real goal, so please keep in mind this is for demonstration only.

This is the original photo.


I duplicated the background layer twice and applied the Screen mode to the top layer and the Multiply mode to the layer right beneath that. That would make the top layer lighter and the next layer darker. Then, I used a really big soft eraser to erase the center portion of the photo, which gave me a darker center with lighter edges.


For this next image, I did exactly the opposite of the one above. I applied the Multiply mode to the top layer and the Screen mode to the one below that. I erased the center again. I ended up with a lighter center with darker edges.


I know these differences are very subtle, but just imagine what you can do with all the available options.

Here, take a look at this next one. In this file, I used two layers. The sunset was the bottom layer and the flower was on top of that. All I did was to simply apply the Soft Light mode to the flower layer. Now, they’re blended into one.


Again, I’m going to be talking about blending modes for a good long time, so be sure to keep your eye on the Photoshop forum on this site. Cheers!


May 7, 2021
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Learning the Difference Between Blending Modes in Adobe Photoshop​


When it comes to applying blending modes in Adobe Photoshop, there’s a huge problem. Oftentimes, people wonder what in the world they’re doing. I wonder this all the time. No, seriously – what in the world are they doing when applying blending modes? Exactly? If someone were standing over your shoulder and asked why you chose the blending mode you just clicked on, would you have a good answer for them? Personally, I’d probably make something up. “Uhhh, yeah. I like to click through these to make sure there’s nothing that I like.” I’d try to sell it to them. They most likely wouldn’t buy it, especially if they knew Photoshop.

I already know I can place one layer on top of another layer and choose a blending mode to apply to the top layer. This will affect the style of my photos. I talked about this in my previous blending mode post. After that, what I usually do is hit the down arrow until something looks appealing. Unfortunately, this method is the equivalent to hopping in a car in an attempt to get to the grocery store while wearing a blindfold. It’s stupid.

To overcome this stupidity, in this post, I’ll discuss three blending modes. They are Multiply, Screen and Soft Light. If you remember back to my previous post, I told you that each of these three modes reside in a group that is unique from one another. Multiply sits under Darkening Modes, Screen sits under Lightening Modes and Soft Light sits under Contrast Modes. Well, today we’re going to look at how each of these modes affects a photograph. I’ll show you, in no uncertain terms, what happens when each of these modes is applied. Hopefully it’ll open your eyes to what you should be doing when editing and designing – taking action with purpose as opposed to taking action by guessing. Ugg – I’m thinking back to all those years of clicking on things haphazardly. What a nightmare.

My Example Photo​

I’ve got a really nice example photo for today. This will perfectly demonstrate the changes I’d like to show. It’s got good color and a great range.


Multiply Blending Mode​

Each color that lies on top of another color affects the bottom color when it has a blending mode applied to it. The trick is, you need to learn which color (or shade) has which effect when a specific mode is applied. To discover the effects, we’ll use a simple tool. I’ve created a new layer and drawn a rectangle with the Rectangle Tool inside of it. After that, in the Properties panel, I applied a gradient to the layer. The gradient goes from black on the left to white on the right. Here’s what that looks like.


Let’s take a look at what Adobe has to say about the Multiply blending mode:

Multiply – Looks at the color information in each channel and multiplies the base color by the blend color. The result 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.

Now, let’s apply the Multiply blending mode to the gradient layer to see the effect.


I’d like to see what happens if I duplicate the photo layer and apply the same blending mode to the duplicate. I’ll give you a half-and-half example. The original photo is on the left and the blended portion is on the right.


As we can see, by using the Multiply blending mode, Photoshop strips the white from the layer that has the mode applied to it. This is why the result is a darker image. The gradient layer says it all.

Screen Blending Mode​

Now, we’ll go through the same process as we just did above, but this time, we’ll apply the Screen blending mode. First, I’ll apply that mode to the shape layer with the gradient.


Interesting. It looks like Screen gives us exactly the opposite effect that Multiply did. Instead of removing the white from the layer, Photoshop removed the black. Let’s see what Adobe says about the Screen blending mode:

Screen – Looks at each channel’s color information and multiplies the inverse of the blend and base colors. The result 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.

Now, I’ll give you the half-and-half example. Remember, the original is on the left and the Screen mode is on the right. We should see a lighter right half.


Wow. The blending mode does just what Adobe says it should do.

Soft Light Blending Mode​

Finally, let’s take a look at the Soft Light blending mode. First, we’ll see what Adobe says about this mode:

Soft Light – Darkens or lightens the colors, depending on the blend color. The effect is similar to shining a diffused spotlight on the image. If the blend color (light source) is lighter than 50% gray, the image is lightened as if it were dodged. If the blend color is darker than 50% gray, the image is darkened as if it were burned in. Painting with pure black or white produces a distinctly darker or lighter area, but does not result in pure black or white.

Now, I’ll show you how the gradient is affected when I apply this blending mode to it.


It appears that what Adobe said this mode should do is true. What was dark, was made darker. What was light, was made lighter. The mid-tones were completely removed from the image. I’ll show you the half-and-half example photo with the Soft Light blending mode applied now.


Since it was only mid-tones that were removed, there isn’t really a huge visible difference, but if you look closely, you can see one.

To learn about the effects blending modes have on images in Photoshop, it’s important to experiment. You can create a gradient, just like I did, and go through all the modes. You can also read about each mode straight from Adobe and try to predict what the effect will be before you apply it. That should give you good practice.

Photoshop Help / Blending modes

I’ve worked like this for a while and I can tell you that by studying the tools that Photoshop gives me, I’m much faster and wildly accurate with my edits. It just takes time and patience.


May 10, 2021
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  • #3
Awesome! So soft light could also be used as a subtle way to burn and dodge if you use a 50% gray layer > soft light mode and then paint using brushes with white or black.


May 7, 2021
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I think you may be cancelling out your actions if you do it that way. If you created a layer and made it 50% gray and then applied the Soft Light blend mode to it, it would be invisible. Then, if you painted over that layer with black or white, may might not need it to be gray at all, since the paint color would take the place of the gray in the area you painted. What I would do is create a new layer and apply the Soft Light blend mode to it. Then, paint it either black or white in the areas I want to burn or dodge. I’d keep those black and white layers separate though because I’d want that flexibility if I needed it in the future. Does that make sense? I hope I’m not missing something here. I tested it and it works, so I’m pretty sure of the method.


May 7, 2021
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How to Distinguish Between Blending Modes in Adobe Photoshop​

Every so often, I think each and every one of us suffers from some type of…what’s the word here…clicking around while not having any idea what we’re doing. I know I do this in Adobe Photoshop from time to time. There are areas of that program that I don’t use often and that I haven’t committed to memory. I usually click around in those areas the most in an effort to find something that I’m interested in or that makes whatever I’m working on look good. For example, I hardly ever use the Styles panel. Off the top of my head, I don’t have any idea what each preset style looks like and I have no idea what they would look like when applied to an object. Because of this, I usually click one, look at the result and undo it if I don’t like what I see. Then, I’d repeat that process until I land on the one I’m looking for. I know we all do this, but we shouldn’t. There are some areas of Photoshop that we should familiarize ourselves with, especially when they are simple to grasp.

In today’s post, I’d like to quickly discuss one area that’s really easy to experiment with and memorize inside of Adobe Photoshop. I’m referring to the blending modes drop-down and really, all I’d like to do is demonstrate what the three primary sections of this drop-down can accomplish. The way I’ll do this is to place two black-to-white rectangles on top of a photograph. Then, after discussing what each section of the blending mode drop-down does, I’ll show you how each can affect the colors or shades in an image. It’s all rather simple and what I’ll cover down below won’t take long at all.

Today’s Demo Photo​

I’ll be using a picture of some colored pencils for this post. The photo could have been of almost anything, but I wanted to use one that was colorful and vibrant to show off the blending mode effects. Something too dark or too light wouldn’t have worked as well as this one.


The Three Primary Sections​

Before I go any further, I’d like to let you know that I’ve already written a few posts on the topic of blending modes. You can click through the links below to visit these posts. The reason I mention this is because today’s post is going to be rather rudimentary in nature. I’m not going to offer specifics and details regarding the blending modes themselves. What I’m going to do is give you block level information that should help you remember what each of the three sections does.

What are Blending Modes in Adobe Photoshop?

Learning the Difference Between Blending Modes in Adobe Photoshop

Quick Keyboard Shortcut Guide For Blending Modes in Adobe Photoshop

Okay, let’s take a look at the demo black and white bars I made to cover part of the image I’m using. As you can see, the top bar transitions from black to white in steps and the bottom bar transitions with a smooth gradient.


Let’s take a look at the three sections, or groups, I’m referring to in the blending modes drop-down.


If you look at the above screenshot, you’ll see three red boxes. These boxes surround the groups I’m referring to. The top box surrounds the Darken group, the center box surrounds the Lighten group and the bottom box surrounds the Contrast group. Each mode inside of these three groups is related. While they don’t do exactly the same thing as one another, what they do is similar to those around them. So I guess if I had to make one point in this entire post, it would be, “When dealing with blending modes, remember Darken, Lighten and Contrast for the first three sections in the drop-down.” The point of remembering what each of these three groups does is that you’ll have the ability to fly through your work, if you work with blend modes frequently. This is one of those areas that you shouldn’t need to click around until you find something you like. If you want to add contrast to an image, apply the Overlay blend mode. If you want to make the underlying image appear darker, apply the Multiply blend mode and so forth.

A Few Examples​

In this final section, I’m going to offer you a few examples, just to show you the general effect each of the blend mode groups has on an image beneath the layer the mode is applied to. As you’ll quickly find out, the blend mode affects lighter and darker shades quite differently. I’ll explain what each group does in the most general sense possible.

The first blending mode group darkens an image. The way it does this is that it removes whites from the image that’s on top of the one that will be affected. So, if I go ahead and apply the Multiply blend mode to both of my shade rectangles, we can easily see the result I’m talking about. The whites were removed from both rectangles.


Again, all blend modes in this group are related, but offer slightly different effects.

The next group lightens an image in much the same way the first group darkens it. This time though, all blacks are removed from the layer the blend mode is applied to. So, if I go ahead and apply the Screen blend mode to both rectangles, we can easily see that the blacks are gone and the whites have their intended effect. For more on what each of these blend modes actually does, please click through those links I left for you up above.


This final blend mode is interesting in that it removes all midtones from a layer. So, if you wanted to add contrast to a layer, all you would need to do is apply one of the contrast group’s modes and that’s the result you’d get. To show you what I’m talking about, I’ll apply the Overlay blend mode to the rectangles and we’ll find that the grays in the rectangles have been completely removed from the center areas and some of the whites and black have been removed as well. I can only assume that those areas contained midtones as well.


The Final Word​

Really, if you need one of these effects applied to an image quickly, you should be able to jump into the blend mode drop-down and choose one of the modes without thinking too much about it. I know this type of thing comes with practice and that a lot of this stuff is easily forgotten if not used often, so I welcome you to bookmark this post for layer use.


I hope I clearly explained how to go about identifying and memorizing the three primary groups of blend modes in Adobe Photoshop. If you have any questions regarding this post, please leave them for me in the comment section down below. Thanks for reading!


May 7, 2021
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Using Advanced Blending Options in Photoshop​

I was toying around with a section of the Layer Style palette a few days ago when I stumbled upon a neat little area that offers some granular control over blending modes. If you’re familiar with blending modes and how they work in Photoshop, you may enjoy what I have to share below. The section I found amplifies the traditional blend mode feature that’s located in the Layers panel and adds additional capabilities, such as splitting the chosen blend mode between the red, green and blue channels as well as adjusting the opacity of the blend mode itself, the fill opacity and the levels of each channel color. The feature is sort of “out there” in that it may not be useful for everyone due to its fine detail, but if you are one of those users who loves digging into the nitty-gritty of photo editing applications, you may get something out of it.

Okay, the way this works is like how working with any blending mode works. I’ll need at least two layers. For this demonstration, I’ll use a random photograph of a motorcycle as the bottom layer and a brick wall texture/pattern as the top layer. Both of these layers can be anything. It really depends on what you want to blend together.

To open the Layer Style palette, I’ll double-click on the top brick wall layer. That will open the palette. By default, the Blending Options section should be showing. If you’re following along and this section isn’t showing, then simply click the appropriate title in the left column.


Let’s take a look at the few of the areas located in this section. To choose a blending mode, all I have to do is click on the Blend Mode drop-down and run through the list of what’s available. A new feature in the more recent versions of Photoshop allows us to simply roll over each option to see a preview of what that each one does.

To adjust the opacity of that blending mode, all I’d push the Opacity slider to the left and right.

Now, I’m going to jump down to the bottom section to discuss what I began writing this post for. Let’s say that you only want to blend the top layer into the bottom layer if the colors in the bottom layer are red. Well, to do that, I’d click the Blend-If drop-down and select Red from the list of Gray, Red, Green and Blue. Doing this would essentially mask out any other colors but red. I’d only see the top layer texture over the red areas of the layer below.

Do you see the two black to white tone ranges in the screenshot above? This is where we can adjust what’s blended into the layer below or the layer above. Take a look at this. If I do choose to only blend into the reds, the colors of those two scales will change.


If I’d like to remove the darker reds from the possible blending, I can click on the left controller and drag to the right. The same is true if I want to remove the lighter reds, just in reverse. I can also adjust the top layer as well as the bottom layer when it comes to this. Talk about granular control of blending layers together!

If I wanted to go even farther than I have already, I can hold down the Alt key on my keyboard and then click on one of those scale controllers to split it in half. The controller, not the scale itself. Take a look at this.


Do you see the way the slider handle was split in half? Now it’s capturing a range of reds as oppose to just one piece of red on the scale of lightness/darkness. How cool is that? When I’m finished tweaking the blending of this top layer, I can click on the OK button to accept the changes. I set the blending mode to Linear Burn for this example. Let’s see what the result is.


If you look closely, you can see the outlines of the bricks. Now, if I was using a very colorful photograph for this tutorial and if I wanted to block out certain colors from the blending, I could have used those Red, Green and Blue options and the results would have been much more readily visible. My goal was to merely introduce you to this feature though and I think I succeeded in doing that. If you have any questions about what I covered in this post, please let me know down below. Thanks for reading!

COMMENT: Thanks for this. What I don’t get is whether or not I can save these advanced custom modes with some name so that I can apply them later. It looks like I can because the buttons say ‘new blending mode’, and ‘save to library’ but they don’t seem to work.