Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software

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Blending Mode Introduction

Choosing a Blending Mode from the Layers Palette
About Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software In the screen shot here, you can see my layers palette with the base layer and the blend layer exactly as I have set it up for these examples. The Blending Mode is set from the menu at the top left of the layers palette.

Blending Modes Illustrated Tutorial

Blending modes, or Blend Modes, are a feature of Adobe Photoshop and most other graphics software. Blend modes allow you to adjust how one layer or color mixes with the colors in the layers below. Blending modes are most often used with layers in your graphics software, but they can also come into play with painting tools where the blending mode of the painting tool affects how the colors mix with the existing colors on the same layer where you are painting.

Most bitmap-based programs, and even some vector based programs, include a blending modes feature. Most graphics programs offer a common set of blend modes, but these can vary between programs. Since Photoshop is the most commonly used photo editor, this gallery contains all the blend modes available within Photoshop. If you are using different software, your program may have a few more or less blend modes than those described and shown here, or they may be named differently.

Blending Mode Introduction

When discussing blending modes, there is some basic terminology you should understand. I will be using these terms in my descriptions of each blending mode.

  • The base color is the starting color of the original image.
  • The blend color is the color being applied to the base image. In the examples I will show, you the blend source is a layer consisting of eight color blocks in varying levels of opacity. The blend color could also be applied with a painting tool.
  • The result color is what you get after combining a blend color with the base color using a blending mode.

In the screen shot here, you can see my layers palette with the base layer and the blend layer exactly as I have set it up for these examples. The Blending Mode is set from the menu at the top left of the layers palette. When a blending mode is applied to the layer above, it will change the appearance of the colors in the layer below.

I have created my blending example image using multiple colors, tones, and opacities in my blend layer, so you can see how these differences change the results of each blending mode in different ways. If you'd like to follow along with my examples in a larger format, you may download my layered example file in PSD format (7.33 MB ZIP) and adjust blending modes on your own screen. I would also encourage you to experiment with blending modes using your own images.

There are two blending modes which are not available for layers--Clear and Behind. For these blending modes, I have used different images for my examples.

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Normal Blending Mode

The Normal Blending Mode
About Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software The Normal Blending Mode.

The Normal Blending Mode

Normal is the default blending mode. It could also be called "none" because it merely applies the blend color to the base image. In bitmapped or indexed colors modes, this blending mode is called Threshold in Photoshop.

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The Behind Blending Mode

The Behind Blending Mode
About Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software The Behind Blending Mode.

The Behind Blending Mode

The Behind blend mode is not available for layers, so I have used a different example image for this mode. It is available from the painting tools such as the paintbrush, airbrush, paint bucket, gradient, clone stamp, and shape tool (in fill pixels mode).

This blending mode allows you to paint directly on a layer without altering the non-transparent pixels that already exist in that layer. The existing pixels will effectively act as a mask, so that new paint will only be applied in the empty areas.

Think of it like this: If you were to place a sticker on a piece of glass, and then paint behind the sticker on the other side of the glass, you would get the same result as you do with the Behind blending mode. In this example, the sticker is the existing, non-transparent layer content.

In the example shown here, I used the paintbrush with a soft brush and a light blue paint color, moving my brush directly over the entire butterfly image.

The Behind Blending mode will be unavailable if preserve transparency is enabled on the target layer.

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The Clear Blending Mode

The Clear Blending Mode
About Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software The Clear Blending Mode.

The Clear Blending Mode

The Clear blending mode is another one that is not available for layers. It is only available for the shape tools (in fill pixels mode), the paint bucket, the brush tool, the pencil tool, the fill command, and the stroke command. It paints each pixel in the underlying image to transparent. This blending mode effectively converts all these tools into an eraser!

In my example, I used the fleur-de-lis shape in fill pixels mode to cut out a section of the wood texture layer in one step. To do this without the clear blending mode, you would have to draw the shape, convert it to a selection, and then delete the selected area, so the clear blend mode can save you steps, and help you erase pixels in way you might not have thought of.

The Clear blending mode will be unavailable for a background layer, or if preserve transparency is enabled on the target layer.

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The Dissolve Blending Mode

The Dissolve Blending Mode
About Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software The Dissolve Blending Mode.

The Dissolve Blending Mode

Dissolve

applies the blend color to the base image in a random pattern of specks, according to the opacity of the blend layer. The specks are denser in areas where the blend layer is more opaque, and sparser in areas where the blend layer is more transparent. If the blend layer is 100% opaque, the Dissolve blend mode will look just like Normal.

I have used the Dissolve blend mode in my Snow Globe tutorial to make snow. Another practical use for the Dissolve blend mode is to create a rough, or grunge effect for text and objects. It can also be useful in conjunction with layer effects in creating textures and effects.

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The Darken Blending Mode

The Darken Blending Mode
About Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software The Darken Blending Mode.

The Darken Blending Mode

The Darken blend mode compares the color information for each pixel of the base and the blend color and applies the darker color as the result. Any pixels in the base image that are lighter than the blend color are replaced, and pixels that are darker are left unchanged. No part of the image will become lighter.

One use for the Darken blend mode it to quickly give your photos a "painterly" effect like a watercolor. To do this:

  1. Open a photo.
  2. Duplicate the background layer.
  3. Apply Gaussian blur of 5 pixels or more (Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur).
  4. Set the blend mode of the blurred layer to Darken.

The Darken blend mode is also useful with the clone stamp tool; for instance, when you want to stamp a dark source object onto a lighter background.

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The Multiply Blending Mode

The Multiply Blending Mode
About Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software The Multiply Blending Mode.

The Multiply Blending Mode

I can't say I really understand the concept of multiplying color, but that's what this Blend mode does. The Multiply blend mode multiplies the base color with the blend color. The resulting color will always be darker, unless the blend color is white, which will result in no change. 100% opaque black multiplied with any color will result in black. As you overlay strokes of color with the Multiply blending mode, each stroke will result in darker and darker color. Photoshop's user guide describes this effect as being similar to drawing on an image with multiple marking pens.

The multiply blend mode works well for creating shadows because it provides a more natural interplay between the dark shadow fill and the underlying color of the object below.

The Multiply blend mode can also be useful for coloring black and white line art. If you place your line art on a layer above your color and set the blend mode to Multiply, the white areas in the blend layer will disappear and you can paint color onto the layers below without worrying about selecting the white sections, or trying to get a clean line.

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The Color Burn Blending Mode

The Color Burn Blending Mode
About Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software The Color Burn Blending Mode.

The Color Burn Blending Mode

The Color Burn blending mode increases the contrast to darken the base color while reflecting the blend color. The darker the blend color, the more intensely the color will be applied in the base image. White as the blend color produces no change.

As you can see from the example, using the color burn blend mode can produce some rather harsh results at full opacity.

The Color Burn blend mode can be used to make tonal and color adjustments to a photo. For example, you can intensify color and warm an image by color burning a pale orange color blend onto the base image. This might transform a mid-day scene to give the illusion it was taken at dusk.

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The Linear Burn Blending Mode

The Linear Burn Blending Mode
About Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software The Linear Burn Blending Mode.

The Linear Burn Blending Mode

The Linear Burn blend mode is similar to Color Burn, but instead of increasing contrast, it decreases brightness to darken the base color and reflect the blend color. It is also similar to the Multiply blend mode, but produces a much more intense result. White as the blend color produces no change.

The Linear Burn blend mode can be used to make tonal and color adjustments to a photo, particularly where you want a greater effect in dark areas of the image.

Note:
The Linear Burn blending mode was introduced in Photoshop 7. It is also known as "Subtract" in some graphics software.

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The Lighten Blending Mode

The Lighten Blending Mode
About Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software The Lighten Blending Mode.

The Lighten Blending Mode

The

Lighten

blending mode compares the color information for each pixel of the base and the blend color and applies the lighter color as the result. Any pixels in the base image that are darker than the blend color are replaced, and pixels that are lighter are left unchanged. No part of the image will become darker.

The Lighten blend mode was used in my tutorial for removing dust and specks from a scanned image. By using the lighten blend mode, it allowed me to use a rather destructive filter, but restrict the correction only to the areas we wanted to remove--the dark specks of dirt on the scanned photo.

The Lighten blend mode is also useful with the clone stamp tool; for instance, when you want to stamp a lighter source object onto a dark background.

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The Screen Blending Mode

The Screen Blending Mode
About Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software The Screen Blending Mode.

The Screen Blending Mode

The Screen blending mode is the opposite of the Multiply mode in that it multiples the inverse of the base color with the blend color. What this means is that your image will get lighter overall. In areas where the blend color is black, the base image will be unchanged, and in areas where the blend or base color is white, the result will be no change. Dark areas in the base image will become significantly lighter, and bright areas will become only slightly lighter. Adobe's user guide describes this effect as being similar to projecting multiple photographic slides on top of each other.

The Screen blending mode can be used to correct an underexposed photo, or to increase detail in the shadow areas of a photo.

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The Color Dodge Blending Mode

The Color Dodge Blending Mode
About Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software The Color Dodge Blending Mode.

The Color Dodge Blending Mode

The Color Dodge blending mode is essentially the opposite of Color Burn. The Color Dodge blending mode decreases the contrast to brighten the base color while reflecting the blend color. The lighter the blend color, the more significant the color dodge effect will be making the result brighter, with less contrast, and tinted toward the blend color. Black as the blend color produces no change.

The Color Burn blend mode can be used to make tonal and color adjustments to a photo as well as creating special effects like glows and metallic effects.

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The Linear Dodge Blending Mode

The Linear Dodge Blending Mode
About Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software The Linear Dodge Blending Mode.

The Linear Dodge Blending Mode

Linear Dodge is the opposite of Linear Burn. It increases brightness to lighten the base color and reflect the blend color. It is also similar to the Screen blend mode, but produces a more intense result. Black as the blend color produces no change. The Linear Dodge blend mode can be used to make tonal and color adjustments to a photo, particularly where you want a greater effect in lighter areas of the image. It can also be used for special effects such as in this tutorial where it is used to create a blazing ball of fire.

Note:
The Linear Dodge blending mode was introduced in Photoshop 7. It is also known as "Add" in some graphics software.

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The Overlay Blending Mode

The Overlay Blending Mode
About Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software The Overlay Blending Mode.

The Overlay Blending Mode

The Overlay blending mode preserves the highlights and shadows of the base color while mixing the base color and the blend color. It is a combination of the Multiply and Screen blending modes--multiplying the dark areas, and screening the light areas. A blend color of 50% gray has no effect on the base image.

Because of the way 50% gray becomes invisible on a overlay blended layer, it can be useful for a number of techniques and special effects.

To create a soft, dreamy effect:;

  1. Duplicate the base layer.
  2. Set the top layer to Overlay blend mode.
  3. Apply Gaussian Blur filter to the Overlay layer and adjust to the desired effect.

To apply high-pass sharpening:

  1. Duplicate the base layer.
  2. Set the top layer to Overlay blend mode.
  3. Go to Filters > Other > High Pass and adjust the radius for the desired amount of sharpening.

To create a movable watermark:

  1. Add some text or a solid shape in a new layer above your image, using black as the fill color.
  2. Go to Filter > Stylize > Emboss and adjust as desired.
  3. Apply Gaussian Blur filter and adjust to 1 or 2 pixels radius.
  4. Set the blend mode to Overlay.
  5. Move layer into position using the move tool.

To create a movable lens flare:

  1. Create a 50% gray solid color fill later above your image.
  2. Do Filter > Render > Lens Flare on this layer. Adjust lens flare effect as desired.
  3. Set the blend mode to Overlay.
  4. Move layer into position using the move tool.

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The Soft Light Blending Mode

The Soft Light Blending Mode
About Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software The Soft Light Blending Mode.

The Soft Light Blending Mode

The

Soft Light

blend mode creates a subtle lighter or darker result depending on the brightness of the blend color. Blend colors that are more than 50% brightness will lighten the base image and colors that are less than 50% brightness will darken the base image. Pure black will create a slightly darker result; pure white will create a slightly lighter result, and 50% gray will have no effect on the base image. Photoshop's User Guide describes this effect as what you would get from shining a diffused spotlight onto the image.

The Soft Light blending mode can be used to correct a washed out, or overexposed, photo. It can also be used to perform dodging and burning on a photo by filling a soft light layer with 50% gray, and then painting with white to dodge or black to burn.

Soft light is also useful for special effects such as the soft focus "glamour" portrait, or the TV line screen effect.

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The Hard Light Blending Mode

The Hard Light Blending Mode
About Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software The Hard Light Blending Mode.

The Hard Light Blending Mode

If Soft Light is like shining a diffused spotlight on an image, the Hard Light blending mode is like shining a harsh spotlight on the image. Hard Light drastically lightens or darkens the base image depending on the brightness of the blend color. The effect is more intense than soft light because the contrast is also increased. Blend colors that are more than 50% brightness will lighten the base image in the same way as the screen blending mode. Colors that are less than 50% brightness will darken the base image in the same way as the multiply blending mode. Pure black will result in black; pure white will create a white result, and 50% gray will have no effect on the base image.

The Hard Light mode can be used for adding highlights and shadows to an image in the same way that you can do dodging and burning with the soft light mode, but the result is harsher and it will desaturate the base image. The Hard Light blending mode can also be used for effects such as a dreamy glow, or for adding a translucent watermark to an image.

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The Vivid Light Blending Mode

The Vivid Light Blending Mode
About Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software The Vivid Light Blending Mode.

The Vivid Light Blending Mode

Vivid Light is another blending mode that lightens or darkens according to the brightness of the blend color, but the result is even more intense than Soft Light and Hard Light. If the blend color is more than 50% brightness the image is dodged (lightened) by decreasing the contrast. If the blend color is less than 50% brightness, the image is burned (darkened) by increasing the contrast. 50% gray has no effect on the image.

One practical use for the Vivid Light blend mode is to add a punch of color to a dull photo by duplicating the image in a new layer, setting the blend mode to vivid Light, and lowering the opacity to achieve the desired result. It can also be used to create more dramatic lighting in a scene.

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The Linear Light Blending Mode

The Linear Light Blending Mode
About Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software The Linear Light Blending Mode.

The Linear Light Blending Mode

Linear Light works almost exactly like Vivid Light except that it lightens or darkens by increasing or decreasing brightness instead of contrast. If the blend color is more than 50% brightness the image is dodged (lightened) by increasing the brightness. If the blend color is less than 50% brightness, the image is burned (darkened) by decreasing the brightness. Like all the "Light" blending modes, 50% gray has no effect on the image.

Linear light can be used for tonal and color in much the same was as Vivid Light, it just gives a slightly different result and can be used to add a boost of color into images where there is little contrast. And, like most blending modes, it can be used for image effects as shown in this tutorial for a stylized photo effect.

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The Pin Light Blending Mode

The Pin Light Blending Mode
About Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software The Pin Light Blending Mode.

The Pin Light Blending Mode

The Pin Light blending mode replaces colors depending on the brightness of the blend color. If the blend color is more than 50% brightness and the base color is darker than the blend color, then the base color is replaced with the blend color. If the blend color is less than 50% brightness and the base color is lighter than the blend color, then the base color is replaced with the blend color. There is no change to the image in areas where a dark color is blended with a darker base color or a light color is blended with a lighter base color.

The Pin Light blending mode is primarily used for creating special effects, like in this tutorial for creating a powder pastels effect. I have also seen this blending mode used to enhance shadows and highlights by applying it to a levels adjustment layer.

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The Difference Blending Mode

The Difference Blending Mode
About Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software The Difference Blending Mode.

The Difference Blending Mode

Put simply, the Difference blending mode highlights the differences between the blend layer and the base layer. The more technical explanation is that the blend color is subtracted from the base color--or vice-versa, depending on the brightness--and the result is the difference between them. When white is the blend color, the base image is inverted. When black is the blend color, there is no change.

The primary use for the difference blending mode is for aligning two images. For instance, if you have to scan an image in two parts, you can put each scan on a different layer, set the blending mode of the top layer to difference, and then nudge the image into place. The overlapping areas will turn black when the two layers are perfectly aligned.

The difference blending mode is also used to create abstract patterns and psychedelic effects. You can apply some unusual coloring to a photo by adding a solid fill layer above the photo and setting the blend mode to difference.

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The Exclusion Blending Mode

The Exclusion Blending Mode
About Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software The Exclusion Blending Mode.

The Exclusion Blending Mode

The Exclusion blending mode works very much like Difference but the contrast is lower. When white is the blend color, the base image is inverted. When black is the blend color, there is no change.

Like the Difference blending mode, Exclusion is used mostly for image alignment and special effects.

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The Hue Blending Mode

The Hue Blending Mode
About Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software The Hue Blending Mode.

The Hue Blending Mode

The Hue blend mode applies the hue of the blend color to the base image while retaining the luminance and saturation of the base image. It gives the base image a tinted effect where the tinting is darkest in areas of high saturation. Where the blend color is a shade of gray (0% saturation), the base image is desaturated and where the base image is gray, the Hue blending mode has no effect.

The Hue blend mode can be used for color replacement, such as in my tutorial for removing red eye.

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The Saturation Blending Mode

The Saturation Blending Mode
About Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software The Saturation Blending Mode.

The Saturation Blending Mode

The Saturation blending mode applies the saturation of the blend color to the base image while retaining the hue and luminance of the base image. Neutral tones (black, white, and gray) in the blend will desaturate the base image. Neutral areas in the base image will not be changed by the saturation blending mode.

The Saturation blending mode is one way of creating the popular partial color photo effect where the focal point of an image is left in color with the rest of the photo in grayscale. To do this you would add a layer filled with gray, set it to the saturation blend mode, and erase from this layer the areas where you want color to come through. Another popular use for the Saturation blend mode is for removing red eye.

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The Color Blending Mode

The Color Blending Mode
About Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software The Color Blending Mode.

The Color Blending Mode

The Color blending mode applies the hue and saturation of the blend color to the base image while retaining the luminance of the base image. Simply put, it colors the base image. Neutral blend colors will desaturate the base image.

The color blending mode can be used to tint color images or to add color to a grayscale scene. It is often used to recreate the look of antique hand-tinted photos by painting onto a grayscale image with the color blending mode.

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The Luminosity Blending Mode

The Luminosity Blending Mode
About Blending Modes in Photoshop and other Graphics Software The Luminosity Blending Mode.

The Luminosity Blending Mode

The Luminosity blending mode applies the luminosity (brightness) of the blend colors to the base image while retaining the hue and saturation of the base image. Luminosity is the opposite of the Color blending mode.

The Luminosity blending mode has often been used to remove undesirable color halos that could result from sharpening. It can also be used for special effects such as in this tutorial for turning a photo into a painting.