Fun With Blending
The day I discovered how to use Photoshop layer blend modes was the day my entire design game changed. I had already been using Photoshop for quite a few years, but only ever using it for basics like cropping, recoloring, and removing backgrounds. When I saw how you could manipulate the individual layer effects over top of other layers it was a game changer.
If you’re not familiar with them, the Photoshop layer blend effects are found on the Layers panel, under the drop down menu to the left of the Opacity drop down. If you click on that menu a list of effects will show up. You can apply any of these blend effects to any layer. This essentially allows different layers to be blended together in a variety of different ways.
Using The Blend Modes
Each effect is sorted by what it does when applied to a layer; how it affects the pixels. This is why there are the division lines between groups of effects.
The best way to understand what each one does is to play around with them. The next best thing is to look at a handy guide, like the ones below.
To demonstrate exactly how each blend effect works, I’m showing a solid orange colour on top of an image of mountains at 90% opacity (Though the last one is at 50%).
You can find the image I’m using here. The orange colour is #ff9c00.
What Each Blend Modes Does
If you want the in-depth information about exactly what each blend mode does, there are some great guides online that go into much more detail that is probably necessary, but are still pretty interesting. Check out the Photoshop Training Channel’s ‘Complete Guide to Photoshop Blend Modes‘ and Adobe’s Blending Mode Descriptions page if you want to see the specifics of how each blend mode works.
If you want a quick rundown on what each one does, this should suffice.
Normal Blend Modes
These aren’t actually blending modes, since there is no blending. However, you can decrease transparency here for a normal or noisy look. Normal is the default applied to all layers.
Darken Blend Modes
These blend modes essentially darken the layers below in various ways.
- Color Burn
- Linear Burn
- Darker Color
Lighten Blend Modes
These blend modes essentially lighten the layers below in various ways.
- Color Dodge
- Linear Dodge (Add)
- Lighter Color
Contrast Blend Modes
These blend modes basically add more contrast to the layers under. You can produce some very powerful visuals using these.
- Soft Light
- Hard Light
- Vivid Light
- Linear Light
- Pin Light
- Hard Mix
Inversion Blend Modes
These blend modes invert or cancel out colours.
Component Blend Modes
These blend modes have various effects that alter the colour like increasing the saturation or removing colour from the layer(s) below.
Just Another Blend Mode Example
This image showcases each blend effect again, this time using a solid purple colour over top and image. To see the image better click on it.
You can find the image I’m using here. The purple colour is #8560a8
Photoshop Layer Blend Modes: In Summary
The Photoshop layer blend modes can be used to make some pretty amazing work, especially in combination with other Photoshop tools. Experiment with each blend effect to know how each one works. Try using solid colours over top images as well as images over other images to really get a feel for how the blend modes work.
What’s your favorite Photoshop layer blend mode? I think I’ve had the most success with Overlay. That being said, in the image above, I think Color Dodge looked the best. Let me know in the comments below!