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An Overview of Adobe Photoshop Blend Modes

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There are 27 blend modes available in Adobe Photoshop CC and blend modes in general are one of the most useful tools available for photo retouching and creating interesting effects or composites.

Blend modes impact how the colors of a top layer interact with the colors of the layers underneath. It’s often very hard to predict what the effect of a specific blend mode will be, so the easiest is often to test them out every time. A quick way to test out different blend modes is to hit Shift+ or Shift- with the Move Tool V active to go up or down the list of blend modes.

Blend modes in Photoshop

Photoshop separates the different blend modes in 6 groups: normal, darken, lighten, contrast, inversion/cancellation and component. Even if it’s often hard to predict how blend modes will look on a given image, knowing what each one does in general can be really useful. So here’s an overview of the 27 blend modes:

Normal Blend Modes:

  • Normal: No blend mode. The default.
  • Dissolve: Partially transparent pixels get a diffuse pattern. A rather odd blend mode.

Darken Blend Modes:

  • Darken: Keeps the darker pixels from the active and background layers.
  • Multiply: The most used blend mode for darkening because it often results in the most desirable blend. It multiplies the luminance levels of the active layer and background layer.
  • Color Burn: Similar to Multiply, except darker, with more saturated midtones and decreased highlights.
  • Linear Burn: Similar to Color Burn, but slightly less saturated.
  • Darker Color: Similar to Darken, but the process applied is different in that the blend is calculated on a composite of the RGB channels instead of separately.

Lighten Blend Modes:

  • Lighten: Keeps the lighter pixels from the active and background layers.
  • Screen: Analogous to Multiply because it’s the most used blend mode for lightening. It very often results in the most desirable blend.
  • Color Dodge: Similar to Screen, except lighter, with more saturated midtones and blown highlights.
  • Linear Dodge: Similar to Color Dodge, but slightly less saturated.
  • Lighter Color: Similar to Lighten, but the process applied is different in that the blend is calculated on a composite of the RGB channels instead of separately.

Contrast Blend Modes:

The contrast blend modes work by applying a lightening blend to lighter colors and a darkening blend to darker colors. It therefore increases contrast by lightening the lights pixels and darkening the dark pixels.

  • Overlay: Also one of the most used blend modes. It’s a combination of the Screen and Multiply blend modes.
  • Soft Light: Also a combination of the Screen and Multiply blend modes, but the result is less intense than with Overlay. A very popular blend mode.
  • Hard Light: A combination of the Linear Dodge and Linear Burn blend modes.
  • Vivid Light: A combination of the Color Dodge and Color Burn blend modes.
  • Linear Light: A combination of the Linear Dodge and Linear Burn blend modes.
  • Pin Light: A combination of the Lighten and Darken blend modes.
  • Hard Mix: Creates a very intense contrast blend.

Inversion / Cancellation Blend Modes:

  • Difference: Similar colors cancel each other and become black.
  • Exclusion: Similar colors cancel each other and become gray.
  • Subtract: This blend mode is very similar to the Difference blend mode.
  • Divide: Similar colors cancel each other and become white, creating very blown-out highlights.

Component Blend Modes:

  • Hue: Keeps the hue of the top layer and lets the saturation and luminance of the background layer pass through. So in effect the color of the top layer is kept.
  • Saturation: Keeps the saturation of the top layer and lets the hue and luminance of the background layer pass through.
  • Color: Keeps the color value of the top layer and lets the luminance of the background layer pass through.
  • Luminance: Keeps the luminance value of the top layer and lets the hue and saturation of the background layer pass through.

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