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A Complete Guide to Color in Adobe Illustrator

Lesson 10 of 15

Color Blend Modes and Opacity

Jason Hoppe

A Complete Guide to Color in Adobe Illustrator

Jason Hoppe

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Lesson Info

10. Color Blend Modes and Opacity
Explore blend modes on how colors can be combined. Practical applications of blend modes and opacity.

Lesson Info

Color Blend Modes and Opacity

blend modes and opacity. Now this is an interesting and fun topic. What blend modes do is allow you to take shapes or objects that are filled with color and blend those colors together. As those shapes interact. I have several different shapes filled with different colors. This one's actually white here. You can't see it, but it's there. And I have also some practical examples of items that I have created that use different blend modes. So let's start off with the blend modes here. If you have your control bar active could go to the opacity link and click on the opacity link to call up the blend mode and opacity panel, and you have your list of different types of blend modes or blending modes, as illustrator calls them. Photoshop calls them blend modes. We're just going to call them blend modes. Here is our list of blend modes that we have in Illustrator Now. I'm not going to go through what each and every single one does because there's very scientific terms about lighter colors and d...

arker colors and how they interact. But a really good way of understanding what these dio is by section you'll notice that darken, multiplying, color burn all show up in one section. Everything in here is going to create a darker version of the colors. This section is lighten, so everything here is going to lighten, lighten screen and color dodge. This is going to create an over light, a soft or a hard light, and this is going to give kind of differing things based on the intensity and the hue and saturation of the colors. Difference in exclusion is going to give you the opposite because it's going to give you the difference. And hue, saturation, color and luminosity is going to change the colors based on what is in front and what is behind the other way that you can access. This opacity panel, as well as the blend modes, is if you select a shape or shapes, go over to your properties panel, where you have your fill, your stroke and your opacity. If you click on the opacity, you will also get the blend mode. Drop down menu as well. Pick and choose whatever you like. They're identical. I'm going to use the one at the top of the screen because it makes a little bit easier and more convenient for what we're doing now. I just want to show you kind of the different blend modes here. Some of the very basic blend modes our multiply, and you can see what I multiply these shapes together. Then you take the yellow and you take the blue and it makes green, and it kind of turns thes shapes into translucent objects where it's like light is passing through them. You may have done this when you were a kid, where you take the different types of plastic and you hold them up to the light and you see how everything changes. And you put those pieces of plastic or glass together and the light comes through and changes. So this is what blend modes Dio multiply is a very common blend mode and with blend with our sorry with multiply. It's basically taking the two colors together, and you see that on those little bags with little seals where you put the two together yellow and blue make green, so you know that the seal has been created, so that's a multiply blend mode. Now, one interesting thing with multiply that's very unique and interesting is that the multiply blend mode will make white disappear. So if you have anything with white and you choose white or you choose the blend mode of malting thing, Okay, so anything that contains white and use the multiply mode, it will make it look like it disappears, which could be quite interesting. What I'm gonna do is I'm going to select all my shapes and I'm going to apply just the different blend modes here. I just wanted to show you a different combination of light and dark, different saturation graze whites and different types of Hughes and how these blend modes actually change. So under the opacity menu, I'm going to go when I'm gonna choose Darken. Let's see what happens. Okay, so some of these get a little bit darker and remember, dark and multiply and color burn are all going to have a darker result. And you can see here how, when you put the green in the magenta, you get kind of a brownish magenta here and here. You've got a nice overlay of gray making this red look like it's in the shadow. Nothing's happening with black because black isn't going to darken anymore than black is so multiply, color, burn. You try different objects, different items here. Color burn doesn't seem to do anything. But if we had the right color combinations, it would probably make it darker. Let's jump over to lighten and you can see here when I lighten something. In most cases, it goes toe white. But here, because of based on the values, it gives me kind of this lighter yellow. Well, that's kind of interesting. And now one interesting key with this multiply will knock out and make white completely disappear. Lighten will make black disappear pretty interesting. And those are two very common blending modes that we use. And you're gonna see this down in these objects that we've created down here. You're going to see how that works. So screen mode doesn't really change much of anything either. Color Dodge. Okay, so we get some yellows in here as they go through. Now, you can look online and you can see all the scientific explanations about color value and how these air gonna work. I don't even pay attention to that because I, like most people, just run through these and be like, Okay, that's a really interesting effect. I think I'll use that overlay is going to create different reactions between different types of colors. They're soft light, so it gives a nice, soft version of this kind of takes the white as if it's kind of filtering it out. So that's interesting. Hard light is going to be a little bit more abrupt as well. Difference is going to give us just the opposite of these things so you can see that we get different values here as well. Exclusion doesn't seem to change much of anything, Hugh. Here we go. Get a little bit different of the hue, depending on what is in front and what isn't back. Saturation kind of changes a few things as well color. Okay, so we get a couple of color shifts again. These air all based on the different mathematical situations of the hue, saturation, brightness and so on. So those are different types of blending boats right there. Go back to normal and the colors just become solid. Now I want to show you why we use blending modes and the reason why is because I don't want to go in and create different colors. on things. But I do want to show you how this works in riel life scenarios. I've built this fire hydrant, and I've also built a section of the fire hydrant to go over this to kind of dark in to create a slip shadow. Now, the color that I've used here is just simply a gray and I've used about a 70% gray. I've also applied in opacity to it and I can click on the opacity. I'm gonna slide that back to 100 and I'm going to click on the word opacity and I'm going to send this to normal for now. So if I take this and I'd like to create some type of darker edge or slip shadow and I created that shape to match the other portion of the hydrant, I'm going to snap that to the edge. And I'm going to start changing the opacity of this object to sit down about 65% and you can see what I do this. It just kind of looks like a little dirty. It looks like I've just got some type of funky color over the top of it, and we know that a shadow is just a darker version of whatever object that were casting the shadow on numbers taking right away. But by taking this dark color and adjust adjusting the opacity, it really doesn't create that kind of dark and effect. Here's where things get wonderful. Once we apply an opacity to you, this something less than 100% and then we go in and we use the multiply mode. You can see that it's going to take that portion and it's going to take the red of the hydrant, and it's going to darken it just like there's a shadow, and this works marvelously well. So if I take this gray and I'd like to make this orange circle have this kind of gray effect over this, I'm going to select both of these or I can select just the gray Don't have to select the back one because I'm not going to be blending the back went into anything, and we set this to multiply, and you can see once I do that, it creates a really nice shadow, you know, kind of like an eclipse or something where you get a partial eclipse and it's kind of going over that so interesting. How Weaken Do that and kind of blend those in. And now we can adjust. The opacity of this is well to go and control How much intensity we'd like of this color to multiply over the surface. Kind of interesting. I'm doing the same thing on the fish bowl. This is a fairly complex illustration. So I'm going to go into my layers panel and I'm going thio not one group this entire piece here. I just want to get into the water sections. Now the water is kind of fun because, of course, when you're looking through a glass bowl, you're going to see different reflections. And you're also going to see different colors as the sun hits it out of the light hits it or something darker. A shadow is cast. So if I click on any one of my items in here in my fish bowl, I can select this color and this happens to be this blue happens to be behind all of my other colors. This other gray is in front. I'm going to see what type of blend mode I've applied to this. I haven't applied a blend mode to this. But I did apply in opacity to this, Going to set this opacity back up to 100 see what this looks like. So that's the color looks like at 100% opacity. The problem with this is is that I no longer see the little wave in the back of my fish bowl, so it kind of takes away some of the impact of this wave. So if I do set this down so they can see this opacity through this object, this gives me a little bit better rendition of what water actually looks like. Okay, that's interesting. Now, I could try different blend modes as well. I could try, multiply and see how that works. That kind of darkens it up a little bit. Not much is going to change because this color is fairly light in the opacity is fairly light. But you can play with these items to make it look quite interesting. I'm gonna go and I'm going to select the bowl itself. And this is a way that I do a slip shadow on a bowl. If I'd like to have kind of my white portion of the bowl and make the rest of it dark. Here I had created a slip shadow on the fire hydrant to make it dark, so I just took that slip shadow, made it a dark gray, said it to multiply and set the opacity down to 65%. But on a glass or an object that I want to make it look like there's a highlight on there. I don't put a highlight on there. What I do is I actually just slightly shade the rest of the object to make it look like the highlight stands out. So here I've filled it with a color. But the opacity is way down at 6%. Let me set this back up to 100% and see what it looks like. That was the color that I chose. Why did I choose such a dark color? Why didn't it choose a light color? Well, if I choose a light color and I try to blend it, it doesn't have much effect. The darker, more saturated tones are going to give me more of an effect, then the lighter 10th of my objects and the ones that are less saturated So I'm going to set this way down. And because the opacity is so low, I mean, 6% is almost nothing. But it's enough that you can kind of see this cast of the bowl. That kind of gives us this depth and dimension. That's kind of interesting. So now I'm also going to select my little highlight noodle here and again. I set that highlight noodle it 50%. What color was that? Well, this is actually a white highlight noodle, right? And what's gonna be pretty harsh if I just put it on the bowl like that? It just looks like it's stuck on there like a sticker. Now, remember this. I'm trying to indicate glass in this glass fish bowl and having the fun with water flowing around and the light hitting it and kind of refracting through there, So white just doesn't look just right being so solid. I don't need to blend this in it all, but I can just go in and I can change the opacity here at 50% and set that. And there you go. Now, if I do the same thing with this white circle and I set the opacity here it 50%. You can see that All that's going to do is just kind of cast that kind of a softer look, kind of creating what looks like a tent of the lower color. Now, again, if you're trying to blend colors together other than white like we have here and you really want these colors to blend together just simply setting the opacity here really doesn't do much of a blending purpose. If you really want the colors to blend together, then you can take this and set this toe multiply, which is a fantastic thing. And I blend those together like that. Then I can control the intensity of that with the opacity. So just fun things tohave Lastly, going over to my waffle. Let's go into my waffle here. I'm gonna open up the group. I'm not gonna go on a new group. Everything. I'm just gonna target it directly in my layers panel. And here I've created kind of this syrup coming over the waffle. You'll notice that I've set this back at 60%. I'm going to set this at 100% right? Not 10 going to set it at 100% at returned to quickly there. I'm going to set this at 100% and that's going to set by intensity to 100%. Why can I still see through it? Because the opacity panel here is set to multiply. If I do normal, then it just looks like this gray blob on top. If I set the opacity down, it looks okay. But it looks like it's just kind of like this chalky and not really integrated item on my document, so I just I want a little bit more. That's where blend modes come in. Blend modes are just phenomenal. I love using them because it truly makes it look like a highlight. Or shadow is not just kind of placed on top with some great kind of fuzzy fog. It actually makes it look like it's integrated into the actual objects. Now, one thing that I want Thio go ahead and stress here. That could be a little bit tricky if you do run into a file that has blends and opacity is applied to them. Now we're going to jump over to the appearance panel because I'd like to show you something that could be slightly complicated that you may run into at some point go under window, call up the appearance panel. Not everybody uses the appearance panel, But I can tell you there's certain things that can make the appearance panel quite fantastic. And it could also make things complicated. So is there is that kind of razor's edge? I'm going to go to my original yellow and Cyan circles here, but I'm going to apply a stroke to my science circle. Say, I'm gonna make it green, and I'm going to bump up that stroke all around my object. You know what? I'm gonna make it something other than green because yellow and green, yellow and blue are gonna make green. So I'm gonna make this red. Okay, Red stroke in the appearance panel, we can take it one step further with opacity. We do not have to have the opacity of our overall object just simply applied to the object. And the only place that we can do this in a way that really makes sense, is the appearance panel. So if I go to my appearance panel, I select my object, I can set the overall opacity and I don't know why the overall opacity wouldn't be like on top of my object. It's on the bottom of my object, which I've never understood, why it's on the bottom, because you would think that overall opacity would be on the top. For some reason, it's not here. If I set the opacity here, this is going to be basically my global opacity for my entire selected shape. I say 50% and I hit return. And now both the stroke and the fill are going to be translucent. I'm gonna go back and I'm gonna click on this, and I'm going to say I want to set this back a 100%. And now you can see when I open up my stroke and my fil Aiken set those separately. So if I set the opacity of my stroke, it's a 75%. This will allow 75% of the color to be there. So 25% of the background to show through I can click on the opacity link on my fill portion of my object, and I'm gonna set this a 35% and click OK, and you can see now with my object. We'll zoom in on this. You can see very closely how this looks. You can now see that the ring around or the stroke around my object is at 75% opacity and the Phyllis 35% opacity. Now here's the bizarre thing. You can then go in and set the overall opacity down even further. So I've set the opacity of the stroke in the Phil, and now the overall opacity is going to be 80% overall. And this could be really, really, really confusing. And the reason why I tell you to use the appearance panel is because when you click up here and you set the opacity back and you just say, Okay, you know, I know what's going on here. I see this as a passive. He applied to it, and I slide this all the way back to 100%. It's like, Why am I still getting opacity on this? I don't understand. Appearance panel is going to tell you that. So when you go in, you can see the opacity on the stroke and the Phil, and you may need to open up the stroke in the Phil to see that, and this is really important. Now, one odd thing, and this happens to be when you're dealing with anything with a stroke, I'm going to set the opacity of my stroke. Say, down to 65%. Why is it that I get this ring around the object here that I get this double ring? So my outline is kind of this red, but it also seems like it's interacting with my scion here. Why does Why does it do this? Why does the film go all the way to their well guess what, folks? The appearance panel click on the stroke here. Stroke is the line to the center of our shape. Okay, so it's going to put the stroke. We have a 12 point stroke. It's gonna put six points inside and six points outside. When you use opacity and you get this issue, you can set the stroke to be completely on the outside of your shape so that it doesn't intrude. Pass your actual shape or you can set the stroke to completely on the inside. Well, when you set it to the inside, surprisingly enough, the stroke now is completely inside the object, So the fill of your object here, too, is going to start to change the color of the stroke. I know there's lots of things that you have to watch out for, but when you do get this, this is just the default. Every time you draw an object and you apply a stroke to it, the stroke is always going to be equally based inside and outside that object. Or if you draw a line, it'll be equally placed on both sides of the line. So this is why you get this weird effect when you have a stroke and you play with both the stroke capacity in the fill opacity separately. Something to think about. But blend modes and opacity do have very important features, and you're going to see them in a lot of things that you may get a hold of in terms of logos or illustrations. If you ever open up one and you're trying to figure that out, your appearance panel is definitely going to be your friend. Now we can do the same thing with the Properties panel to if we select any object or shape, we can go into our stroke and our Phil here we clean click on our stroke, but you notice that we don't have the ability to go in and set the stroke opacity or the fill opacity separately. We can only go in and set the overall opacity. Here we click on this and then call up. Ah, rapacity panel. Quite interesting. So how do we go and try to set this all of this back to basically the default? Because if I go up here, it tells me that my entire object to set a 100% capacity so I shouldn't expect to see anything showing through Well, a way to do this is to take this shape, go to your appearance panel again and basically click on the little no symbol. We're going to clear the appearance off of this. And when we clear the appearance, what it's going to do is it's going to take the Phil and the stroke and all of your opacity off that, okay, because this is like kind of like a desperate situation. You're like, Why is this doing this now? On the other hand, if you knew how to go in and clear everything from here, You're probably gonna No, to open up and look at every single portion of this object stroke and the fill and the overall opacity of this as well. That's going to be the tell tale sign of what's going on. So very interesting things. So I love using blend modes. I love using opacity. It can get complicated here, but just want to show you other ways to get in there. And your appearance panel is definitely going to be your friend. So have some fun with this. Go and try and see how these blend modes work with your opacity. Remember, go back into your appearance panel there, click on your objects there and find out just what's going on. You're going to discover a lot.

Class Description


  • Understand color modes.
  • Create colors, save them to your library and export for use in other applications.
  • Explore color harmonies and color themes.
  • Use the recolor artwork feature to create alternate artwork colors.
  • Create tints, opacity and blending modes.


Intro to Color in Adobe illustrator is for those who are looking for a deeper and broader knowledge of color in illustrator. This class takes you from the very basics of creating swatches and picking colors by using the color picker, to being able to set up color modes for web, mobile or print projects. Using the Color Picker and Color panels, this class will explain different color modes such as RGB, CMYK and HSB as well as how to apply these color modes in your work.

The series expands to using the Adobe Color themes and Color Guide to search, edit and create new sets of color swatches to best suit your projects. Adobe color website and additional options for creating color swatches, as well as using images to inspire your color palette.

More advanced features of color include the Recolor artwork, mapping spot colors to existing colors as well as an overview of spot colors, blend modes and opacity. Color accessibility is explained to adjust artwork for color blindness. Blend modes and opacity as well as spot colors round out this course. A few tips and best practices are included for how to set up a color palette for specific projects and to share, save and export these color palettes for other projects.


  • Beginners who are learning illustrator basics
  • Artists and creators who want to explore color harmonies and color themes
  • Advanced users who want to master color creating, editing and management


Adobe Illustrator CC 2021


An Adobe® Certified Expert and Adobe® Certified Instructor, Jason Hoppe has accrued more than 17 years’ experience in high-end production training, photo retouching, color correction, and creative workflow management. In fact, Jason has been performing high-end electronic production since the industry’s inception. Also during this time, Jason has taught prepress and electronic design to hundreds of Seattle-based creative professionals and aspiring designers in a variety of settings, including one-on-one tutoring, classroom instruction, live webcasting, and large group training. He currently teaches the Adobe® Creative Suite at The School of Visual Concepts, Luminous Works and Seattle Central College and was the founding Instructor at CreativeLive.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Working AI Files

Color Modes

Color Wheel.mp4

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Student Work

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Paula Ayers

Well taught and super useful. Will be looking at his other classes.