How to Use Photoshop® Blend Modes Like a Pro


Lesson Info

What are Blending Modes?

Blending modes are a set of mathematical equations that allow you to blend layers together. I know it sounds complicated but actually it is not, it's very easy. You have one layer, you have a second layer or more below. The layer on top you can apply one of these algorithms, mathematical equations, and don't worry, you're not gonna do any math. And those pixels are blended with the layers below, depending on their luminosity, color, or hue. And we're gonna go through a lot of examples of what that means, but that's basically it. We have a layer, we apply a blending mode, and it blends with the layers below. Blending modes are non-destructive, which means that you can always come back and change them, if you need to, or completely remove them from a layer. And you can apply them to any object in the layers panels. This is the layers panel here, so anything that goes inside of that layers panel, could have a blending mode applied to it, including groups. The question that I usually get a...

sked once I start teaching blending modes is "I have Photoshop, you know CS6, do I have blending modes?" You have Photoshop CS6? I have all the Photoshops since Photoshop five, still. Awesome. There you go. So yeah, so the question usually is, I have Photoshop CS or whatever version, do I have blending modes. And the answer is yes. Blending modes were first introduced in Photoshop 3.0, which came out in 1994, and it included the 19 original blending modes. They're all listed there. Just a fun fact, this version of Photoshop also introduced layers. So before Photoshop three there was no layers. Can you guys imagine that? Just working in Photoshop without layers. So yeah, Photoshop three, the first time that we got layers and blending modes, and those are the 19 original ones there. I started in version seven and they added five additional blending modes, and also very importantly, they added the fill slider, which is this slider here in the layers panel fill, right under opacity, and that's gonna become very important. In total, there are 27 blending modes, the 19 original ones, and eight added later. We're gonna talk about those eight blending modes, because they're very important, and we're gonna reference back to this in a moment. But just for reference Photoshop CS gave us one new blending mode, Hard Mix. Photoshop CS5 gave us the two newest blending modes, Subtract and Divide, so if you have CS5 or newer, you have all the blending modes in Photoshop to work with. Something that I didn't mention earlier but I think is very important, is that blending modes are found in the layers panel, but they're also found through several tools in the tools bar, including the brush tool, the spot healing brush tool, and several other tools. In this session, or this class, we're only going to focus on the blending modes inside of the layers panel, but they all work very similarly, so if you understand the concepts of how they work in the layers panel, those same concepts translate over to the tools, to the blending modes inside of the tools. So, how do we select blending modes? Well, we have a layer. That layer is selected here in blue. And, if we wanted to mix that layer with the layers below, we have one option, use the opacity slider. We can reduce the opacity, and you can see how that starts bringing out the underlying layers. But Photoshop is much more powerful than that. We can tell it to blend the layer on top with the layers below based on different aspects of the image. It could be the luminosity, the color, the hue, different things. So, in this example, just to show you how to select the blending mode. You can click on this unlabeled dropdown menu that simply reads normal. Normal is the default blending mode, which means there's nothing applied to it, no math. It's just there, and the only way to blend it is by reducing the opacity. So if I click on this dropdown menu, I can select a blending mode such as multiply, and it blends those pixels with the layer below. We're gonna talk about multiply and exactly what it's doing later on, so I'm not gonna go into too much detail now, but I do want to point out, that you can see how now this image sort of looks like a vintage photo because we have eliminated the brighter pixels from the image and kept the darker ones. That's what multiply does and again, I'm gonna talk about that later on. But the reason I'm showing you this is so that you understand that luminosity plays a big part in blending modes. It also means that if we change the luminosity of the layer, we can change how the blend affects the layers below. For example, if I create a levels adjustment layer and click on this icon here to clip it to the layer below, that little icon there with the square pointing down in the properties panel, or you could also press Ctrl, Alt, G, Command, Option, G on the Mac, to clip it to the layer below. When you see this little down pointing arrow in the layers panel, that means that this adjustment layer is only affecting that layer below. The levels adjustment layer allows you to change the luminosity of the layers, or in this case that one particular layer because it's clipped. So notice that when we start adjusting the luminosity of the layer, the blend changes. That's because we're changing the luminance values of this texture layer, and it changes how it blends with the layers below. So if I come back into this texture layer and change it back to normal, you will see how now that we have a really bright layer, most of the texture is gone, especially on this white areas when we apply the multiply blending modes. So I'm gonna go back into multiply and oops, sorry about that, I selected the wrong layer. I have to be on the texture layer, then go into multiply. So you can see how the areas that were bright are basically invisible and we're only showing the areas that were a bit darker. So this is just to illustrate that luminosity plays a big part in blending modes, and you can change the blend by changing the luminosity of the layers using adjustment layers.

Blend Modes are perhaps the most powerful and misunderstood features in Photoshop®. In this information-packed class, Jesús Ramirez will demystify these seemingly scary options and show you Blend Modes in a whole new light. You’ll discover exactly what Blend Modes are, how they work, and how you can find the right one to use for your project. You’ll also have the opportunity to work on several real-life examples so you can learn how to use Blend Modes in your retouching, compositing and other creative projects.



  • I would recommend it for beginners but when it said "like a pro" I assumed it would be more advanced. It covered the groups with mainly one example from each group. What I was looking for was some knowledge of all the modes in a group and the relationships. I know that lighten lightens and so does screen but what is the difference and when to apply each. Same with color dodge and linear dodge, and all the various members of all the groups. Otherwise I am doomed to merely "scroll through and pick one I like".