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Layer Blending Modes in Adobe Photoshop

Lesson 1 of 5

Class Introduction: Dissolve Mode

Ben Willmore

Layer Blending Modes in Adobe Photoshop

Ben Willmore

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Lesson Info

1. Class Introduction: Dissolve Mode

Lesson Info

Class Introduction: Dissolve Mode

Right now we're gonna get into blending modes. Blending modes is a menu you're gonna find in many areas of PhotoShop, the primary area that you see it is at the top of your layers panel, where if you have multiple layers in your document, whichever layers you have active, you can find a menu at the top that usually says normal and has a long list of choices. You'll find the same menu when you use the paintbrush tool and many other tools, and if we can get you a general understanding of that menu, then you're gonna be able to do a lot more in PhotoShop. Let's jump right into PhotoShop and get started. I'm gonna create a brand new empty layer here. So, I'll click on the New Layer icon at the bottom of my Layers panel, and I'll choose the paintbrush tool, and with a soft edge brush, I'm just gonna paint on my image, just to have something to work with. Then I'll go to the top of my layers panel and that's where you're gonna find the blending mode menu. That menu will be grayed out if you'...

re working on the background layer because that menu determines how the layer you're working on is going to blend in with the layers that are below it and you can't have any layers below the background so it doesn't appear when the background layer is active but when you have a layer above, then it should be active. I click here and we get this long list of choices. Well, that list, if you take a look at it is divided up into various sections. You see those horizontal lines that break it up. Well, the reason why it does that is because each blending mode that is found within a section is, they're all related to each other. They have some common qualities and it's more important to understand the common qualities of each section than it is to understand the individual choices found within a section because if you understand the way one works then you will find that the others are just variations on that theme and therefore, if one choice in a particular category would be useful, you can probably try all the choices that are in there for the same type of a purpose. At the very top, we have normal mode, and in normal mode, there's nothing special done to cause the layer you're currently working on to blend with the layer that's underneath, nothing special. So, that's what every layer starts out at. Below that is a choice called dissolve. It's not one that I use very often, but let's take a look at it. In dissolve mode, the contents of the current layer can either be completely opaque, meaning that you cannot see through it all, or it can completely transparent, meaning missing or gone. You can't have anything that's partially transparent. You might call that translucent. So, if there's anything you can partially see through, that area is going to change when we change it to dissolve mode. So, take a look at the pain you can see just near the right edge of my screen, and notice that the edge of it has a soft edge where it slowly fades out, and in that fade out region you can start seeing through it more and more, and more. Well, that's where dissolve mode is gonna kick in, and let's see what happens when I change it to dissolve. Now it's still trying to simulate that edge fading out, but it's doing it by, let's see here, if I can zoom to where I need to, but it's doing it by using solid pixels. Here we go, and that's dissolving out, and you can paint, when it's in that mode, you might wanna try lowering the opacity of your brush because that should make it so your brush is see through and then when you paint, you're gonna find it has a dissolved appearance. Now the problem with this is that I might like that dissolved appearance for certain things, but it's a temporary function of that layer. I can't do things like, for instance, blur that and have those little specs take on a soft edge because all blurring does to the contents of a layer like this one is it would cause that fadeout to be more gradual that's there, and then dissolve mode would kick in right afterwards and make it look like this. I wouldn't be able to get a soft appearance. So, let me show you how I can make this a little more usable. What I'm gonna do here is I'm gonna create a brand new empty layer by clicking on the New Layer icon, and then I'm gonna position that layer below the one that's in dissolve mode. I'll click on the one that's in dissolve mode and now what I'm going to do is choose Merge Down. If I choose Merge Down, the contents of the current layer are going to be deposited on the layer below. The layer below is in normal mode, that's how all layers begin, and so it's going to attempt to retain this visual look but doing it in normal mode, and so what that's gonna end up doing to this layer, is any areas that have been temporarily hidden, because we're in dissolve mode will actually be thrown away. So, let's try it out. I'll go the layer menu, I'm gonna choose Merge Down, and now if you look at my layers panel, we still have the same appearance in my document but this layer is now in normal mode, and that means there's nothing special causing it to have this effect. That effect is native to the layer now and I could come up here to my filter menu for instance maybe do a little motion blur, and get a different look in my image. Now you might not have a great idea of when you would want that, because all I did was paint on a layer, but what I might be doing instead, I'll throw that layer away, is I might be using the text tool to put some text on my image, and here I'll be creative and use the default text. Then I could go to the bottom of my layers panel, click on the letter FX and add something, like maybe an outer glow, which would create a glowy thing behind this, bring my opacity up, I'll bring up the size which will make it fade out a bit and that type of stuff, click OK. Well, what if I take that glowy thing that represents the shape of this text? I can somehow get it into dissolve mode so it looks like little speckles, so it'll look different and if I merge it into an empty layer, then I'm able to do things like apply filters to it, maybe that little motion blur. Then I can create a glow around my text that looks quite different than normal, it has texture to it. Now it's not as easy to do that, as you might think because this is a setting attached to a layer, but I can go to the layer menu, and there's a choice in there called layer style and right there is my outer glow. If I chose that, I would go into the settings I was just using to create that outer glow but what I'm gonna do in here is there is a choice called Create Layer, and what that means is take any effects that are attached to this layer. It could be a drop shadow, it could be an outer glow. It could be anything that you've added from that FX menu at the bottom of your layers panel and watch what happens in my layers panel when I choose create layer. Instead of being a setting attached to this layer where you can see it over there with an eyeball that says outer glow, when I choose Create Layer, it becomes its own independent layer, and therefore because it's its own layer, I can now change its blending mode, and I might choose to use something like dissolve. Now I have that glow around my text that looks a bit different. I can further modify it by running a filter. Maybe I blur it or maybe I come down and distort it using something like ripple. In this case, I think the ripples a little too basic so let's go for a motion blur instead. Oh, it's still in dissolve mode. I was wondering why it wasn't looking right. I got the effect onto its own layer. I set it to dissolve, but it's remaining in dissolve mode. I did not do the final little trick we needed to do, and that was, I'm gonna create a brand new empty layer, put it underneath it and then merge that down. That's what got it to be in a normal layer. So, let's go to the layer menu, choose merge down. I was wondering why ripple didn't really have a visual effect, well, I need to have that layer in normal mode and that's how I can get it that way. Now I can come here and try something. Let's see if ripple actually produces a result. Yes, it gave me a more randomized edge or I could come up and motion blur to get a completely different look. On occasion, I find that choice of dissolve to be useful, mainly when I wanna speckle the appearance to something, so I lower the opacity of something so you could usually see through it but in dissolve mode, it won't be able to be see through. Instead it'll be diffused, these little specs and then I have to merge it into an empty layer so that I can further enhance it. That's dissolve mode, not a mode that I use every day.

Class Description


  • Change the color of any object
  • Apply Textures
  • Create Dodge & Burn Layers
  • Understand why the menu is divided into specific groupings
  • Apply real-world uses for most modes


  • Beginner, intermediate, and advanced users of Adobe Photoshop.
  • Those who want to gain confidence in Adobe Photoshop and learn new features to help edit photos.
  • Students who’d like to take ordinary images and make them look extraordinary with some image editing or Photoshop fixes.


Adobe Photoshop 2020 (V21)

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Loved this class! The instructor is very clear, direct, and instructive. Doesn't waste time. Highly recommended!