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All 27 Blending Modes In Photoshop Explained

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When first working with the different blending modes in Photoshop, it’s almost an experiment of scrolling through the 27 modes to see what works on your image. This is time-consuming and you never truly know what each blending mode can offer.

Luckily, this tutorial will break down and explain every blend mode in Photoshop to help you better understand which to use and why.

What Are Blending Modes In Photoshop?

Blending modes affect how a layer’s colors and exposure values are blended with the layers beneath it. Simply put, these blending modes work similarly to the Opacity function. Blend modes also show details of the layer beneath it. However, different blend modes change how certain exposures and colors of a layer blend with the one below it.

By default, each layer’s blend mode is set to Normal, which means the layer will stay how it originally looked. You also need to have at least two layers before it’s possible to change the blend mode. Blending modes can not only be added to layers but also to smart filters, layer styles, brush adjustments, and more.

Photoshop Blending Modes Explained

1. Normal Blending Modes

The first group is the Normal Blending Modes, which blend the layer using degrees of Opacity rather than blending the layers.

Normal

The blend mode of any layer, whether an image, shape, text, or any other layer, is set to Normal by default. This means that the layer is fully visible and has the normal characteristics of the adjustment, fill, or pixels.

Dissolve

The next mode in the group is Dissolve, which reveals specific pixels in the layer below once the top layer’s Opacity is reduced. The Dissolve blend mode portrays the pixels in a dither pattern, which gives a noise effect to the layer. 

2. Darken Blending Modes

These five blend modes darken the base layer and hide white areas from the active layer

Darken

The Darken blend mode doesn’t affect the opacity of the layer. Instead, this blending mode compares the color of the pixels from the base layer to the layer on top. Photoshop then selects the darker pixels and keeps those visible while removing the lighter pixels from either the base or the blend layer, based on each RGB channel.

Multiply

Multiply works by multiplying the luminosity value of the pixels on the base layer with the active layer’s pixels. This darkens all the photo’s colors while ignoring white and leaving black. If we use the Multiply blend mode on the same gradient layer, the result will be similar to the Darken effect, but with a better blend.

– Color Burn

The Color Burn blend mode works like when you use the Burn Tool. The blend mode increases the contrast and saturation of the image by darkening the base colors to match the blend colors.

– Linear Burn

The Linear Burn blend mode works similarly to the Color Burn mode because Linear Burn darkens the base color to match the blend colors as well. However, this blend mode achieves this by decreasing the brightness of the base color. The result is less saturated than Color Burn.

Darker Color

The Darker Color blend mode compares the pixels in the base and blend layer and portrays only the darker colors. This mode works similarly to the Darken mode. However, in this case, Photoshop looks at the composite of the RGB channels as a whole rather than individually. This mode is not used often.

3. Lighten Blending Modes

The Lighten Blend Modes work to brighten and remove black.

Lighten

The Lighten blend mode compares the pixels from the base layer and the blended layer and keeps the lighter pixels. This mode considers the RGB channels separately when comparing colors. Suppose I use the same gradient fill as in the Darker mode example. The black area of the gradient is ignored, and the white region is blended.

– Screen

The Screen mode produces the opposite effect of Multiply by multiplying the inverse of the colors from the two layers. The result is a brighter photo where the black areas of the blend layer are ignored, and the white regions are blended.

Color Dodge

The Color Dodge mode works in opposition to the Color Burn mode as this mode decreases the contrast to lighten the base colors to reflect the blend layer’s colors. The result is highly saturated.

Linear Dodge (Add)

The Linear Dodge mode works like the Color Dodge mode but brightens the base layer by increasing the brightness to reflect the blend layer. Black areas of the blend layer are ignored. The result is less saturated than the Color Dodge mode.

– Lighter Color

The Lighter Color mode compares the pixels from the base and blend layers and only portrays the lighter colors rather than blending the darker colors. The function is similar to the Lighten Mode. However, Photoshop considers the composite of the RGB channels as a whole rather than individually.

4. Contrast Blending Modes

The Contrast Blending Modes use elements from the Darken and Lighten modes to create a complementary blend. When each mode is applied, Photoshop calculates which colors are darker or lighter than 50% gray and uses a darken blend mode on the darker colors, and a lighten blend mode on the lighter colors.

Overlay

The Overlay blend mode is almost like combining the Multiply and Screen blend modes into one. This mode darkens the areas where the new layer has darker colors than the base layer using the principles of the multiply blend mode. 

Soft Light

The Soft Light mode is similar to Overlay as it darkens or lightens areas of the image based on the colors of the blend layer. However, the result is more subtle and reduces the harsh contrast because the mode uses the same principles as Darken and Lighten blend modes. The Soft Light blend mode is often used as a final step when sharpening a photo with the High Pass filter.

– Hard Light

The Hard Light mode is a mix of the Multiply and Screen modes, just like overlay. However, Hard Light uses the brightness of the blend layer to calculate the light and dark areas. The result of this mode is quite harsh and often requires a reduced Opacity for best results.

Vivid Light

The Vivid Light blend mode is an increased version of the Overlay blend and works by brightening anything below 50% gray and darkening anything above 50% gray using the Color Burn and Dodge modes. The effects of this blend mode are harsh and often require a drop in Opacity.

Linear Light

Linear light blending mode is a mix of the Linear Burn and Linear Dodge modes for darker and lighter pixels. The effect is applied by increasing or decreasing the brightness of the pixels. 

Pin Light

The Pin Light blend mode is an extreme mix of the Darken and Lighten Blend modes, which removes any mid-tones from the blend layer. In this example, you can see how the mode has left the black and white areas of the gradient layer and ignored the mid-tones.

Hard Mix

The Hard Mix blending mode adds the RGB values of the blend layer with the values of the base layer. When values are added, and the result is higher than 255, the pixels remain at 255; when it’s lower than 255, the pixels change to 0. 

The result of this blend mode is that all the pixels are reduced to the primary colors of red, green, blue (for RGB images), cyan, magenta, or yellow (for CMYK images), as well as black and white.

5. Inversion Blending Modes

The Inversion Blending Modes consider the variations between the base and blend layer to produce a new blend.

Difference

The Difference blend mode considers the colors from both the base and blend layer and subtracts the color with the highest brightness value. When white is present, it will invert the values of the base color, and black will have no effect.

When the blend mode is applied to a black and white gradient layer, the black areas portray the base layer, and the white regions invert the colors from the original base layer.

Exclusion

The Exclusion blend mode works similarly to Difference but produces a more subtle result. The blend creates a more subtle effect because it is lower than the Difference mode. While the areas of white invert the colors, and areas of black are left untouched, the pixels at 50% gray (mid-tones) will remain at 50% gray.

Subtract

The Subtract blend mode subtracts pixels from the base layer based on the brightness of the pixels on the blend layer. The blend mode reverts any negative pixel values to 0, meaning that any black areas are ignored, so the base layer’s pixels show through, while regions of white essentially delete the pixels of the base layer below it.

– Divide

The Divide blend mode does the exact opposite as Subtract by dividing the blend colors from the base colors. The result is that any pixels underneath black areas are essentially deleted, while white areas are left unchanged.

6. Component Blending Modes

The component Blending modes consider hue, saturation, and brightness, which are primary color components, to create a new blend. Hue is the color of the pixels, excluding white or black. Saturation is the intensity of the pixel color. Then, brightness is the level of darkness or brightness in the pixels, with white being the brightest and black being the darkest.

– Hue

The Hue blend mode keeps the base layer’s luminosity and saturation while using the blend layer’s hue. This blend mode is used when you want to change the color of a layer without affecting the luminosity and saturation.

The hue blend mode is an excellent solution if you want to change the feel of an image, such as adding a sepia tone.

Saturation

The Saturation blending mode keeps the base layer’s luminosity and hue while using the blend layer’s saturation. 

Color

The Color Blending Mode keeps the base layer’s luminosity while using the blend layer’s saturation and hue. This blend mode works well when creating a color effect on the image. This mode allows you to add saturation to the photo simultaneously, resulting in a picture with a fuller color.

 – Luminosity

The Luminosity blend mode keeps the base layer’s hue and saturation while using the blend layer’s luminosity. This blend mode works the opposite of the Color blend mode and is often used when sharpening a photo.



Photoshop Blending Modes At A Glance

Blending Mode Keyboard Shortcuts In Photoshop

The easiest shortcut to remember is Shift + + or Shift + (Win & Mac) to rotate through the modes. Four blending modes don’t have a shortcut: Darker Color, Lighter Color, Subtract and Divide. You must open the menu and select these four to activate them.

ActionWindowsMac
Rotate through the blend modesShift + + or Shift + –Shift + + or Shift + –
Normal Blending Modes
NormalShift + Alt + NShift + Option + N
DissolveShift + Alt + IShift + Option + I
Darken Blending Modes
DarkenShift + Alt + KShift + Option + K
MultiplyShift + Alt + MShift + Option + M
Color BurnShift + Alt + BShift + Option + B
Linear BurnShift + Alt + AShift + Option + A
Lighten Blending Modes
LightenShift + Alt + GShift + Option + G
ScreenShift + Alt + SShift + Option + S
Color DodgeShift + Alt + DShift + Option + D
Linear Dodge (Add)Shift + Alt + WShift + Option + W
Contrast Blending Modes
OverlayShift + Alt + OShift + Option + O
Soft LightShift + Alt + FShift + Option + F
Hard LightShift + Alt + HShift + Option + H
Vivid LightShift + Alt + VShift + Option + V
Linear LightShift + Alt + JShift + Option + J
Pin LightShift + Alt + ZShift + Option + Z
Hard MixShift + Alt + LShift + Option + L
Inversion Blending Modes
DifferenceShift + Alt + EShift + Option + E
ExclusionShift + Alt + XShift + Option + X
Component Blending Modes
HueShift + Alt + UShift + Option + U
SaturationShift + Alt + TShift + Option + T
ColorShift + Alt + CShift + Option + C
LuminosityShift + Alt + YShift + Option + Y


Photo of author
I'm a Canadian photographer and photo retoucher turned founder of bwillcreative.com. Around here I help you to decode the mystery of photo editing with no-fluff videos and written guides to help you achieve your creative goals. Outside of shooting photos and my passion for educating, you'll find me mountain biking or on the trails with my dog, Sunny!

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