The easiest way to add some creative flair to a photo is to overlay an image in Photoshop. Once you know how using an image overlay can add extra creative effects to your photo and further enhance the image, you’ll probably want to use them all the time.

So in this guide, you’ll learn two different ways to use an overlay with your photos and go over the best types of images to use and where to find them. 

How To Overlay Two Images In Photoshop

It may seem like a ton of work to overlay an image on top of another, but you might be surprised how easy it actually is. After following this section, you should be able to overlay two images in Photoshop in under a minute.

Step 1: Add Your Overlay To Your Project

To start this process, make sure the project you’re working on is open. 

In a separate window, drag the overlay you want to use into your project. Use the corner handles to resize the overlay to fill the entire canvas. 

This step depends on the overlay itself and the project you’re working on. If the overlay you’re using is supposed to cover part of your image, then do that instead. You should resize the overlay to the entire canvas most of the time. 

You should see the overlay above your original image in the Layers Panel

Step 2: Set The Overlay Layer To Screen 

The next step is to make sure the viewer can see through most of the overlay so that the image below is showcased. 

To do this, select the overlay layer, then click on the Blending Mode drop-down menu. Select Screen from the long list that drops down. 

With the Screen blending mode selected, each pixel in the image is lightened, determined by the brightness levels of the pixels in both layers. This creates an effect that increases luminosity and removes shadows.

Back on your canvas, you should now see your original image through the overlay. 

Step 3: Add A Levels Adjustment Layer Above Your Overlay

Your original image can be seen now, but you may notice fading colors and discoloration around parts of the overlay. 

Even if you don’t see any fading or discoloration, completing the next few steps is still a good idea to remove any unwanted haze from the overlay.

First, add a levels adjustment layer to your project by clicking the Adjustment Tab and the Levels icon. Or, go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels

Make sure the Levels adjustment layer is above your overlay layer. 

Step 4: Clip The Levels Adjustment Layer To The Overlay Layer 

The next important step is to ensure the levels adjustment layer only affects the overlay layer and not any other layers in the project. This means you need to add a clipping mask to the adjustment layer to clip to the overlay layer. 

In the Properties Panel, click the Clipping button at the bottom of the panel. This will clip the layer you have selected to the layer below it. 

To confirm that the levels adjustment layer will only affect the overlay layer, look for the arrow pointing down next to the visibility icon

Step 5: Darken The Shadows In Your Overlay 

To get the most out of using the Screen blending mode, you must ensure that you have no gray pixels in your overlay. The Screen blend mode will brighten white pixels and erase black pixels, but for gray, the Screen mode will only bring down the opacity slightly. 

To darken as many gray pixels as you can, adjust the levels in the Properties Panel by dragging the leftmost handle toward the right. 

How far you need to drag the handle depends on your project. Adjust the handle slowly until the image looks less washed out. 

Your image should now look even more clear and crisper.

Here are the before and after images so you can see how crisp an overlay can look after adjusting the levels adjustment layer. 

Step 6: Adjust The Opacity Of The Overlay Layer (Optional)

If your overlay looks a little too bright, or you want to create the effect of your overlay blending more into your original image, then consider adjusting the Opacity of the layer. 

To do this, select the overlay layer first, then click the Opacity drop-down menu. Adjust the Opacity slider until you’re satisfied with how the overlay blends with your project. 

This step is entirely optional, but it’s always a good idea to consider it. Here are the before and after images to showcase the difference. 

Make Overlayed Images Look Better Using Blend-If In Photoshop

Some overlays might create so much discoloration that you’ll have to change your approach. 

Using Blend-If on your overlay will remove most, if not all, of the overlay’s discoloration and retain the contrast of the overlay while doing so.

Step 1: Add Your Overlay To Your Project

With your project open, drag your overlay from a separate window into Photoshop. 

Step 2: Resize The Overlay To Fit Your Project

With your overlay on the canvas, use the corner handles to resize the overlay to fit the area you need for your project. 

The overlay layer should be above the original image in the Layers Panel

Step 3: Change The Blending Mode Of The Overlay Layer To Screen

First, select the overlay layer in the Layers Panel, then click the Blending Mode drop-down menu. In the list that drops down, choose Screen

You should now see your original image on the canvas through the overlay. 

Step 4: Open The Layer Style Properties Panel

Now that your overlay layer is set to screen, it’s time to adjust this setting itself. 

First, double-click the overlay layer to open the Layer Style Properties Panel

Step 5: Hold Alt / Option And Drag The Current Layer Slider

With the Layer Style Properties Panel open, direct your attention to the bottom of the panel. 

First, make sure the Blend If setting is set to Gray. The slider you’re going to adjust is the Current Layer slider

Next, hold down the Alt key (Win) or the Option key (Mac), then drag the handle on the left toward the middle of the slider. 

As you’re sliding the handle, you’ll notice that the handle itself splits apart. This is called “feathering the effect.” Doing so will result in a more realistic final product. The darkest parts of your overlay will disappear as you do this. 

Every project is different, so adjust the slider until the effect looks good to you. 

You are now left with just the areas of the overlay you do want and not the extra blurry parts or discolored parts.  

Here’s a before & after to see the difference. 

Step 6: Adjust The Opacity Of The Overlay Layer (Optional)

If the effect you’re going for is subtle, you can blend the overlay layer into your original image by adjusting its opacity. 

First, select the Overlay layer, then click the Opacity box. Adjust the Opacity Slider until you see the desired effect on your canvas. 

This step is fully optional. You only need to do this if it feels necessary. 

What Images Will Work As Overlays In Photoshop?

The most important factor when picking out an overlay is the background’s darkness. You want the background of your overlay to be as close to black as possible. This way, only the foreground elements will remain when you select Screen as your blending mode. 

It’s also important that the overlay has plenty of light areas, as those areas will be highlighted by setting the layer to Screen. 

The best overlays tend to be flares, sparks, flames, and other lighting effects that naturally have a dark background and plenty of light areas. 

Best Places To Find Image Overlays For Photoshop

There are plenty of places to find overlays on the internet, but not all have quality overlays. 

Here are the best sites online to find good-quality image overlays. 

1. Pexels

Pexels is a free site to find stock photos, videos, and in this case, image overlays. 

Pexels offers over three million royalty-free photos and videos, so you should be able to find something that works for the vision of the project. 

To browse through all the overlays on Pexels, search Overlays in the search bar at the top of the page.  

Doing this will show you a mixture of traditional overlays and images that have overlays in them. Using this method may take some time to find the type of overlay you need. 

A quicker way to find the correct overlay that you need is to be more specific with your search. Instead of typing Overlays, search for something like Overlay Effect Sparkles

This is more likely to bring up the types of overlays you’re looking for. 

2. Creative Market

Creative Market is an online marketplace for buying and selling digital assets. One of those digital assets is overlays. 

The overlays on Creative Market won’t be free, but they’re the highest quality. 

Creative Market is also the easiest option to find overlays. 

To find an overlay quickly, hover over the Graphics tab, then click Overlays in the Objects column. 

You will be presented with all the overlays that Creative Market provides. You’ll find everything from subtle light effects to cool special effects. 

For example, this Retro Light Leaks overlay pack contains 40 JPEG overlays for you to use.

You can also find more specific overlays, such as this Smoke Overlays pack that creates a misty effect on your images.

Add a more detailed search term in the search bar if you’re looking for a specific overlay. This will bring up all the overlays that Creative Market provides for your search. 

3. Envato Elements

This option is different from the others. Envato Elements is a subscription-based service for creative professionals. It offers unlimited downloads of millions of digital assets, including graphics, stock photos, fonts, and more. 

This subscription-based model makes this option perfect if you need overlays regularly. If you only need an overlay occasionally, this is probably not the best option. 

Unfortunately, Envato Elements doesn’t make it as easy to find overlays. There’s no easy category to browse through like with Creative Market. 

To browse through all of the overlays available on Envato Elements, search overlays in the search bar. This will bring up all the overlays that the site provides. 

To find more specific overlays, search for the exact kind of overlay you’re looking for. 

You can find overlays like this Bokeh Overlays pack.

Or this Shadow Photo Overlay pack.

So that is how to use overlays in Photoshop using the screen blend mode or with the blend-if sliders to enhance this effect. These are a great way to spice up any photo and are an easy effect that anyone can create in Photoshop!

Happy Editing!