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Adobe Photoshop CS3

Blend Modes: An Introduction

Blend modes affect how the pixels of a layer will interact with the pixels of the layer(s) below it. Photoshop CS3 has twenty-five layer blend modes. This document briefly describes what blending modes do to a layer.

HINT: The blend modes drop-down menu is located on the Layers palette
Blend modes menu

If the layer is a copy of the background layer, only certain blend modes will work: Darken, Multiply, Color Burn, Linear Burn, Lighten, Screen, Color Dodge, Linear Dodge, Overlay, Soft Light, Hard Light, Vivid Light, and Linear Light.
The examples in this document show a butterfly layer on top of a background layer. The blend modes will be applied to the butterfly at 100% opacity.
Example image in layers with no blend mode applied

Blending Modes

This blend mode has no effect on the layer below it.

This blend mode randomly selects pixels that make up the top layer image and sets their opacity to zero. Adjusting the opacity level of the entire layer will change the appearance of the dissolve effect. In the example, the opacity of the butterfly layer is set at 75%.
NOTE: When the opacity of the top layer is set at 100% for this blend mode, there is no dissolve. The opacity needs to be less than 100%.

This blend mode looks at the pixels of both the top and bottom layers and "projects" the darker color on the bottom layer to "come through" the lighter color on the top layer. In the example below, notice how the darker colors of the clothing show through the butterfly, but the detail of the lighter buildings in the background does not.


Normal Dissolve Darken
Example: Normal blend mode Example: Dissolve layer blend mode Example: Darken layer blend mode

This blend mode multiplies the color intensity of the top layer with the bottom layer. This produces darker colors within the composite image, giving the blend more contrast.

Color Burn
This blend mode brightens the light pixels of the top layer and darkens the dark pixels of the top and bottom layers.

Linear Burn
This blend mode uses channels (i.e., colors) to determine the degree of darkness for each pixel in the top layer. Channel information for each color is used and the darkest color's intensity is increased by a certain degree.
NOTE: Channels contain color information in each pixel. For example, RGB color mode has three channels: Red, Green, and Blue.


Multiply Color Burn Linear Burn
Example: Multiply layers blend mode Example: Color Burn layers blend mode Example: Linear Burn layer blend mode

Darker Color
This blend mode compares the values for all channels in both layers, then displays the lowest values only. It does not create a third, blended color, like the Darken blend mode, but instead only displays the lowest values already in the layers.

This blend mode lightens the composite image by comparing the pixels in the top and bottom layers: the pixel that is the lightest is the one that is shown. Therefore all dark colors are replaced with the lighter color. In the example, notice how the butterfly almost disappears, since the background pixels were almost all lighter than the butterfly's pixels.

This blend mode is used for highlighting. It lightens all colors on the top layer by decreasing its opacity. The dark colors are not lightened as dramatically as the light colors are.


Darker Color Lighten Screen
Example: Darker Color blend mode Example: Lighten layer blend mode Example: Screen layer blend mode

Color Dodge
This blend mode brightens all of the colors of the top layer and then blends the two layers together. No changes are made to black.

Linear Dodge (Add)
This blend mode brightens the color on the bottom layer using the channel information of the top layer colors to increase the brightness of the colors on the top layer. The bright colors show up on black, unlike in the Color Dodge blend mode.

Lighter Color
This blend mode has the opposite effect of the Darker Color mode. It compares all the values in both layers, then displays the lightest values.


Color Dodge Linear Dodge (Add) Lighter Color
Example: Color Dodge layer blend mode Example: Linear Dodge layers blend mode Example: Lighter Color blend mode

This blend mode blends the two layers together by changing the opacity, darkness, and lightness of the top layer.

Soft Light
This blend mode lightens or darkens the image depending on the color of the top layer: if the top layer's pixel is dark, then the bottom layer's pixel is darkened; if the top layer's pixel is light, then the bottom layer's pixel is lightened.

Hard Light
This blend mode combines two other blend modes. If a pixel of the bottom layer is darker than midgray (50% gray), then the Multiply mode is applied to that pixel. If a pixel is lighter than midgray, then the Screen mode is applied to that pixel.


Overlay Soft Light Hard Light
Example: Overlay layers blend mode Example: Soft Light layers blend mode Example: Hard Light layers blend mode

Vivid Light
This blend mode specifically dodges or burns the colors on the bottom layer. If the top color is darker or lighter than midgray, contrast in the bottom layer will increase or decrease, respectively.

Linear Light
This blend mode adjusts the brightness of the bottom layer depending on whether the top layer is darker or lighter than midgray. If it is lighter than midgray, it is brightened; if it is darker, there is no change.

Pin Light
This blend mode replaces the colors on the bottom layer if they are lighter than the blend color.


Vivid Light Linear Light Pin Light
Example: Vivid Light layers blend mode Example: Linear Light layers blend mode Example: Pin Light layers blend mode

Hard Mix
This blend mode is a combination of the Vivid Light mode and a posterization effect (i.e., where the image appears more pixelated). It will posterize the bottom layer pixels through the blend layer and recolor the image using the specifications of the Vivid Light mode. A higher Fill Opacity on the top layer will increase the posterization effect on the image. In the example, the Fill Opacity is set at 100%.

This blend mode displays the difference between the blend and base colors. If you blend with white, it will inverse the base color values; blending with black has no effect.

This blend mode is a softened version of the Difference blending mode.

Hard Mix Difference Exclusion
Example: Hard Mix layers blend mode Example: Difference layers blend mode Example: Exclusion layers blend mode

This blend mode uses the hue of the top layer color and the saturation and luminance of the bottom layer to create the composite image.

This blend mode displays the saturation of the top layer color and the luminance and hue of the bottom layer.

This blend mode displays the luminance of the top layer color and the saturation and hue of the bottom layer.


Hue Saturation Color
Example: Hue blend mode Example: Saturation blend mode Example: Color blend mode

This blend mode displays only the luminance of the top layer color and ignores the hue and saturation values of the bottom layer.


Example: Luminosity blend mode

NOTE: For a more extensive definition of what each blend mode does to the image, refer to the Photoshop Help Center, List of Blending Modes.

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