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What are Blend modes in Photoshop? How are they used?

If you’ve spent your time fiddling around in Photoshop, you must have come across something called blend modes.

Blend modes are everywhere in Photoshop. From determining the look of individual layers to dictating how shadows are rendered, all is done using these blend modes.

If you get them right, it can give you that extra oomph your photos need to stand apart. Not to mention, if you get them wrong, you can ruin your image just as easily.

So what are these blend modes? How do they work and what to do they do? Read on to find out.

Also read: How to create a neon sign in Photoshop?

Blend Modes

Blend modes essentially give you more control over how the colour of a base layer (your image) interact with the top layer (an effect applied by a tool) and produce a result. 

What are Blend modes in Photoshop? How are they used?
You can change the blend mode of a layer by clicking this drop-down.

Different interactions can result in various types of looks and hence, different blend modes. 

Consider this — the opacity slider allows you to control how two stacked layers show up by making a layer more or less translucent. Blend modes do the same, except with different mathematical calculations that are a tad bit more complicated than adjusting translucence. 

Also read: What is Vectorisation? How to vectorise an image in Photoshop?

Types of blend modes in Photoshop

While the names of the blend modes might not make much sense, Adobe did bunch them together in categories as followed

  • Normal
  • Darken
  • Lighten
  • Contrast
  • Inversion
  • Component
What are Blend modes in Photoshop? How are they used?
All the Blend mode types in Photoshop

Now we’re going to take a look into each blend mode category and the blend modes in them.

Normal Blend modes

  • Normal: This is the default blend mode in Photoshop. Opaque pixels cover the pixels below. There’s no fancy maths or algorithms here. The only thing you can change is the opacity of said pixels. 
  • Dissolve: This mode doesn’t blend pixels per se; instead, it reveals the pixels below using a dither pattern the intensity of which depends upon the opacity. 

Darken Blend modes

As the name suggests, these modes darken the resulting colour.

  • Darken: This mode doesn’t do much. It compares the base and the top pixels and keeps the darker ones. 
  • Multiply: As the name suggests, this blend mode multiplies the luminosity of the base pixels by the blend pixels resulting in a darker colour. Great for creating shadows.
  • Colour Burn: The blending mode gives a slightly darker look than the Multiply blend mode. It achieves highly saturated mid-tones and diminished highlights by increasing the contrast between the base and blend layers. 
  • Linear Burn: This blend mode alters the brightness of the base layer depending upon the blend layer pixels resulting in a darker but less saturated image as compared to Colour Burn.
  • Darker Colour: It works exactly like the Darken blend mode. However, this looks at the composite of all RGB channels while the Darken mode looks at individual RGB channels.

Lighten Blend modes

These blend modes work precisely opposite to the darken blend modes. That is, the resultant image is lighter

  • Lighten: Compares the base and blend colours and keeps the lighter one.
  • Screen: Takes into account the luminosity of the blend layer and ends up in a brighter overall image.
  • Colour Dodge: Works exactly opposite to Colour Burn, except it results in a brighter image with saturated mid-tones and blown-out highlights. 
  • Linear Dodge: Again, works exactly opposite to the Linear Burn blend mode, resulting in a brighter end image. 
  • Lighter Colour: Works just like the Lighter blend mode, except it takes into account the entire RGB composite as compared to individual RGB channels.

Contrast Blend modes

These modes lie somewhere in between the Lighten and Darken blend modes. They create contrast by both lightning and darkening the resultant colours. 

  • Overlay: This is a combination of Multiply and Screen blending modes with the base layer always showing.
  • Soft light: This blending mode is much like overlay, except it applies a darkening or lightening effect based on the luminance values, albeit in a subtle way. 
  • Hard light: This is the exact opposite of the Soft Light blend mode. The result is decided using the brightness of the blend layer, and the effect is much more noticeable.
  • Vivid Light: This mode is a combination of Overlay and Soft Light. Depending upon the shade of grey, the lightening or darkening is applied. Anything darker than 50% grey becomes darker, and shades below 50% grey lighten up. 
  • Linear Light: Another combination of blend modes, this one uses Linear Dodge on light and Linear Burn on dark pixels.
  • Pin Light: Just like Linear Light, this mode simultaneously performs the Lighten and Darken blend modes.
  • Hard Mix: The blend mode is exactly what the name suggests. The value of each RGB channel in the blend layer is added to each RGB channel in the base layer to apply the blend.

Inversion Blend modes

These modes operate on differences between pixel values in the base and blend layers

  • Difference: Just like the name suggests, the blend is applied by calculating the difference between the base and blend pixels, essentially inverting the colours.
  • Exclusion: Similar to the Difference blend mode, except whites invert base colour values while blacks have no effect. 
  • Subtract: The blend is applied by subtracting pixel values from the base layer resulting in a significantly darker image.
  • Divide: Works exactly opposite to the Subtract blend mode. As the blend values get darker, the result brightens up.

Component Blending modes

These modes use different combinations of primary colour attributes to create their blends

  • Hue: Pretty straightforward and does what it says. You can change the hues without affecting other properties.
  • Saturation: The layer preserves the saturation and hue of the base layer, allowing you to play around with the saturation of the blend layer.
  • Colour: Preserves the luminosity of the base layer while at the same time letting you manipulate the saturation and hue of the blend layer
  • Luminosity: Allows you to change the brightness of the blend layer. 

Also read: Guide to the 9 selection tools in Photoshop

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