Photoshop Layer Blend Modes Explained

The Photoshop blending modes hold a wealth of power when interacting the colours of two layers during editing.

These blending modes are split into 6 different groups. We’re going to take you through each blending mode, in 5 of the major groups. We’ll explain how each mode changes the relationship of these colours (using RGB circles and/or a gradient layer to see the changes in action.

The blending mode groups we will look at in this guide are;

 

  • Normal modes
  • Darken modes
  • Lighten modes
  • Contrast modes
  • Component modes
Layer Blending Mode Example
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Normal Group

“Normal” is the default blending mode for Photoshop layers. When you’re in Normal mode there is no mix or interaction between layers. 

Normal Layer Blend Mode

Using the Dissolve blending modes only reveals the pixels below when the opacity of the layer is reduced. The colours in the top layer will appear as dots and this will become more pronounced the further you reduce the opacity of the top layer.

Dissolve Blend Mode 2

Darken Group

The Photoshop blending modes in the Darken group will turn the colours darker. Anything that is white in the top layer will be invisible. 

Darken mode compares the bottom and top layer colours, and it keeps the darkest of the two. If the top layer and the bottom layer colours are the same, then there is no change. Everything from beyond 50% brightness will be hidden.

Multiply Blend Mode

This Photoshop blending mode multiplies the luminosity of the base colour by the blend colour. The resulting colour is always darker. Multiply shows everything that is pure black but will hide anything that is 100% white.

Multiply Blend Mode

Color Burn gives you a darker result than Multiply by increasing the contrast between the colours. It will result in highly saturated mid-tones and reduced highlights. White tones tend to remain white.

Color Burn Mode

Linear Burn decreases the brightness of the bottom layer colour. The result is darker than Multiply but less saturated than Color Burn. Linear Burn blends differently when the Fill is adjusted, compared to when Opacity is adjusted.

Linear Burn Mode

The Darker Color Photoshop blending mode is very similar to Darken. The difference is that Darker Color looks at the composite of all the RGB channels, whereas Darken looks at each channel individually to come up with a blend.

Lighten Group

The Lighten Photoshop Blending Modes in this group are opposites from the Darken group. They will turn the resulting colours brighter. Anything that is black in the top layer will become invisible, and anything that is brighter than black is going to be darkened.

The Lighten blending mode takes a look at both colours, and it keeps whichever is the lightest. As with the Darken Blending Mode, Lighten looks at the three RGB channels separately when blending the pixels.

Lighten Blend Mode

Screen blending mode can produce many different levels of brightening depending on the luminosity values of the blend layer, making Screen, a great Blending Mode for brightening images or creating highlights.Screen Blend Mode

The Color Dodge Photoshop blending mode gives you a brighter effect than Screen by decreasing the contrast between the colours. It results in saturated mid-tones and bright highlights. 

Colour Dodge Blend Mode

Linear Dodge (Add) produces similar but stronger results than Screen or Color Dodge. This blending mode looks at the colour in each channel and brightens the bottom layer colour to reflect the top layer colour by increasing the brightness. Blending with black produces no change.

Lighter Color is very similar to Lighten. This blending mode compares the colours, and it keeps the brightest of the two. The difference is that Lighter Color looks at the composite of all the RGB channels, whereas Lighten looks at each RGB channel to come up with a blend.

Lighten Colour Blend

Contrast Group

The modes in this group are a mixture between the Darken and the Lighten groups. They create contrast by both lightening and darkening the result colours.

Photoshop checks to see if the colours are darker than 50% grey or lighter. If the colours are darker, a darkening mode is applied. If the colours being mixed are brighter than 50% grey, a brightening mode is applied. Apart from Hard Mix, all the modes in this category turn 50% grey transparent.

Overlay is a combination of Multiply and Screen – with the bottom layer colour always appearing. It uses the Screen mode at half strength on colours lighter than 50% grey. It uses Multiply at half strength on colours darker than 50% grey.

Dark colours in the top layer shift the mid-tones to darker colours, light-tones shift the mid-tones to brighter colours.

Overlay blend

Soft Light is similar to Overlay. It applies either a darkening or lightening effect depending on the luminance, but in a subtle way.  Think of Soft Light as a softer version of Overlay without the harsh contrast.

Overlay blend

Hard Light combines the Multiply and Screen Blending Modes using the brightness values of the Blend layer to make its calculations. Overlay uses the base layer.

The results with Hard Light tend to be intense. In many cases, you will have to reduce the Opacity to get better results.

You can think of Vivid Light as an extreme version of Overlay and Soft Light. Anything darker than 50% grey is darkened, and anything lighter than 50% grey is Lighten. Vivid Light is one of those Blending Modes where you may want to adjust the opacity since 100% opacity is generally too strong.

Linear Light uses a combination of the Linear Dodge Photoshop blending mode on lighter pixels, and a Linear Burn on darker colours. Typically, the resulting colours are extreme, and you may want to use the Opacity or Fill sliders to temper it down.

Linear Light blend 2

Pin Light is a full-on Photoshop blending mode that performs a Darken and Lighten blending mode simultaneously. It can result in patches or blotches, and it completely removes all mid-tones.

Hard Mix applies the blend by adding the value of each RGB channel into the blend layer to the corresponding RGB channel in the bottom layer.

The image loses a lot of detail, and the colours can only be black, white, or any of the six primary colours – red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, or yellow.

Component Group

Component Photoshop blending modes use different combinations of the primary colour components (hue, saturation, and brightness) to create the final blend.

Hue preserves the luminosity and saturation while adopting the hue of the top layer colour. Hue can be used to change colours in a layer while maintaining the tones and saturation of the original.

Hue Blend Mode

The Saturation Photoshop blending mode preserves the luminosity and hue of the bottom layer while adopting the saturation of the top layer. 

Color Burn Mode

Color is the ideal blending mode for colouring monochromatic images. 

Hue Blend Mode

Luminosity preserves the hue and saturation of the base layer while adopting the luminosity of the top layer’s colour.

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