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Photoshop Basics: Blending Modes

Photoshop Basics: Blending Modes

If you use Photoshop at all, you need mastery of a simple, but often misunderstood feature in Photoshop – Blending Modes. With so many amazing tools available, it’s easy to overlook this feature, but it should be a part of your toolkit.

Where Are Blending Modes?

The biggest reason Blending Modes are ignored is because of their location – right in the Layers Palette.

It’s easy to miss because it’s right in front of you all the time. Just select a layer (or layers) and choose a Blending Mode.

What Are Blending Modes?

You can break Blending Modes into their physical blocks in the drop-down menu: Darken, lighten, saturation, subtraction, and color modes.

Now that you know how the tool breaks down, it’s a lot easier to know when and why to reach for various Blending Mode options.

When to Use the Blending Modes?

Blending Modes have many uses that can seem redundant with other filters already available. Here’s an example where we can use Blending Modes to create a tint:

Instead of using Hue/Saturation or another filter on the base image (Layer 1 in the above example), we can just drop the color we want on a layer above it and use Blending Modes to create the tint we want. You can use the arrow keys to go through the options, but if you know you just want to lay the color over the top, then the Screen option is a good place to start.

The Blending Modes are not "tweakable" – you cannot go in and edit them. But you don’t need to! The various modes can be tweaked by using the Opacity and Fill opacity options, respectively. If you cannot find a mode that is just right, go with the harsher effect and dial it down using layer Opacity or Fill opacity.

Other Applications of Blending Modes

As the name suggests, you can blend multiple layers to create amazing effects. To demonstrate, the below example takes our above concept and overlays an image of car headlights. Using the Hard Light mode and dialing it back with the Fill opacity feature, you can get interesting effects that are infinitely editable:

And Blending Modes can be stacked! Here’s our tint on top of both of the previous layers:

The applications are endless. The key is that Blending Modes give you a great deal more flexibility than using static effects like Hue/Saturation to get the same tinting effects or other unique ideas. Experiment with Blending Modes to find that perfect fit, but remember how the tool breaks down to save yourself some time.

Working Examples

Using a stock photo and texture, we’ll demonstrate how each effects the base image. Remember to keep the texture immediately on top of the stock photo in the layers palette. We kept the blending opacity at either 100% or 50% so you could easily reproduce our results for your own experiments.

Stock Images

The stock photo is courtesy of Alfi007 at stock.xchng (2.8MB):

The texture comes from TextureKing (3.2MB):

A Closer Look At Blending Modes:

Now let’s take a look at each individual blending mode, and learn a little more about them!

Normal at 50%

Uses a percentage of the blended image. 100% uses the blended image completely and 0% means that it’s not used at all.

Dissolve at 50%

Selects arbitrary pixels from the blended image and adds to the base. Just as in the normal mode, 100% uses the blended image completely and 0% means that it’s not used at all.


Compares the blended image with the base and keeps whichever pixel is darker.


Takes the information from each pixel, multiplies the 8-bit color values on a per channel (RGB) basis and divides by 255. The result will always be a darker color, except for white: (0 X 0) / 0 = 0

Color Burn

Takes the 8-bit color values of each channel of the base layer and divides by the blended layer. The result is a higher contrast image, but generally darker.

Linear Burn

Adds the two 8-bit color values per channel and subtracts by 255 resulting in a the darker areas being much darker while lighter areas are in higher contrast.

Darker Color at 50%

Instead of using each channel’s 8-bit value, it looks at all the channels and only keeps the darker values.

Lighten at 50%

Opposite of darken, it only keeps the lighter pixel from each of the layers.


Opposite of multiply, it inverts the blended image and multiplies by the base image.

Color Dodge

Divides the base layer by an inverted blended layer.

Linear Dodge (Add)

Adds the 8-bit color values per channel from each layer. Comparable to the effect of screen, but a higher contrast effect. If the base layer is black there will be no change.

Lighter Color

Works like lighten mode, but it looks at all the channels, not on a per channel basis, and keeps the lighter pixels.


This uses a combination of screen and multiply producing a much higher contrast image.

Soft Light

Same as overlay but less of a contrast between the two.

Hard Light

Same as overlay but with even more contrast.

Vivid Light

A combination of color dodge and color burn using the blended layer as the reference.

Linear Light

Same as vivid light but with higher contrast.

Pin Light

Combines the pixels from the blended layer using lighten mode and the dark pixels from the base layer using darken mode.

Hard Mix at 50%

Luminosity of the blended layer added to the color of the base image.


Takes the lighter pixel from either layer and subtracts it from both.


Toned down version of difference.


Simply subtracts the 8-bit color values on a per channel basis from each pixel of each layer. If the result is negative, it shows up as black.


Divides the 8-bit value from each layer by each other.


Uses the hue from each pixel of the blended layer while keeping the saturation, color, and luminosity of the base layer.


Keeps the luminosity and hue of the base layer but uses the saturation of the blended image.


Uses the color from the base layer but takes the luminosity and saturation from the blended layer.

Luminosity at 50%

Retains the hue and color of the base layer and applies the luminosity from the blended layer.

About the Author:

Tara Hornor has a degree in English and writes about marketing, advertising, branding, graphic design, and desktop publishing. She works for, an online printing company that offers postcards, posters, brochure printing, postcard printing, and more printed marketing media. In addition to her writing career, Tara also enjoys spending time with her husband and two children.

Leave a comment


  1. Nora Reed says:

    Liked your post, very nicely define each and every modes with good sort of examples.

  2. Tony says:

    Very helpful! I’ve used the blending modes but never understood what they were technically doing. Thanks!

  3. sheran says:

    great i like to use blending mode but i didn’t now about detailing about mode thanks for making this kind of aritical.

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