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Types of blend modes

Blend modes let you create non-destructive, artistic effects that you can always come back and tweak at any point during editing. There are 26 blend modes in total (including the Normal blend mode) and an additional Pass Through blend mode for layer groups. You can select the blend modes in a few different places — at the bottom of the Layers sidebar and in most tool options, where the Opacity setting is available. To cycle through blend modes using any tool, press Shift ⇧ + Plus + or Minus - on your keyboard.

Tip: You can hover over the blend modes in the Blend Mode pop-up menu to preview them. To turn of the previews, hover your pointer over any blend mode in the pop-up menu and click Preview.

Each blend mode uses a unique algorithm that determines how the colors of the different layers or layer groups will blend. In the Blend Mode pop-up menu, the blend modes are arranged into groups of modes that create similar results: darkening, lightening, contrast, inversion, and component. The examples in this section are created by combining the following two reference images:

The base layer refers to a layer that is lower in the Layers list and the blend layer (or group) is higher up the Layers list. The resulting image illustrates how differently the color values from each of these layers interact under each blend mode.

When examining the results, pay attention to the brightest and the darkest areas of the black and white gradient, as well as to the highlights and shadows in the image of the hot air balloon. These show you how each blend mode treats the whites and blacks in an image. The other brighter and darker colors serve to illustrate each blend mode’s handling of overlapping midrange color values. The yellow, red, pink, and blue shades, in particular, all have very different color and luminance values that change from example to example.

Important: Depending on the blend mode, layer and group ordering may or may not be important. Some blend modes behave differently depending on which image is on top.

Normal blend mode
  • The Normal blend mode is the default blend mode for all layers. In a layer set to Normal, any transparency is caused by the Opacity setting or by an alpha channel.

Darkening blend modes

The darkening blend modes tend to create the result color darker than the base or the blend layers:

  • Darken: Emphasizes the darkest parts of each overlapping layer by making the lighter color values translucent and keeping the darker color values fully opaque. If the base layer color is the same as the color of the blend layer, the image remains the same.

  • Multiply: Emphasizes the darkest parts of each overlapping layer, evenly mixing the midtones of both layers. The result is always a darker image. The Multiply blend mode is useful for darkening images that are overexposed or overall too bright.

  • Color Burn: Intensifies the darker areas of a base layer by saturating the midtones and reducing the highlights. The Multiply blend mode is useful for making image colors more intensive. If the blend layer color is white, the image remains the same.

  • Linear Burn: Similar to Multiply, except the midtones are slightly darker than Multiply and less saturated compared to Color Burn.

  • Darker Color: Compares the color values of the blend and base layers and only keeps the color values that are darker. The Darker Color does not produce a third color, which can sometimes result from the Darken blend.

Lightening blend modes

The lightening blend modes tend to create a result lighter than the base or the blend layers:

  • Lighten: The opposite of the Darken blend mode. Emphasizes the highlights of each overlapping layer by making the darker color values translucent and keeping the lighter color values fully opaque. If the base layer color is the same as the color of the blend layer, the image remains the same.

  • Screen: The opposite of the Multiply blend mode. Emphasizes the highlights of each overlapping layer, evenly mixing the midtones of both layers. The result is always a lighter image. The Screen blend mode is useful for lightening images that are underexposed or shot in low light. You can also use it to mix the blend layer to mix with the base layer based on its brightness.

  • Color Dodge: The opposite of the Color Burn blend mode. It intensifies the lighter areas of a base layer by saturating the midtones and increasing highlights. The Multiply blend mode is useful for making image colors more intensive. If the blend layer color is black, the image remains the same.

  • Linear Dodge: The opposite of the Linear Burn blend mode. Similar to Screen, except that lighter midtones in overlapping regions become more intensive.

  • Lighter Color: The opposite of the Darker Color blend mode. Compares the color values of the blend and the base layers and only keeps the color values that are lighter. Lighter Color does not produce a third color, which can sometimes result from the Lighten blend.

Contrast blend modes

The contrast blend modes look at the base layer to determine if its colors are darker than 50% gray or lighter than 50% gray and apply effects accordingly. If the colors are 50% gray — the image doesn't change.

  • Overlay: Intensifies contrast by darkening the colors darker than 50% gray and washing out colors lighter than 50% gray. The Overlay blend mode is useful for combining areas of vivid color in two images.

  • Soft Light: Similar to the Overlay blend mode, but offers slightly milder contrast and more even tinting. The order of two layers affected by the Soft Light blend mode is important. The Soft Light blend mode is useful for softly tinting a base layer by mixing it with the colors in a blend layer.

  • Hard Light: Intensifies contrast by mixing colors depending on the brightness of the base color values. Colors darker than 50% gray are darkened as if adding the Multiply blend mode, and colors lighter than 50% gray are lightened as if adding the Screen blend mode.

  • Vivid Light: Similar to the Hard Light blend mode. Colors darker than 50% gray are darkened by increasing contrast, and colors lighter than 50% gray are lightened by decreasing contrast. Reversing the two overlapping layers results in subtle differences in how the overlapping midrange color values are mixed together.

  • Linear Light: Similar to the Hard Light blend mode, except that overlapping midrange color values are mixed together with higher contrast.

  • Pin Light: If the blend layer colors are darker than 50% gray, color values lighter than 50% gray are replaced, while the values darker than 50% gray don't change. If the blend layer colors are lighter than 50% gray, color values darker than 50% gray are replaced, while the values lighter than 50% gray don't change. The result might appear alternately tinted or solarized and can be useful for creating interesting artistic effects.

  • Hard Mix: Increases contrast by boosting saturation of the overlapping midrange color values. Although the order of two layers doesn’t affect the overall look of two layers blended using the Hard Mix blend mode, there might be subtle differences. This blend mode can be useful for creating posterization effects.

Inversion blend modes

The inversion blend modes create results resembling aspects of a photographic negative of the selected layer.

  • Difference: Looks at the difference between the color values of the base and the blend layers. The larger the difference between the base and the blend layer colors, the brighter the result color. For instance, if the blend and the base layers are exactly the same, the Difference blend result would be 100% black.

  • Exclusion: Similar to Difference but offers a slightly lower contrast.

  • Subtract: In areas where the base layer is lighter than the blend layer, the base layer is darkened. In areas where the base layer is darker than the blend layer, the colors are inverted.

  • Divide: The opposite of the Subtract blend mode. In areas where the base layer is darker than the blend layer, the base layer colors are lightened.

Component blend modes

The component blend modes mix different primary color components such as hue, saturation, brightness, and luminance.

  • Hue: Mixes the luminance and saturation of the base layer and the hue of the blend layer.

  • Saturation: Mixes the luminance and hue of the base layer and the saturation of the blend layer.

  • Color: Mixes the luminance of the base layer and the hue and saturation of the blend layer. This preserves the gray levels in the image and is useful for coloring monochrome images and for tinting color images.

  • Luminosity: The opposite of the Color mode. Mixes the hue and saturation of the base layer and the luminance of the blend layer.

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