Join Deke McClelland for an in-depth discussion in this video Photoshop CS5's blend modes, part of Photoshop CS5 One-on-One: Mastery.
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All right, as I'm sure you're well aware by now, inside the Layers panel you have an Opacity value. That Opacity value allows you to mix the active layer with the layers below by making the active layer translucent. So if you set the Opacity value to 30 %, for example, then you're going to see 30% of the active layer mixed with the remaining 70%, that is 30 plus 70, equals a 100, the remaining 70% of all the layers below. That is one way of blending layers inside of Photoshop. The other way is to apply a Blend mode.
So right next door to the Opacity value, you'll see the word Normal, in the upper-left corner of the Layers panel. If you click on Normal, then you will reveal a list of 27 Blend modes here inside Photoshop CS5. So it's a huge list. Now, every single one of these Blend modes applies a separate mathematical operation, but rather than showing you what that operation is, because that would be fairly overwhelming I would think, and it wouldn't make all that much sense to most people, instead Adobe is trying to make the medicine go down a little more easily by assigning names to everyone of the Blend modes.
Only problem is those names don't really make any sense on their own, and of course there're 27 of them. Well, what we need to do, especially when not all Blend modes are treated equally; some are very, very useful, others not so much, well, we're going to run through every single one of them, so you'll have a sense of how they work. I'll spend extra time on the really great ones, but in the meantime, I'm going to introduce you to them. They are grouped more or less logically. I would have said very logically up until CS5. CS5 added a couple of new modes and just flumped them in here with difference in exclusion, which isn't really where they belong, but here is how they work.
Things start off in this black list. Notice that I've gone ahead and color- coded the various groups of Blend modes. In real life they don't appear in color, but they do appear in these groups. So we start things off with the Normal mode, which doesn't apply any special math. So you're just blending the layers subject to the Opacity level. If the Opacity value is set to 100%, then the layer is opaque, or as opaque as it gets, subject to the transparency of the individual pixels. Next comes the Dissolve mode. All Dissolve does is it treats transparency as a pixel pattern, so you get a dither pattern instead of straight on translucency.
I'll show you what I mean by that in a future exercise. In the next group, we have the Darken modes, which are sometimes called the Shadow modes. In the case of the Darkening modes, the active layer casts a shadow on the layers below. So we start things off with Darken. Then we move on to the better mode for most purposes, Multiply. Actually, Multiply is one of those great modes, one of the great Blend modes inside of Photoshop. Then we've got Color Burn, which ups the Saturation, also gives you more intense effect. Linear Burn, a little more intense still, but less over-the-top Saturation.
And Darker Color, which I have to say is generally worthless, but I'll show you how that works later. But for now, just bear in mind that Multiply is your really great Darkening mode, second to best is Linear Burn, and then the others you won't use that often. All right, next are the Lightening modes. We start things off with Lighten. Lighten is to the Lightening modes what Darken is to the Darkening modes. I'll show you what that means later, but for now, I just want you to know that every one of the Darkening modes, such as Multiply, has a buddy in the Lightning modes, and they're in the exact same place.
So in other words, Multiply is your best Darkening mode. Your best Lightening mode is Screen. Then we drop down to Color Dodge, which gives you a more intense effect, with higher Saturation values once again. Then if you want to tone those Saturation values down and get a still more intense effect, you drop down here to Linear Dodge (Add). Then finally we have Lighter Color, which is not particularly useful. So Screen is your number one mode of the Lightening modes, and then your number two is Linear Dodge. You won't use the others that often. All right, dropping down, once again we've got the Contrast modes.
The Contrast modes burn in the Shadows and lift the Highlights, which heightens the contrast of the image. So you're basically applying a combination of Multiply and Screen together in order to create a heightened Contrast effect. So your number one mode, the best of the bunch here is Overlay. Then if Overlay is coming on too strong, you can either reduce its Opacity value, but if you want to soften the effect, then you drop down here to Soft Light. If you want to enhance the effect, then you step it up to Hard Light, that is from Overlay to Hard Light.
Then if you want a more intense effect that also has heightened Saturation values, then you go with Vivid Light, which is essentially a combination of Color Burn and Color Dodge working together. Then if you want to take the Saturation down just a little bit, heighten the effect still further, then you go to Linear Light, which is essentially a combination of Linear Burn and Linear Dodge working together. Then you go to Pin Light, which is a numbskull mode, but I'll show you how that one works. And then Hard Mix, which basically boils your image down into eight colors.
So it gives you a highly posterized effect, but there is a way of tampering it using the Fill Opacity value. And Fill Opacity, the Fill value in the Layers panel, has a special effect, that is, it works differently than the straight on Opacity for a handful of the Blend modes, and I'll show you exactly what those are in future exercises. Next, we drop down to this sort of grab bag of modes right there, that used to be the Inversion modes, back when it was just Difference and Exclusion, because they're related to each other, but then in CS5, Adobe threw in Subtract and Divide, and they don't really belong here, but you might think of them as being Cancellation modes.
So the first two Blend modes use the active layer to invert those below. Similar colors become black in the case of Difference or gray in the case of Exclusion. The next two Subtract or Divide the active layer from the background. So when you're Subtracting, that is the math that happens. You're just Subtracting the active layer once again, so the Luminance of the active layer from the Luminance of the layers in the back of it. And when you're Dividing, you're Dividing the combination of Luminance levels of those layers in back of the active layer by the Luminance of the active layer.
That may not make all that much sense when I'm just sort of rattling it off to you, but I will show you examples of how these work. Ultimately, however, I will tell you, the Subtract mode is another Darkening mode. It's really the opposite of this guy right there, Linear Dodge (Add). It applies a very, very dark effect in most cases. Divide often ends up making your entire image look white, but there are uses for it if applied properly. Next, we have the Component modes. A pixel contains HSL, that is Hue, Saturation, Luminosity information, and Color, because there is that other mode right there.
In addition to Hue, Saturation, and Luminosity, we have Color. Color is a combination of Hue and Saturation working together. These modes mix the ingredients independently. So they're great for mixing full color images with each other. I will show you copious examples of every single one of these 27 Blend modes, and I will point you toward the ones that are really, really useful, as well as those that aren't that useful in the following exercises.
Recommended prerequisites: Photoshop CS5 One-on-One: Fundamentals and Photoshop CS5 One-on-One: Advanced.
- Using masks and blend modes in radically new ways
- Mastering the Pen tool and Paths panel
- Transforming and maximizing Smart Objects
- Employing Smart Filters to create complex effects
- Exploring the capabilities of Bristle brushes and the Mixer Brush
- Merging multiple images into seamless panoramas
- Exploring the full range of luminance with HDR Pro
- Recording actions and batching-processing images