*Updated in January 2017 to reflect the change in the interface in Photoshop CC. Note that pretty much everything we talk about here in relation to blending modes and opacity works the same way in older versions of Photoshop too.*

27 Blending Modes in Photoshop

In this guide, we’re going to take a brief look at opacity and blending modes in Photoshop and how you can create different image effects by using these options. The options for changing blending and opacity are at the top of the Layer panel. When you blend layers you are changing the way pixels on the different layers mix with each other and this gives us some cool and unusual results. Blending modes can be a great way to compose multiple-image artwork.

Opacity in Photoshop Layers

Before we go to the blending modes let’s take a look at opacity and how it affects a layer. Opacity is sometimes referred to as transparency.

For this example, I’m using a Photoshop file that has two layers. The bottom layer contains an image of an old building with an orange coloured wall and the top layer contains a staircase on the outside of an apartment block. When you’re trying this out yourself, just use any Photoshop image with two different layers, with something on each layer.

Bottom Layer - Photoshop Blending Modes Top Layer - Photoshop Blending Modes

1. With the Stairs layer selected in the Layers panel, I click on the arrow beside the Opacity field. This opens the Opacity slider. Drag the slider to 40%. Notice that everything on this layer – the stairs and the wall they are attached to becomes less opaque and more see-through or transparent.

Top Layer Opacity Photoshop

2. Lowering the opacity of a layer makes the artwork on that layer more transparent so that the layer beneath it shows through.

3. Drag the opacity slider all the way to 0%, and you’ll see that the stairs have completely disappeared and the layer beneath is fully visible.  Drag back to 100% so that you can see the Stairs normally.

Opacity is certainly a useful function when we’re combining two or more layers, but when we add in the ability to change blending modes it becomes much more powerful.

Blending Modes

I’m going to continue with the same two layers for this example, and I’ll start with the Stairs or top layer in this image selected in the Layers panel.

1. On the top of the Layers panel, click on the arrow beside the field that says “ Normal”. You’ll see a drop-down menu with over 20 blending mode options. By default, all layers appear with a blending mode of Normal.

Layers Panel Photoshop Blending Modes Drop Down

2. From the drop-down menu, choose Hard Mix.  The image changes quite dramatically.

Blending Modes Photoshop - Hard Mix

Take a few minutes to try out different blending modes and see how the image is affected. Below you can see the same layers with Difference (top) and Linear Light (bottom) applied.

Blending Modes Photoshop - Difference Blending Modes Photoshop - Linear Light

Blending Modes Shortcuts

Probably the best way to understand or get a feel for the blending modes is to use your keyboard to cycle through them. The shortcut to cycle through the blending modes is to select a layer, then select a blending mode, then hold down Shift and press + (plus) to go forward or Shift and press (minus) to step backwards through them.

Multiply Blending Mode

The Multiply mode is probably one of the most often used blending modes. I use it all the time in my design and illustration work. It results in an overall darker and sometimes richer colour. BUT it also has a very special secret use for getting rid of white pixels on a layer. Where there are white pixels on a layer, those pixels will get knocked out and disappear.  This is a very, very useful trick and one reason why so many designers or photographers frequently use Multiply.

Keyboard shortcut: Shift+Option+M (Mac) or Shift+Alt+M (Windows).

In this example, I have a Photoshop file with two layers. On the top layer is a picture of a mime artist which has large amounts of white or very light colour pixels. On the bottom layer is a close up image of a flower.

Blending Mode Normal

When the blending mode is changed to Multiply, all of the white pixels are knocked out. So we can see below that only the dark pixels in the mime artist’s face and in the folds of his costume are retained. These dark pixels also appear darker.

Blending Mode Multiply

 

That’s it for an intro to blending modes and opacity. The best way to find out how they work is, of course, to experiment and check out all the different effects you can achieve. Have fun!

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