Blending Modes, Blending Options, & Knockouts in Photoshop

Blending Modes

Normal & Dissolve:

  • Normal – Image effected only by opacity
  • Dissolve – Dithered /Jagged Edges – Chops Anti-Aliasing into individual pixels – Smooth Transitions changed into Noisy Transitions for Scattered Spots

Darkening Modes:

  • Darken – If pixel in active layer is darker than the pixel directly behind it, then you see that dark Pixel, if its lighter then it disappears – all pixels in both images which win out the darkness competition with the pixel it sits together with will be shown, all lighter losers will be replaced by the darker winner
    • Measured in all 3 Channels of each image, so 6 pixels in all are being compared for each viewable pixel, bottom red vs. top red, top blue vs bottom blue, Bottom Green vs top green, all darker are shown.. so often results in unusual colorization – Not very smooth transitions – abrupt transitions are
      also known as “postering”
  • Multiply – Main Darkening Mode – Casts Shadows, Burns One image into another – as if you take both images and set them together on a light-table- Darkened with each other, colors merged on top… its as if white in both images is removed, then recombined on a separate layer behind both images, or as if you draw green on a white background, then draw a red line which intersects the green line, the intersection would be similar to the way Multiply works
  • Color Burn – High-Contrast Darkening effect – Darker and Higher contrast than Multiply
  • Linear Burn – Even Stronger Version of Color Burn, Less Saturated than Color Burn
  • Darker Color – Selects only the Comparative Darker Color from the Background to Show through

Lightening Modes:

  • Lighten – Opposite of the Darken Mode, all RGB Pixels are compared, and only lighter ones of each pair in every pixel are shown – Strange Colorization & Posterization can also occur, as with Darken
  • Screen – Main Lightening Mode – Opposite of Multiple – Lightens – Mode of all Glows – Mode employed by Monitors, Digital Cameras, & the RGB Standard – as if you have two separate images, each over its own separate Light, and then you put them both together, or project them both onto the same screen on the wall.. Each image Lightens the Other…they lighten each other
  • Color Dodge – Opposite of the Color Burn Tool.. Burn Darkens, with High Contrast, Dodge Lightens with very High Contrast
  • Linear Dodge – Opposite of Linear Burn, stronger Lighting than Color Dodge, but less Color Saturation
  • Lighter Color – Selects only the Comparative Lighter Color from the Background to Show through

Modes which Lighten & Darken:
(Simultaneously apply ‘Screen’ to the Lightest colors in both images, while also applying ‘Multiply’ to the Darkest Colors in both images – Most Useful for creating Masks)

  • Overlay – Main Mode of this Section – Saves the Whites & Saves the Darkest Colors – and see through all colors in between – Weighs each Whole Pixel of both images at the same time, and keeps only the Whites & lightest colors, and Blacks & darkest colors, and all in between become neutral and transparent – if a white is lighter and closer to 255 end of the scale, than the black and dark pixel directly over it is to the 0 and black end of the scale, the one closer to either 255 or 0 will be saved and the other will be dropped.. all pixels not within a specific range from the ends of the 255 end of the scale and the 0 end of the scale will become neutral and appear to drop out or be transparent
  • Soft Light – Lower Contrast version of Overlay, but uses an entirely different process than overlay – Appears as if a Softer, lower Contrast, & more transparent image was placed on top of the original image – as if the top layer was much less strong than the bottom layer
  • Hard Light – Appears Harder & Stronger than Overlay – turns the top layer into a much stronger, harder, higher contrast less transparent image, which overpowers the underlying image much more.. Actually, applying Overlay to layer A over layer B is the same as applying Hard Light to Layer B over layer A – making it an inversion of Overlay, but appears as an opposite of Soft light – Very Distinct Whites, less Distinct Blacks, transparent in-betweens
  • Vivid Light – works like Color Dodge or Color Burn in this section, very vivid & Very High Saturation version of Hard Light – Great for mask Creation
  • Linear Light – Even Stronger than Vivid Light, but with less Saturation,.. like the Linear Dodge, or Linear Burn of this Section
  • Pin Light – Drops most all Grey values.. very harsh transitions from Lights to Darks. keeps only the very lightest and very darkest, – Works like Darken or Lighten, except with a range that is much closer to 255 & 0 on both sides of the spectrum – Good for Texturing
    Hard Mix – Super Hard Light & Dark sampling, very far to 255 & 0, maybe only 4 pixels away from each.. there are only 8 Colors left in all channels – it turns each individual channel black & white which gives you Red, Green, Blue, Cyan, Yellow, Magenta, and also Black & White, regardless of the image. – some Texturing use, but is best used when Creating Masks, gives the Best Threshold Mix, everything will be black or white in every channel

Math Modes:

  • Difference Mode – Inverts all the colors of the Active Layer, black converts to transparency – useful as a step in selection & Mask Creation for removing blacks
  • Exclusion Mode – Muted Colors, Muted Grays – less intense than Difference
  • Subtract – Subtracts the Layer color from the Layer to leave a transparent overlay of the layer colors subtracted from the color formula, leaving an image thats what the layer & Pixel color is not – as if to say it remains without the current layer colors.. and all Whites become transparent, creating kind of an inverse overlay effect
    Divide – Divides the Color value in Half on the scale, or selects a value which is half a scale away from the current color, so a 360 Hue Value Becomes 180, etc. when on top of another layer.. works on layers as if to measure between two colors, and selects the exact middle point between the two layers, and all Blacks Become Transparent

Adjustments Modes:

  • Hue – Combination of Saturation & Luminosity are taken from below the current layer and combined with the Hue of the selected layer
  • Saturation – Opposite of Hue – Saturation & Luminosity are taken from the current layer, and combined with the Hue of the layers Below..
  • Color – Keeps Color Values from top layer, mixes it in with the Brightness values of lower layers – opposite of Luminosity – All Lights & Darks are kept from lower layers and blended with the color values from top layer
  • Luminosity – retains all luminosity in selected layer, and retains all color values from layers below it, merging the luminosity in the current layer with the colors below – keeps all lights and Darks in top image, allows all colors through from lower layers

The best Modes are Multiply, Screen, Overlay, Color, & Luminosity

Back out blending by using Opacity

Besides being useful for masks, the Higher contrast & Stronger ones are also useful in color overlays, gradients, duplicate layers etc with lower opacity values

To darken over 100% opacity, duplicate layer, which gives you 200%, reduce the new layer to 50% to give you 150% opacity

Use more than one Blend mode at a time by blending one mode, duplicating layer, then blending the next mode..

You can merge layers with the same Blend Mode, but you cannot merge layers of different Blend Modes

Changing colors in your image with the Hue/Saturation tool can help improve your layers performance with blends, lightening colors to whiter, or darkening them to closer to black, will improve their performance in many blend modes, and adjusting the Hue & Saturation of key areas or the overall image will make big differences as well

Blending Options

  • Double-Click Layer Icon to open Properties
  • Adjust Blending Settings of “This Layer” by sliding the sliders in from the white 255 & black 0 ends of the spectrum
  • Rip the sliders apart by Alt+Clicking one half of the slider, and dragging it to smooth out transitions
  • Repeat with the “Underlying Layer” Slider
  • OK to exit out
  • Set Desired Blending Mode

Copy Layer to apply two different desired attributes from one image onto a new image

Fore Example, Screen for taking only the Highlights from one layer, and Color for taking the Hue and coloring from a duplicate layer, both blend modes can then be applied to a third layer beneath them


Ways to reduce or eliminate the Layers effects on certain parts of an image, and it knocks through many layers of effects

  • Create a New Group
  • Put all layers you want to knock out into the one group
  • Create a new Layer in the knock-out group, on top of the other layers
  • Create a New Selection on the area you want to knock out of the Image
  • Keep your selection and Select your New Layer, if selecting from another layer
  • Ctrl+Alt+D to Feather Selection
  • Fill with any Color
  • Check feathering – remove fill, re-adjust feathering, & Refill again to get new knockout feather settings
  • Deselect
  • Double-Click Layer Options
  • Select Knock-Out to “Shallow” to knock out to Bottom of Current Group (Deep Knocks out all the way to background)
  • Reduce Opacity to 0%
  • Click OK
  • Done!

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