How to Use Blending Modes

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'm a big fan of keyboard shortcuts, and each of the blending modes has its own shortcut letter. Let's say you want to switch a layer to use the Linear Light blending mode. You could select it from the drop-down box at the top of the Layers palette. However, you may find it faster to use the keyboard shortcut: if you're using a Windows PC, hold down the Alt and Shift keys, and then hit the letter "J;" on a Mac, use Option, Shift, and J. In this book, I'll write shortcuts as Alt/Opt-Shift-, with the letter for the appropriate mode at the end. As you can see from the table on this page (there's a larger version in this book's Appendix, see page 164), most of the letters correspond to a letter in the mode's name.

Often it's useful to toggle back and forth between blending modes. You may want to compare the effect of using Lighten and Screen, or just cycle all the way through seeing what each does. There are a couple of keyboard shortcuts that make this easy. To move to the next mode in the list, hold down the Alt/Opt and Shift keys and use the plus (+) key. To move back, use the Alt/Opt and Shift keys together with the minus (-) key. In the recipes, I'll write these as Alt/Opt-Shift-Plus and Alt/Opt-Shift-Minus.


Sometimes you use the keyboard shortcut and nothing seems to happen in the Layers palette; the picture doesn't change as expected Don't panic, because there's a fair chance that one of Photoshop's painting tools is active and that your shortcut has changed the painting tool's blending mode rather than the layer's

If this happens, just hit the M key to activate the Marquee selection tool and then enter your shortcut

Group blending mode shortcuts




Next mode +

Lighten C

Difference E

Previous mode -

Screen S

Exclusion X

Color Dodge D


Linear Dodge W

Hue Saturation

Normal N


Dissolve 1


Hue U

Behind Q


Saturation T

Clear R

Overlay O

Color C

Soft Light F

Luminosity Y


Hard Light H

Darken K

Vivid Light V

Multiply M

Linear Light J

Color Burn B

Pin Light Z

Linear Burn A

Hard Mix L

Photoshop rarely has just one way of doing each task, and what works well for one person often seems counterintuitive to another This is true of layers and blending modes, and you will find that the recipes generally include both mouse and keyboard shortcut methods


1 Layers Channels 1 Paths


| Normal V

^pacit^: 100% >

Lock: n a

Fill: 100% *


.,-jj Background




C>. -1 J


To duplicate a layer, drag it onto the "Create a new layer" icon at the bottom of the Layers palette. Alternatively, Windows users can hold down the Ctrl key (Mac users, the Cmd key), while at the same time hitting the letter J.

formal dissolve darken Multiply lolor Burn inear Burn

Layers Channels ■J Paths Opacity


ighten Screen lolor Dodge inear Dodge

Overlay oft Light Hard Light i^iirid Light inear Light 5in Light Hard Mix

You can change a layer's blending mode with the mouse.


Previews versus actual pixels

Unless you have a huge screen or you work with small images, it's likely you'll use the Ctrl/Cmd-o keyboard shortcut and zoom images to fit Photoshop's window There are times when this zoomed image may be misleading

Hard Mix + inverted


This image is a self-blend where the top layer is inverted and uses the Hard Mix blending mode.

Color modes

This book uses RGB images throughout This is partly for consistency, but it's also because this mode supports the most complete set of blending modes For example, the Color Dodge, Color Burn, Lighten, Darken, Difference, and Exclusion blending modes do not work on Lab images

| Layers X, Channels \ Paths \ Normal

Normal Dissolve

Darken Multiply Color Burn Linear Burn

rkground rkground

Lighten Screen Color Dodge Linear Dodge

Overlay Soft Light Hard Light Vivid Light Linear Light Pin Light Hard Mis



Some blending modes aren't available when you're working in Lab mode.

42 driving rain

Layer Via Copy


Pointillize Cell Size: 5


Threshold Level! 255


Motion Blur Angle: -4E Distance: 10 pixels

Unsharp Mask Amount: 228% Radius: 0.5 pixels Threshold: 4


Motion Blur Angle: -45 Distance: 20 pixels


Set current layer To: layer Mode: screen Layer Styles: layer styles Scale: 416.7%

V |

Set current layer

Name: "Screen + Rain"

This action records a blending mode recipe.

What is happening is that when you zoom to fit the window, Photoshop shows a preview image on your monitor It's not the actual pixels scaled down, as you might expect, and sometimes the preview looks very different from the actual image Such differences are not exclusive to blending modes—I've also seen them when image adjustments are applied With blending modes, one symptom might be a picture that is unusually grainy, or when you flatten an image there may be a noticeable brightness difference between the flat and the layered versions

Nothing is actually wrong, and this can be confirmed by viewing the image at 100% and repeating the adjustment or image flattening When working with blending modes, I recommend occasionally using the command View>Actual Pixels or Alt/Opt-Ctrl/Cmd-o to check that the preview accurately represents the image pixels

You may notice that all this book's recipes begin with a single layer "background" image This is because I prefer to work with a copy of the original picture so that I don't overwrite a favorite image I also use Layer>Flatten Image to ensure a common starting point for all recipes—this really helps if I want to record a recipe as an action Lastly, I always leave the original background image in the file, sometimes hidden, just in case I ever need to make another copy of it

I just mentioned actions and should add that none of this book's recipes involves them It certainly makes sense to record favorite recipes as actions, and I do so myself But actions are about working efficiently and reproducing your work, and can be seen as "magic bullets" that keep people from exploring for themselves and creatively using layers and blending modes So, apart from encouraging you to use them, that's the last I'll say on the subject

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Adobe Photoshop can be a complex tool only because you can do so much with it, however for in this video series, we're going to keep it as simple as possible. In fact, in this video you'll see an overview of the few tools and Adobe Photoshop features we will use. When you see this video, you'll see how you can do so much with so few features, but you'll learn how to use them in depth in the future videos.

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