Visual Guide to Layer Blending Modes in Photoshop

The most essential feature in Photoshop is the ability to work with layers. Mastering the blending modes is key for every designer/graphic artist. There are quite a few articles on the web explaining how the different blending modes work. That is all very nice and interesting, however they always only show one example. From experience I know that the blending modes depend very much on the images you use. Hence I decided to showcase the different blending modes in action using 3 different images as overlay. You’ll notice the differences.

Self-Blending:

The first series shows the effect of the blending modes when you use it on the same image as the background. All you have to do is duplicate the background layer and change the modes of the top layer image. Here’s the results. You can click on the images to view them in original size.

self1self2self3self4self5self6self7

Solid Color Blending:

These effects are achieved when stacking a solid color layer on top of a background image and changing the blending modes. In this case the difference are quite sublte for most modes from the same “family”.

color1color2color3color4color5color6color7color8color9color10

Gradient Clouds Blending:

For this last example I used a colorful clouds image to blend. The different colors and brightness/darkness variations allow us to see what the different blending modes are really about.

gradient1gradient2gradient3gradient4gradient5gradient6gradient7gradient8gradient9gradient10gradient11gradient12

Final Words:

Use this article as reference or sort of like a Photoshop Cheat Sheet. I encourage you to discover the power of blending modes by yourself. Take two images and blend them together. Vary the layer opacities and try different blending modes on top of each other. The possibilities are endless.

Written by Franz Jeitz

Franz Jeitz is a freelance designer and owner of Fudgegraphics. Originally from Luxembourg he now lives in London. Franz loves design, music and is a tea enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter.

Join the Discussion:

29 Awesome Responses so far
  1. Ooo lets have a mixed bag of these! Like self overlay+gaussian blur!

  2. Useful post thanks, keep em coming! =-)

  3. Good idea to demonstrate the variety of blending modes on offer, but I have to admit most of these look horrible. I find myself only using a few of the available blending modes for this very reason, and most of the time only using them when the blend-mode image is the same as the original. That being said, they’re definitely a powerful feature of Photoshop.

    Nice article :)

    Tom Ross´s last blog post..PSDFAN (or rather I am) on Twitter

  4. @Tom:

    You’re right, most of these don’t look good at all. I usually only use Multiply, Overlay and Soft Light for most of my works.

  5. Agree that most of these will hardly be used at all, but still, you never know what you might need! Thanks for the post =)

  6. Great wrap up, there are in fact only handful of blendmodes that are generally useful. I think you covered it well.
    .-= Roberto Blake´s last blog post: How Designers SHOULD Use Twitter to Succeed =-.

  7. I beg to differ, I find that all blending modes have their purpose. You just have to experiment with how they interact. Admittedly, single blending (only one layer with blending over another) is limiting; the key is to experiment with multiple layers set on different blendings.

  8. Good tutorial to understand the different overlays.

  9. Good visual reference for Blending Modes. This is a very deep subject, probably worthy of a book all by itself. I’d encourage Photoshop artists to learn them as many of them have great uses.
    For instance Screen used with an Adjustment Layer works well for lightening images, and that same Screen mode can work great as a base for adding effects such as flames, or lens flares.
    Subtract works great for doing sophisticated Spatial Frequency separation techniques. And Difference is the easiest way to see if 2 layers line up properly.
    So even though many of the uses aren’t easily apparent the more you know about the power they provide the easier it can be to achieve the results you want.

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