Learning Photoshop The Sweetest Way:- Blending modes of the brush tool

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Learn Photoshop CC With Pictures


“Blending modes of the brush tool” is part of my Photoshop book “Learn Photoshop CC With Pictures”, which is more revised and covers more concepts than the online tutorials, feel free to check out the book by visiting my Learn Photoshop CC With Pictures Book Page.


Now you have a nice basic idea on how to use the brush tool. I am going to add to the knowledge you learned by explaining a very useful feature in drawing and creating effects. Which is the blending modes of the brush tool (it applies to other tools as well). Photoshop Blending modes are one of the most useful ways of mixing colours in Photoshop. They are an easy way to create many effects as you will see in this lesson and the next few ones. This lesson is a bit long because there are many blending modes I need to explain, so bear with me a little bit please~
Blend-Modes
Here is where you can change the blend mode of the brush tool
I will explain only the general idea how each blending mode work. Which will makes it easier to understand them. The best way to understand how they really work is to experiment with them, just like almost anything in Photoshop~
Using Photoshop blending modes is easy, you just select the mode you want to use from the drop-down list and you paint away with the brush tool. As long you know the general difference between the  various blending modes and how the colours get mixed you will be fine. Don’t worry about the math behind these modes right now. Just think of them as specially effects used in painting and you will be fine
Modes-Groups of Blending Modes
Photoshop blending modes of the brush tool. Divided into 6 modes for the sake of simplification.
 There are many Photoshop blending modes to choose from. About 29 of them to be precise. We will take a look at each of them. And as I said, I won’t explain everything about them in full details. But I will make sure you will be able to be able to use them effectively. Because while it is certainly useful to understand the precise difference between all these modes. It is better that you get an idea on how to use them first. The goal of learning blending modes is to get to create the effect that you want to. Which in many cases can be done using more than one mode.
In short, I want you to spend less time learning how the blending modes work and more on how to apply these modes on your pictures. Because that’s what you are learning Photoshop to do, ne? ;D
Note
If you found yourself confused during this tutorial, don’t worry much about it. The concepts I am explaining are confusing to anyone new to them. You will find yourself familiar with blending modes after you play with them for some time. These blending modes are not straight-forward to understand mathematically. So try to understand the close as possible how the end result usually is

The Normal Blending Modes

This group of blending modes are the most basic ones, and what they do is quite straightforward, which is why I called it the normal group.

Normal Mode

The normal mode if the default blending mode when you select the brush. When you paint with this mode, the colour you paint will cover any colour below it. Assuming all the other settings like flow & opacity are set to %100.
Normal Blending Mode
Paining green on red with the normal mode

Dissolve

Another straightforward mode. When you use this mode, the edge of your strokes will become “fuzzy”. And just like the normal mode. Your strokes will cover the ones below them.
Dissolve Blending Mode

Behind

One of two blending modes that’s special to the brush tool only. And not applicable to the other modes that has blending modes as well. Usually, when you paint with the brush tool (like in the normal mode). The colour you add cover the strokes that are already there, but with the behind mode. The new strokes appears behind the ones that are already there, like this:- Behind Blending Mode Simply speaking, the behind mode only covers the pixels that are already transparent and ignores the ones that are not.

Clear

Another mode that is special to the brush tool. That mode simply turn your brush into an eraser:-
Clear Blending Mode

The Darken Blending Modes

Think of these blending modes as the group that mixes two colours and always produce a darker colour than the two colors we mix. The results are subtly different with each mode, but as long you embrace the “it produce a darker colour” idea. Everything about these modes can be understood later.

Darken

Just like the name implies. The darken mode darken the colour you paint on. But how does it do that? It simply selects the darker colour of the one your are painting and the one you are painting on (covering). It does that on the Red, green and blue separately, so the results may not be exactly what you expect.
Think of it as “taking the dark value of each of the colors to produce a darker value”
Darken-2

Multiply

Multiply works in a similar way to Darken, in that it also produces a darker colour of the two, except that it multiply the values of the two colours instead of selecting the darker values of the green, red and blue.
It is tricky to differentiate the difference between Multiply and darken, as you can see in the picture below this section
The Multiply blending mode always produces a darker colour.
Muliply Blending Mode

Color burn

  • Think of it as a way to produce a darker colour with more contrast, and as the name implies, this mode literally burn the colours by increasing the contrast in them.
  • Color burn works by increasing the contrast between the components of the two colours. Which is why the end result is usually so contrasted
  • Using white with this mode produces no changes
Color-Burn Blending Mode
A picture that explains how I think the burn colour got its name from. It makes you think that the colours got literally burned. And only the remnants of the colours are left.

Linear Burn

  • Similar to colour burn, in that it seems like it burn the colours. But it is much nicer than its predecessor.
  • And again, the way Linear burn works similar to colour burn. Except that it decrease the brightness of the darker colour to achieve the end result. Which is why it has a “nicer” effect than colour burn.
  • Using white with this mode produces no changes
Linear-Burn Blending Mode
Color burn (At the left) VS Linear Burn (At the right)

Darker color

Works similar to the darken blending mode. But instead of using the red, green and blue components of each colour. It simply choose the darker colour of the two. This is one of the easiest blending modes to understand
Here is a couple of strokes created using the darker colour. It doesn’t matter which stroke is made first. As the darker colour will always choose the darker colour of the two all the time. Notice how black always wins. While the bright green to the right is always below all the other colours.
Darker Blending Mode
Here is the darken group blending modes side-by-side
The darken group side by side. the darken and multiply work very similar to each other. It is easy to see how the colour burn burn the colour with a lot of contrast. Linear burn do the same but in a gentle way. Because the red I used to paint in this picture is darker than almost all the colours of the picture. It almost dominated all the colours of the pictures when I used it with Darker Color.
The darken group side by side. the darken and multiply work very similar to each other. It is easy to see how the colour burn burn the colour with a lot of contrast. Linear burn do the same but in a gentle way. Because the red I used to paint in this picture is darker than almost all the colours of the picture. It almost dominated all the colours of the pictures when I used it with Darker Color.

The Lightening Blending Modes

These blending modes are the opposite of the ones in the darken group. these blending modes mix twee colours to produce a lighter colour. If you understood how one group work, the other group works in the opposite way.

Lighten

The equivalent of the Darken mode. It choose the lighter colour of each of red, green and blue of the two mixed colours. Which results in a lighter colour of them
The lighten Blending Mode using light green, red, and blue colours, The translucent effect is obvious here
The lighten mode using light green, red, and blue colours, The translucent effect is obvious here

Screen

While I am not sure why this mode was called by this name. Its name is a good way to understand what it does. Think of this mode as you are looking through a glassy screen that makes coloers lighters Black has no effect on the picture on this mode. The brighter the colour you use is, the better the lightening effect.
The screen Blending Mode using the red, green and cyan.
The screen mode using the red, green and cyan.

Color Dodge

The lighten group equivalent of the colour burn mode. It lighten the colours of the picture by “burning” the colour of the underlying picture. The result is a “burned” colour with a lot of contrast
The colour dodge Blending Mode after applying multiple colours on it. It is easy to see the contrasting this mode produces
The colour dodge after applying multiple colours on it. It is easy to see the contrasting this mode produces

Linear dodge

Similar to colour dodge in that it burns the colours. But it produces a more gentle result. This is the lighten group equivalent of the Linear Burn mode.
Using black with this mode doesn’t change any colour of the picture.
Linear-Dodge Blending Mode

Lighter Color

One of the easiest modes to understand, this mode simply chooses the lighter colour of the one you are applying and the one on the picture.
Applying green on the picture using lighter colour covers almost all of it. But a little of the yellow and pink colours escape the change because they are lighter. Applying a dark red on the lower side on the picture doesn’t change much of the colours because many colours are lighter than it
Applying green on the picture using lighter colour covers almost all of it. But a little of the yellow and pink colours escape the change because they are lighter. Applying a dark red on the lower side on the picture doesn’t change much of the colours because many colours are lighter than it

The Contrast Blending Modes

As the name suggests, the blending modes in the contrast group work by playing with the contrasts between the two colours. I personally call it the lights groups. As I tend to think of them as a direct way to create different kind of lights in my pictures.
The contrast group tend to increase the contrast by lightening the lighter colours from the one you are applying and darken the darker one

Overlay

Think of it as looking at the picture through a tinted glass. Which makes the effect it produces similar to the Screen mode. But the effect it produces is stronger. The following picture shows you the difference between the two modes:
The reason these two are similar because overlay uses both screen & multiply on the pixels, depending if they are darker or lighter.
Overlay-Screen Blending Mode
The overlay and the screen modes. The overlay is on the top and the screen is below it. The screen mode produces a similar results to the screen mode, but the effect is stronger.

Soft light

This is one of my favourite blending modes. It is easy to understand thanks to its name. It produces a soft light on the picture, the effect is so gentle that it is lovely to look at.
Multiple colours applied on the flowers picture. See how it is nice to look at the end result~
Multiple colours applied on the flowers picture. See how it is nice to look at the end result~

Hard Light

Think of it as a stronger version of the Soft Light mode. This is useful mode to create spotlight to your pictures
Hard-Light Blending Mode

Vivid Light

Think of it as you are applying a very strong light to the picture. To the point that it, again, burns the colours. Along with the Hard Mix mode. This is the strongest way to burn colors among the blending modes as far as I know.
Vivid-Light Blending Mode

Linear Light

Think of this mode as applying an intense light to the picture. The details of the underlying picture can barely be seen behind it.
Linear-Light Blending Mode

Pin Light.

From the look at it, the pin light is like a mild version of the linear light. It sheds a strong light you can barely look at, but it is less opaque that many of the details of the underlying picture can be seen through it. Pin light selects the darker or lighter  colour of the one you are applying and the one of the picture depending whether the colour of the picture is above %50 grey level.
Pin-Light Blending Mode

Hard Mix

This blending mode is similar to the Vivid Light. It works by adding the red,green and blue of the three colours of both colour colours you are mixing.
Hard-Mix Blending Mode

The other 4 Blending Modes

So far, I don’t have an accurate name to use for these 4 blending modes. So I called them “The Other 4”. Those 4 modes depend on the underlying math of the mode to produce the result. Think of them as the colour invert group if you like. Or that they take the colour away from the picture you are working on, because that’s kind of what they seem to do.

Difference

This mode takes the greater colour of the one you are applying and the one of the picture, and subtracts it from the other one. The result is a colour that is the difference between the two colours. Without doing the math, it is hard to predict what kind of colours this mode will produce.
Difference Blending Mode

Exclusive

A blending mode that is similar the Difference mode. But creates a result that has less contrast than the Difference mode
Exclusion Blending Mode

Subtract

As the name suggests, this mode subtract the value of the colour of you are applying from the color of the picture.
Subtract Blending Mode

Divide

Another mode that does what it says. It divides the colour of the picture with the one you are applying.
On this picture, I applied red(resulted in green), green(resulted in red), and blue(resulted in yellow), on the flowers picture using the divide blend mode
On this picture, I applied red(resulted in green), green(resulted in red), and blue(resulted in yellow), on the flowers picture using the divide blending mode

The colour components modes

The last 4 blending modes work on the components of the colour. The Hue, Color, Saturation & Luminosity. Instead of green, red and blue. For the sake of making this tutorial easier to understand, I will assume that you have no idea what the Hue, Saturation, Color and Luminosity mean. So I am going to give you a brief description on them here, if you already know about these four. You can skip this part by clicking here :)

Hue

Hue is color, when you look at some colour, we tend to classify it as red, blue, green, yellow, orange, purple, or any other colour, disregarding whatever the colour is light or dark or whatever. This is the Hue component of the colour.
Three colours with different Hue values, it is easy to classify these colours as red, green and blue just by looking at them, even though the green at the middle is not the best green you could see around you.
Three colours with different Hue values, it is easy to classify these colours as red, green and blue just by looking at them, even though the green at the middle is not the best green you could see around you.

Saturation

The power of the colour. The bluer a blue is, the more saturation it has.
Three blue circles with difference saturation level. The blue at the right has the most saturation, resulting in a bluer blue, the one at the left barely has any saturation, which makes it kinda boring to look at. We could still classify the three colours as blue thanks to them having the same hue level.
Three blue circles with difference saturation level. The blue at the right has the most saturation, resulting in a bluer blue, the one at the left barely has any saturation, which makes it kinda boring to look at. We could still classify the three colours as blue thanks to them having the same hue level.

Luminosity

The amount of light the colour has, this component determines the amount of light the colour receives, and how much light or dark it is.
Lum
Now you are familiar with the HSL terms (shortcut for Hue, Saturation and Luminosity). Let’s get to the blending modes related to them~

Hue Blending Mode

Applies the colour of your brush on the picture while keeping the brightness and the luminosity of the picture pixels. This is one of the ways to change the colours in a given picture
Here, I changed the colour of part of the picture at the left by applying some red to it:-
Hue Blending Mode

Saturation Blending mode

Applies the Saturation of the colour of your brush while keeping the Hue and Luminosity
If you looked at the flower at the middle (the one with the arrow pointing at it, you will notice it colour os more saturated. It is because I applied an intense red on it. On the other hand. The flower to its left became so pale after I applied a color with low saturation on it
If you looked at the flower at the middle (the one with the arrow pointing at it, you will notice it colour os more saturated. It is because I applied an intense red on it. On the other hand. The flower to its left became so pale after I applied a color with low saturation on it

Luminosity Blending Mode

Applies the Luminosity (or Light you could say) of your brush colour to the picture. This is a good way to add light to your pictures by using a low flow value in your brush
I added some bright light to the upper part of the flowers picture by applying luminosity and setting the flow of the brush so low. At the bottom of the picture. I applies a bright colour to the flower at the right, resulting in covering it completely. And a dark colour on the left flower. Making it become less distinguishable.
I added some bright light to the upper part of the flowers picture by applying luminosity and setting the flow of the brush so low. At the bottom of the picture. I applies a bright colour to the flower at the right, resulting in covering it completely. And a dark colour on the left flower. Making it become less distinguishable.

Color

Applies Both Hue and Saturation of your brush colour and keeps the saturation of the picture colour. This is a very common way to change the colours of pictures.
If you don’t like the colour of the flowers ere, feel free to change them. To get the best results, choose colours that are not so bright and not so dark. Using a soft brush and lowering the flow or opacity can help you a lot here as well.
If you don’t like the colour of the flowers ere, feel free to change them. To get the best results, choose colours that are not so bright and not so dark. Using a soft brush and lowering the flow or opacity can help you a lot here as well.

Time to play with blending modes.

Now we are finally done with all blending modes, it is time to show you more examples of how to play with these modes on your pictures. There is virtually unlimited ways to do that. But giving you a head-on can surely help you see how great it is to be able to use them effectively:-

Having a graphics tablet can make it much easier to apply colours more precisely, even without using any selections or masks or whatever (we will get to these techniques letter). To select the tablet size, read my post on selecting the best size for your tablet

  • Make them both blue:- By using blue on the cat yellow eye, I managed to turn it into blue by using the colour blending mode. I made sure to set the flow low enough so I won’t get to add more blue than necessary, which would make the end result looks so unnatural. More manipulation of the colour can make the end result more real.

Cat-Eyes

  • Turn the day into night by using Hard Light blending mode with and apply blue on the picture

Night

  • Make your images brighter by applying overlay on them using a bright colour.

Brighter

  • Bask you image in the sunlight by applying white on your picture using the soft colour. You will need to apply more than one stroke to create a similar effect to this one.

Bask

  • The dissolve mode can make interesting effect in its own. I bet every gang that has Photoshop uses it :D

Make-Me-Believe

  • Still with the Dissolve mode. I created a simple grass effect by applying various degrees of green on top of each other using that effect. Various things can be created that way in Photoshop

Dissolve-Grass

  • I turned this cute Japanese girl into a Geisha by darkening her lips with red. Darkening her eyebrows with black. And applying white over her skin using overlay. Doing things like that is easier with layers, which I am covering right after the brushes lesson.

Geisha

  • Staying with white, I turned this penguin to white using layers and layers of soft light. He looks a little bit like chicken now.

White-Penguin

Conclusion

Now with blending modes. You are more capable to do things with Photoshop. There are still some important things I want to teach you. Which will make you able to do even more with the program. Plus, they will allow you to benefit with what you learned so far much better.

~If you liked these tutorials please share them with friends and link to them. As this will make me capable of creating more of them in the future~

There is still one more lesson for the brush tool. After that, I will start teaching you other of the very useful tools in Photoshop~

Blending Modes Resources:-

I couldn’t have made this blending modes tutorial without some external help. Here are two articles that were very useful in filling gut gaps in my knowledge when it comes to the Photoshop blending modes.

  • The official Adobe website:- which helped me explain the different blending modes more than anything~
  • This page explains the math behind the blending modes in details. Something I kind of avoided. But you may find this very useful if you want to learn more about Photoshop blending modes later

Would you like to learn Photoshop?

Check my Photoshop book Learn Photoshop CC With Pictures which contains a full course on how to use Photoshop in the simplest way possible.

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SweetMonia
I am an anime artist, and huge fan of digital art. I love drawing with pencils too. But I rarely do that anymore nowadays. Since some aspects of digital art can be tricky, I try my best to explain the concepts as easily as possible.

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