Brush Blending Modes Adobe Photoshop

You’ve seen how you can adjust the brush’s behavior in the sense of its shape and color, but how does the paint interact with the canvas? If this were real paint, I would have to say it depends on the paint type and how dry the base layer is. You’d also probably have quite a mess all around the canvas. Or maybe that’s just me. Then again, I can’t eat without getting food on my clothes…but I digress. shows you the original photo on which I’m going to test blend modes.

My dog, Auggie, is here to test the blend modes.

My dog, Auggie, is here to test the blend modes

Photoshop has 25 blend modes that you can select for a brush, and these blend modes determine how the colors interact with the base image. You can find these modes in the options bar when you’ve selected a painting tool. See for the brush stroke examples and for where you can access them.

Here are the brush strokes at 100 percent normal on a 50-percent gray background

brush strokes at 100 percent normal on a 50-percent gray background

This is where you can find the blend modes.

where you can find the blend modes.

For the most part, the blend modes for the brush and for the layer react identically. A couple of brush blend modes don’t exist as a layer blend mode, and a few brush blend modes react a bit differently than its layer counterpart. The following subsections cover each and every possible blend mode. To illustrate this, each of the modes are followed by three figures.

  • The first image shows the brush stroke at 100 percent.
  • The second image shows the same brush at 50 percent opacity.
  • The third image is the brush stroke at 100 percent normal, but on a separate layer with the layer blend mode set to the corresponding mode.

Normal

Normal is the default mode,which appears as Threshold in a bitmap or an indexed color-image mode. At 100 percent opacity, your application colors are unaffected by the base layer. In other words, whatever color you choose appears the same—there’s no blending or influence from the base layer.

This is pretty much what you’re used to seeing: the standard in digital paint.

pretty much what you’re used to seeing: the standard in digital paint

Dissolve

Dissolve only comes into effect when the opacity is less than 100 percent. It allows randomized pixels to show through.

The 50 percent opacity strokes show the dissolve blend mode better than the others, but you can still see a bit of the dissolve on the edges where the brush strokes feather.

dissolve on the edges where the brush strokes feather

Behind

Behind affects only transparent parts of a layer, giving the illusion that the strokes are behind the layer. You can liken it to painting on the back of a sheet of acetate. Obviously, there is no “behind” layer blend mode. You would just put the layer, well, behind another.

To show how the brush blend mode works, I cut out slices of the image so the brush had a transparent section on which to paint.

transparent section on which to paint

Clear

With this mode pixels are made transparent, like the eraser.

There is no such effect for the layers;you can’t have a layer on top negate a layer on bottom to transparency, though it is an interesting concept.

layer on top negate a layer on bottom to transparency

Darken
Darken compares each color at the channel level and selects either the base or selected foreground(aka blend)color—whichever is darker—as the result color. Ergo, colors in the base are changed if they are lighter than the applied color, but colors that are darker than the applied color are not changed.

Despite its name, the Darken blend mode does not just darken, but colors the result by the application color.

Darken blend mode does not just darken

Multiply

Darkening all colors until they reach black is what the Multiply mode does. It looks at the color information in each channel and multiplies the base color by the foreground color. Using a light color allows more control over the effect, and painting repeatedly over the same area produces progressively darker colors, much like coloring with a marker.

The marker analogy is fairly accurate:not much different from Darken.

Multiply

Color Burn

A darker color darkens and saturates the base layer when you use Color Burn mode. It darkens by increasing contrast.

Blending with white on either the base or application produces no effect.

Blending with white on either the base or application produces no effect

Linear Burn

If you want to darken your work, use Linear Burn. It does its thing by decreasing the brightness of the base layer, which tints and affects white.

Even light colors subtract from the base layer

Even light colors subtract from the base layer

Lighten

The opposite of Darken, the base colors that are darker than the applied color are lightened. However, colors that are lighter than the applied color stay the same when you use Lighten mode.

Lighter colors stay the same

Lighter colors stay the same

Screen

The opposite of Multiply, the end result is always lighter with Screen mode. It looks at each channel’s color information and multiplies the inverse of the application and base colors.

Painting with black gives no effect, but even an almost-black color lightens the base.

Painting with black gives no effect, but even an almost-black color lightens the base

Color Dodge

Another lightening effect, Color Dodge infuses the base with the applied colors and brightens the base. The opposite effect of Color Burn, this lightens by decreasing contrast.

Here is the first example of how the brush reacts differently than the layer blend mode. Notice how the brush eats away much more than the layer.

Color Dodge

Linear Dodge

Similar to Screen mode, Linear Dodge brightens the base to reflect the application color. It’s a bit harsher than Screen, and it tends to go to white faster.

There is a subtle difference between the brush and the layer blend mode;the edges of the brush burn in just a bit with the brush blend mode, whereas the layer blend mode just fades at the edges.

Linear Dodge

Overlay

Overlay multiplies (darkens)dark areas and screens(lightens)light areas.

The base color is tinged with the application color.

Overlay

Soft Light

Similar to Overlay, but softer, Soft Light applies a color lighter than 50 percent gray lightens, and an application of a color darker than 50 percent gray darkens.

Luminosity values in the base are preserved.

Luminosity values in the base are preserved

Hard Light

This works similarly to Soft Light but tends to emphasize contrast and exaggerate highlights.

This effect is harsher than Soft Light.

effect is harsher than Soft Light

Vivid Light

Vivid Light is like the Soft Light and Hard Light modes, but instead of multiplying and screening, it uses a combination of Color Burn and Color Dodge. If the blend color (light source)is lighter than 50 percent gray, the image is lightened by decreasing the contrast. If the blend color is darker than 50 percent gray, the image is darkened by increasing the contrast.

You can see a dramatic difference between the brush and the layer blend modes

dramatic difference between the brush and the layer blend modes

Linear Light

Linear Light uses Linear Burn and Linear Dodge. If the blend color(light source)is lighter than 50 percent gray, the image is lightened by increasing the brightness. If the blend color is darker than 50 percent gray, the image is darkened by decreasing the brightness.

It’s the same concept as Vivid Light, but uses Linear Burn and Linear Dodge.

same concept as Vivid Light, but uses Linear Burn and Linear Dodge

Pin Light

Like Overlay, Pin Light divides and affects those pixels that have a brightness greater than 50 percent one way, and pixels that have a brightness of less than 50 percent another way. If the color applied has a brightness greater than 50 percent, then it replaces any affected pixels that are darker than 50 percent brightness. If the color applied has a brightness lower than 50 percent, then pixels lighter than it in the underlying image replace the color applied.

Pin Light works similarly to Overlay.

Pin Light works similarly to Overlay

Hard Mix

Hard Mix creates a posterized, graphic effect by reducing all colors to eight colors:black, white, red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, and yellow.

Graphics effects abound with Hard Mix mode

Graphics effects abound with Hard Mix mode

Difference

Difference creates a negative, or inverted, effect by subtracting the applied color from the base color or the base color from the applied color, depending on which has the larger brightness value.

A white application inverts the base colors.

white application inverts the base colors

Exclusion

A lower contrast version of Difference, Exclusion also has less saturation. A dark application color tends to convert the base colors to shades of gray.

It’s interesting how the 50 percent white reacts in the middle frame.

interesting how the 50 percent white reacts in the middle frame

Hue

The color, or hue, of the applied color is applied to the luminance(brightness)and saturation (intensity)values of the base color.

Notice how both the black and the white affect the image the same way. Both of them have no hue, per se, and result in a grayscale.

Hue

Saturation

Use the applied color’s saturation to blend with the hue and luminance of the base color.

Since the red, blue, and green have equal saturations, they give the same effect when used in the saturation mode. The same theory applies for the black and white.

Saturation

Color

Color uses both the saturation and hue of the applied color to colorize the base’s luminance.

The luminance on this base is colorized.

Color

Luminosity

Luminosity uses the applied color’s luminance to blend with the saturation and hue of the base color.

Luminosity is the opposite of Color

Luminosity


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