Your Ultimate Guide to Blending Modes {Plus Printable References!}

“What the heck is a blending mode?”  When I was first trying to wrap my head around Photoshop, blending modes (or blend modes as they’re sometimes called) were one of those elusive concepts.  I didn’t even want to research it because I thought the concept would be so over my head.  Fortunately, that is definitely not the case, and I’m going to give you a visual guide to blending modes!

You will find the option to change the blending mode in the Layers Palette, to the left of the Opacity.  By default, it is ‘Normal.’  You can change the blending mode for any layer, with the exception of the Background Layer.

Blending Mode Location

When you click the dropdown, you can see all the blending mode options available.

List of blending modes

A blending mode takes the color values of two layers and combines them using a formula. (source)


As you can see, the blending modes are broken up into sections:

  • Independent Modes: Normal, Dissolve
  • Darken Modes: Darken, Multiply, Color Burn, Linear Burn, Darker Color
  • Lighten Modes: Lighten, Screen, Color Dodge, Linear Dodge, Lighter Color
  • Contrast Modes: Overlay, Soft Light, Hard Light, Vivid Light, Linear Light, Pin Light, Hard Mix
  • Comparative Modes: Difference, Exclusion
  • HSL Modes: Hue, Saturation, Color, Luminosity

If you’d like to read more in depth about the nuts and bolts of the different modes, this is a link to a great resource.

For me, visual guides are the best, so I put together a reference guide.  The resulting images were created by duplicating the image and setting the blending mode accordingly.  Creating an adjustment layer on top of the background layer and setting the blending mode would have the same effect.

Ultimate Guide to Blending Modes

The above image is available as a PDF here if you’d like to print it out for your reference. Smile

I also put together another visual using an image and a texture overlay.  Again, this shows the effect of setting the blending mode of the texture overlay layer. (Harvest texture courtesy of Shadowhouse Creations, from the Photo Tints Overlay Set – thanks, Jerry!)

Ultimate Guide to Blending Modes - With Texture Overlay

If you’d like to print the above guide as a reference, the PDF is available hereSmile

When setting a layer to a blending mode, you always have the option of turning down the opacity of the layer.  In contrast, you could also duplicate the layer to increase the effect.

Most Used Blending Modes

Although there are obviously many blending modes to choose from, the ones I’ve used the most in editing photos are the following:

  • Soft Light – Great for adding contrast to a photo (tone down the layer opacity).  Also a great blending mode to use when working with a texture on top of a photo.
  • Overlay – Provides even more contrast than Soft Light.  Another great blending mode to try when working with a texture on top of a photo.
  • Multiply – This will darken an image.  I use it when I want to deepen the color of an image, such as when making a vignette.
  • Screen – Screen is the opposite of Multiply!  This mode will lighten an image.  It has lots of applications.  Try it at reduced opacity to lighten eyes or skin and on Fill Adjustment layers.
  • Luminosity – This mode is great to use when doing an s-curve.  If you set the curves layer to the Luminosity blending mode, it better protects the colors in the image and just changes the tones.
  • Color – Color mode is great to use when wanting to paint and change the color of something while trying to retain the texture.  I will use the Color mode when I am painting on skin.

I hope the visuals were helpful!  If you enjoyed this tutorial, I’d love for you to drop a comment or share this post!  Thanks for stopping by.  Smile

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9 Responses to Your Ultimate Guide to Blending Modes {Plus Printable References!}

  1. sunday Barker says:

    I love reading all the information. I just got photoshop and I feel like it needs a kindergarden class for me first…lol! Im still trying to figure out how to save what I do…lol! I’m determined to learn this stuff! Thanks so much for your help…

  2. Pingback: Creamy Light – Adding Creamy Brightness in Photoshop {Plus a FREE Action!} | Polished Picture

  3. Amy says:

    Just printed out your PDFs! I’m new to photoshop, and your blog is one of the best resources I’ve come across! Thanks for all the great tips!

  4. Leah says:

    Thank you so much for sharing all your knowledge with us. I love this site. I have learned so much about photoshop already thanks to you x x x x

  5. Very nice job on this tutorial !!

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