Sarah (maidofawesome) wrote in graphics_school,

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Lesson 6: Blend Modes

I don't know how much you guys use computers, but I expect you probably know that on most programmes, when you hover your mouse over a tool, it normally tells you what it does. On Photoshop it does this, and it is rather helpful. So if you're not sure what I'm talking about (although I like to think that I'm pretty good at explaining things to death, plus with pictures!) you can always hover your mouse over a tool and find out if it is what I'm talking about.

Ok, blend modes! We've dealt with them a little before, but just a reminder, you can find them at the top of the layer palettes, here:

If you click the little arrow next to where it says Normal, this list pops up:

I don't use all of these. The ones I use the most are Screen and Soft Light (as we have seen). I'm not going to go through them all today, because, as I say, I don't use them all. However, at the end of this, I will link you to a fabulous guide to all the Blend Modes that I found on icon_tutorial. Anyway, today I am going to go through:

- Multiply
- Color Burn
- Overlay
- Soft Light
- Exclusion
- Color

Not necessarily in that order.

The reason we started off with Fill Layers last lesson is because these blend modes, teamed with a Fill Layer, can create a really cool effect. Or a fugly effect. It depends. So let's start with...


Change the fill layer above your base to Color. Look how pink she is!!

The Color mode is quite fun for totally changing the colour of an image. But you need to use it sparingly, because sometimes it makes an image look grainy. Don't worry about that so much now, but it's something to be aware of.

If you change your Color layer (man, it makes me twitch missing out the 'u' there, you wacky Americans) to Black or White, you will find that it makes your icon black and white. It's basically another way of desaturating an image. As with all layers, you can reduce the opacity of your Color layer, which can make some really pretty effects.

Remember how we dealt with adding Screen and Soft Light layers to a base to improve the quality? Well, you can add your fill layers before you flatten them. Try slotting a Color layer under your Soft Light layer. It's something that's fun to experiment with.

It can really change the overall colour. Which is kinda pretty.

Soft Light

I'll be honest with you - I do use the Color layer, but really only sometimes. Often I just use it to colour part of an image, but that's kind of involved and, meh, I'll go over it later.

Using a Soft Light fill layer is a lot more subtle and pretty. For instance, the same slightly gaudy pink on the same Veronica Mars base: a lot less offensive. But still quite offensive, because that's a bad colour and I don't know why I'm demonstrating with it. Um. Blue?

Ok, that's a much prettier example. You see how it adds a general blue tone to the image, without overpowering it? The same shade on Color is:

...gaudy. Ew.

What's great about Soft Light is it's always different, and mostly subtle. Using a dark Soft Light layer makes your image darker. Using a light one makes your image lighter.

Black: White:

Yes, both of those are overkill, but on an icon that is over-dark or over-light, it really helps.

Experiment with it. One combination I like is a pale pink Soft Light layer and a dark blue Soft Light layer, it creates a really nice effect. Look:

I'm not going through the Screen layer, because I never use it as a fill layer.


The Exclusion layer works pretty much only with one colour - dark blue. It adds a nice soft effect. Add a dark blue fill layer to your base, and change it to Exclusion.

Before: After:

It sort of... mutes the image. The lighter blue you go, the more muted the image gets.

The darker, the more subtle it is. I prefer it when it isn't used by itself, when it's used under a Soft Light image layer, or something.

Soft Light without Exclusion:

Soft Light with Exclusion:

Beware of using too light a shade of blue!

And most other colours don't work so well!

Oh. Fug.

Anyway, it's not a very flexible blend mode, because there really is only one thing you can do with it. But used sparingly, it's nice, don't you think?


Multiply is nice used together with Exclusion. My favourite way to use it is to add a flesh-coloured fill layer, set to Multiply. It adds a lot of warmth to an image. Recently I demonstrated it to my friend (who has never used Photoshop in her life and doesn't get why I spend so much time on this icon crap) because she had a photo of herself on MySpace that she thought she looked pale in, so I added a peachy Multiply layer to it and lo! Instant bronzer! (She said 'Wow!' so, it works)

I shall demonstrate with Veronica.

Take add and you get

You can duplicate the Multiply layer to increase the effect.

(two layers)

...which can sometimes create the 'Oops, I fell asleep in the sunbed' effect, but you can use it stylised to create a really aged, brownish look, which I like.

From to

Another way to create an aged look is to add a brown Color layer, but you will notice that the quality is not always great, whereas this icon is sharp, yet still oldy-looking.

Although, feel free to combine this look with a Color layer for brownish prettiness. Like so:

You can use other colours, though. Most work, but I find that using a paler colour works. If you use a colour that's too dark, it overpowers the image, and eventually fails to have any opacity at all.

Pale Blue: Dark blue:

The pale blue doesn't go at all, but experiment. I'm showing you how it looks. And the darker blue... yeah, Hermione is in there somewhere.


Overlay is very similar to Soft Light but... more so. When used as an image layer (rather than a fill layer) it makes the shadows darker, the light brighter. It's a cool layer, but it can be overdone - like overcontrasting an image. It's useful, though, when you want a really crisp, bright icon, but you might find that it works best on a lower opacity. We'll use it a bit later, I'm sure.

With colour, it also works like Soft Light, but again, increases its effects. For instance, an electric blue fill layer brightens an icon:

Much like it does with a Soft Light fill layer of the same colour: but do you see what I mean? More so. Try with various colours. You can come across some pretty effects, and some not so pretty ones. It's one to play with.

Woo! One left!

Color Burn

This tends to saturate an image with that colour. With colder shades, like green or blue, it can work well, and really brighten the image. Most of the fill layers do this.

+ =

+ =

It doesn't look as good with the warm shades, like pink:

It's a bit messy. And with darker shades, like a dark blue:

It's just ugly. Stick to pastels!!

Blend Modes are something I use as and when I need to, and as such, I don't know everything about all of them. However, I have a fantastic tutorial for you which explains them all, and far better than I did in this tutorial. Click on this. I can predict, though, that you'll probably still end up just using the ones I've explained, as they really are the main ones. Yup.

In a few tutorials' time, I'll go through some combinations of blend modes that can make great icons. I've already done this a bit, but I want to go into it in more depth, so you can really see what you can do.

We're getting there, aren't we? You should have some pretty classy icons by now. :) Although sadly silent... so next up is - finally - text! Woo!

<--- Lesson Five | Lessons Index | Lesson Seven --->
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