Add Bold Effects to Your Images with Blend Modes

December 20, 2011 at 11:00 am | Posted in Conventional Art, Software | Leave a comment

Hello, fellow readers! It’s the Imikimi Team here, and we hope you’re very well. Today, we have yet another feature for you, but this time it’s a bit more practical. In reading through some of the literally millions of art and design tutorials to be found on the web, you’ve likely stumbled across the phrases “layer modes” or “blend modes.” We’re going to talking a little bit about them, show you what they can do, and how they can save you time. Ready? Here we go!

To simplify things a bit, “blend modes” and “layer modes” are interchangeable names for the same thing. Some programs call them one, some the other. For the sake of this article, we’re going to call them “blend modes.” Although perhaps an abstract idea at first, with patience you’ll quickly understand just how powerful these are. Essentially, blend modes tell images how to interact and mix colors with other images. That’s the heart of it. But making it more complicated is the fact that most software packages such as GIMP or Photoshop have many, many different blend modes.

As you may know, most 2D art programs (such as those previously mentioned) use “layers.” While layers are not the subject for today, to put it simply, think of creating a collage. Perhaps you have a thick piece of cardboard as you background, to which you’ll pin dozens of photos. Each photo can be thought of as a “layer.” You can arrange these however you like, putting one in the top left, one in the bottom right, maybe one overlapping the corner of other. Blend modes mix the top image’s colors with that of the image below, creating whole new effects.

Let’s take a moment to show you some blend modes and tell you a little bit of what they do. We will be using the free trial of Adobe Photoshop to demonstrate, but this will work equally well in GIMP and other programs which support blend/layer modes. In Photoshop, directly above the layers, you’ll see the drop-down menu which enables the selection of blend modes. If you click, you’ll see the names of every blend mode available, so let’s do that now. Some of the blend mode names you’ll see include normal, dissolve, multiply, screen, soft light, vivid light, overlay, hue, saturation, luminosity, and more.

Here, we’ll take the top image (below) and place it above the middle image, setting its blend mode to “screen.” Watch what happens. If you notice, the top image is now blended with the middle image. The “screen” blend mode looks at the values of the layer and makes completely transparent anything that is completely black. Vice versa, anything that is white is now completely opaque, and anything grey-ish is now slightly transparent. Pretty neat!

Now let’s take a different photo and set it to “multiply.” Multiply does the exact opposite of screen, meaning it will make transparent anything that is white, and make opaque anything that is black. The transparency of color values in between will vary based on how light or dark they are. In the below example, you can see that applying the multiply blend mode has given the image the appearance of an old, dirty photography. Vintage, even! This may be a look that you’re going for.

Last but not least, let’s take a look at the “color” blend mode. Taking the top image, placing it above the photo of the family with the color blend mode will imbue the image with the colors of the above image, preserving the bottom photo’s tones. That’s just a sampling of some of the blend modes to be found! So please take your time to try each one, discovering their best uses.

As always, we here at Imikimi thank you so much for taking the time to stop by! We’ll have yet another feature coming the next few days, so please keep your eyes peeled! Thanks, and we’ll see you soon!

Best Wishes,
The Imikimi Team

“Every artist was first an amateur.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

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