Blend Modes Explained: The Ultimate Guide to Blending Modes and Composite Modes
Blending modes and composite modes are one of the most practical and useful tools to use as a video editor, graphic designer, motion designer, photographer, and creative of any kind. No matter what video editing or photo editing software you use, they give you a ton of creative control - allowing you to overlay textures, graphics, and motion elements in just a couple clicks.
What do blending modes and composite modes do?
Blending modes / composite modes are broadly grouped into five categories which allow you to do five main things:
- Darken Blend Modes make white layers transparent.
- Lighten Blend Modes make black layers transparent.
- Contrast Blend Modes make grey layers transparent.
- Inversion Blend Modes invert the color between the layers.
- Component Blend Modes use different combinations of color between the layers.
How do you choose a blending mode / composite mode?
Most photo and video editing softwares break them up into those five sections (whites, blacks, greys, inversion, and component), separated by dividers, making them super easy to add and edit. Whether you're in Adobe Premiere Pro, Photoshop, Illustrator, Final Cut Pro X, DaVinci Resolve, After Effects, InDesign, Canva, etc...
The Normal Blend Mode / Composite Mode is the default blending mode and does not blend pixels. You have to change the opacity of the top layer in order to view the two images. So by simply stacking two images / video clips on top of each other will result in only the top layer being visible - unless the top image or video clip has parts rendered with an alpha layer. These are most commonly either a .PNG format for images and a .MOV format rendered as Apple ProRes 4444 w/Alpha Layer for video clips.
The Dissolve Blending Mode / Composite Mode does not blend pixels either. You have to change the top layer's opacity. When you do that, the pixels below are seen as a noise or dither pattern whose intensity is based on the opacity of the top layer.
1. DARKEN BLENDING MODE CATEGORY
The Darken Blending Mode / Composite Mode makes the image result darker by making the whites transparent. Any white in the image will become invisible.
The multiply blend mode / composite mode is one of the most popular blending modes in graphic design and video editing. Multiply makes the whites transparent. It's a great blending mode for film overlays, dirty letterboxes, and other graphics which you would like to key out the whites of the blending image. Additionally, you can fill white text with the image or video footage below the text, to make the image only visible within the text.
The color burn blending mode / composite mode gives your image a darker result than the multiply blend mode by increasing the contrast between the layers. This results in a more color saturated image.
The linear burn blend mode / composite mode gives the resulting image less saturated than the color burn blending mode but darker and more contrast than the multiply blend mode.
The darker color blending mode / composite mode is similar to the darken blend mode, in which the resulting image keys out the whites and keeps the darker colors.
2. LIGHTEN BLENDING MODE CATEGORY
The lighten blend mode / composite mode lightens the resulting image by making the blacks transparent. Any blacks in the blend layer (top layer) will be invisible.
The screen blending mode / composite mode is another popular blend mode that makes the blacks transparent. Very effective and stylish usage for film burns and film overlays.
The color dodge blending mode / composite mode makes the resulting image brighter than the screen blend mode by minimizing the contrast between the layers.
Linear Dodge (Add)
The linear dodge blending mode / composite mode is similar but stronger results than the screen and color dodge blend modes. It looks at the color information in each channel and brightens the base color.
The lighter color blend mode / composite mode is similar to the lighten blending mode. However, it does not blend each RGB channel like lighten, but blends the composite of all of the RGB channels as one.
3. CONTRAST BLENDING MODE CATEGORY
The overlay blending mode / composite mode makes the gray transparent in the image. This another one of the most popular blend modes, that blends the mid-tones. It is commonly seen as a combination of the multiply and screen blending modes. Great to use for film grain overlays, to make your image and video footage look like film.
The soft light blend mode / composite mode is similar to the overlay blending mode, but is "softer" and with less contrast in the resulting image.
The hard light blending mode / composite mode is similar to the overlay blending mode, but is "harder" and with more contrast in the resulting image.
The vivid light blending mode / composite mode is the most contrasted blend mode between the overlay and soft light blend modes. The darker grays are darkened and the lighter grays are lightened.
The linear light blend mode / composite mode results in a high contrast image by way of combining the linear burn on darker pixels and the linear dodge blending mode on lighter pixels.
The pin light blending mode / composite mode removes all mid-tones in the image resulting in a darken and lighten blending mode, simultaneously.
The hard mix blend mode / composite mode is an extreme blending mode which results in losing image detail. It renders the colors into the six primary color; red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, yellow, along with black and white.
4. INVERSION BLENDING MODE CATEGORY
The difference blending mode / composite mode it inverts the images colors. It stylizes footage and gives it an abstract feeling. It works well with film burns, film artifacts, and other overlays with color.
The exclusion blend mode / composite mode is similar to the difference blend mode, the whites invert, the blacks do not change, the mid-tones turn gray.
The subtract blending mode / composite mode is similar to the difference blending mode, but less contrast.
The divide blend mode / composite mode is the opposite of the subtract blending mode.
5. COMPONENT BLENDING MODE CATEGORY
The hue blending mode / composite mode resulting image holds the saturation and color of the base pixels while adopting the hue of the blended pixels.
The saturation blend mode / composite mode resulting image holds the hue and the luminosity while adopting the saturation of the blended pixels.
The color blending mode / composite mode resulting image holds the luminosity of the base layer while adopting the saturation and hue of the top layer (blend layer).
The luminosity blending mode / composite mode resulting image holds the saturation and hue of the bottom layer while adopting the luminosity of the top layer (blend layer).
We hope you’ve found this article on The Ultimate Guide To Blending Modes and Composite Modes to be useful and practical. For more valuable info, tools, and resources for film directors, videographers, photographers, motion designers, video editors, and creatives - check out the Ultimate List of Filmmaker Resources, Glossary of Essential Film Terms, or all blog posts.
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