When to Use Which Blending Mode?

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simonwl

simonwl

Introduction

Clip Studio Paint’s blending modes are an easy way to add shading or highlighting to a picture, as well as achieve a bunch of other effects. However, there’s a lot of them, and sometimes it’s unclear which one will help you the most.

 

In this tutorial, I will give a few examples of how I used specific blending modes to achieve various effects. I hope that this will help introduce you to some possible use-cases of blending modes!

 

Make sure to also check out the video version of the tutorial:

A Brief Overview of Blending Modes

Before I get into my examples, I wanted to share an overview over which blending mode can be applied to achieve which effect.

Example 1: Harsh Light Sources

Now, let’s examine this drawing of my character Mikay. I will show you how I go from this…

 

…to this!

For starters, above the base fill color layer, I created a darker version of the base colors. I often pick colors for shading by hand, in order to be able to have very direct input over the colors.

 

I could, of course, also use a blending mode to get darker colors. For example, let’s see what a dark blue/purple color laid over the base fill colors with 40% opacity and the blending mode set to “Linear Burn” would look like.

For comparison, here is the version where I picked the darker colors by hand. I wanted to ensure that I had direct input over how the character’s fur looked, because it was important to me that there was a warm tone to it, even in a dark night scene.

 

Of course, I could also adjust the colors on the layer and still use a blending mode… However, even then it’s not going to be as direct as simply picking custom darker colors from the color wheel and applying them. Which is why, to me, for cases such as these, it’s faster and easier to actually NOT use a blending mode.

Okay, hold on. I know right now you might be wondering, “why is that guy talking about not using blending modes in a video about using blending modes”?

 

Because no matter how useful a tool is, not every tool is going to fit every situation. I think it’s important to make clear that blending modes are powerful and useful tools, but depending on the situation they might not always be the easiest or most effective tool. However, in just a moment, we will get to see examples of where they help me achieve a desired effect!

Let’s get back to that layer with the darker colors. I wanted some light from the screen to be seen on the character’s face. That’s why I ended up creating a Layer Mask. Once I had the Layer Mask set up, I used an eraser to remove the sections of the layer with the darker colors where I wanted the highlights to be.

 

By using a Layer Mask, I could ensure that I was able to also add shading again, and wasn’t stuck having to undo something I permanently erased and didn’t end up liking.

Once I was done with that, I created a new layer with a slight gradient to pull the focus closer towards the character’s face and the screen.

 

Behind the character, I’ve also added a yellow glow - without a blending mode - to further pull the eye towards the center of the image.

And now we’re getting into examples of blending modes!

 

Blending modes, in my opinion, work especially well if you want to add light from a specific light source to an image. The reason it makes sense to use blending modes in these cases, compared to picking custom colors for shading is that it’s more about the color of the LIGHT than the color of the OBJECT.

If I want to convey that an object has a specific color, I want to have very direct and clear input over the color, to make sure that both the base color and lighter or darker versions of it are geared towards conveying the nature of the object’s color. I wanted this character’s fur color to look warm, which is why I picked custom darker colors earlier.

 

But now, I am adding a yellow/orange light coming from the screen. I want to convey that the screen has a warm tint, and so it’s a lot faster and easier to do that with a single color layer set to a specific blending mode.

And now, we can see what they look like - with the rest of the artwork present - when I use the blending mode “Color dodge”.

 

But how did I know to use that specific blending mode? I experimented. Let’s try to do the same, and see what the results of using other blending modes are. Keep in mind that how these turn out depends on the color of the blending mode layer, as well as the colors below. So, with different colors, other blending modes might work better. Experimentation is key, but as long as you keep the brief overview in mind, you should know which blending modes to focus on trying out, until you find something that works.

“Glow dodge” leads to highlights that feel much too harsh. Also, pay attention to the arm to see how the lower transparency sections of the highlights interact with some of the darkest colors - the highlights barely show up.

“Add” ends up with the highlights looking much less saturated. Because I want to push the warm tone of the light, this option doesn’t work as well.

“Add (Glow)” has the lower saturation of “Add”, but some of the blow-out from “Glow dodge”.

“Screen” feels similar to “Add”, but lets the color of the highlight layer come through a bit stronger.

 

“Lighten” actually has some really nice colors on the character’s clothing. The highlight layer colors come through even stronger, while we lose sight of the character colors. This is especially true in how this blending mode affects the characters eyes and teeth.

 

“Hard Light” feels like a half-way point between the results from “Lighten” and “Color dodge”.

 

“Soft Light” feels like a less intense version of “Hard Light”.

 

“Overlay” feels like a more saturated version of “Soft Light”.

 

Maybe you are now able to see why I ended up choosing “Color dodge” in this particular case. Let’s move on to analyze the rest of the picture.

 

 

I created a layer above the lineart, and added a slight gradient with a darker color. Then I used the “Clip to layer below” option to make sure this darker color only showed up where there was art present on the layer below. This way, I ended up with darker lineart in the sections of the drawing where before, there wasn’t a whole lot of distinction between lineart and fill color.

 

 

This next layer here uses the “Hard Light” blending mode. Let’s briefly compare and see what my previous pick, the “Color dodge” blending mode would look like.

 

 

It feels like “Color dodge” helps highlight the object colors more. But since, in this case, I actually wanted this layer to serve as creating a warm glow over the artwork, to create some ambience, “Hard Light” is a much better option.

 

I think this showcases the fact that some blending modes work better to convey the light or shading color, and some work better to convey the object color. At the end of this tutorial, I want to go back to our overview from the start of the tutorial, and add information on which blending modes work better - in my personal opinion - to convey either the color of the light source, or the object.

 

Next up, there is a bit of glow on the metal object here. I used “Glow dodge” here, and I think this is a good example of how you simply need to keep in mind what you want to communicate. The way that “Glow dodge” ended up blowing out some of the brighter colors did not work well, when the subject was soft fur. Here, the subject is metal, and having blown out highlights helps convey the material. This is why it’s important to sometimes just experiment and see which blending mode works well for various use cases.

 

For this final layer, I added one more layer using the “Hard Light” blending mode, just to create an even stronger glow and lead the viewer’s eye towards the screen.

 

That concludes my first example. Don’t worry, the next few are going to go by faster!

 

Example 2: Complex Patterns & Gradients

With all my talk about hand-picking colors to convey the color of an object earlier, I want to give an example of a case where I did not follow that principle. Take this drawing, for example.

 

The character is wearing a complex patterned shirt. Shading every part of the pattern by hand would NOT be worth the time and effort. Nor is the shirt the real star of the picture, so its colors weren’t super important to me. I did want to make sure that the character’s fur comes across with a specific color and vibe, which is why I did pick the colors for the shading in that section by hand. However, for the shirt and the jacket, I just used a single layer with the “Color burn” blending mode.

 

Now, keep in mind that you can always go ahead and use blending mode shading as a mere starting point. If, for example, it was really important to me here, that the red on the shirt looked really vibrant, I could always make a new layer above the shading layer, pick the dark red color with the Eyedropper tool, then pick a different color in the color wheel, and then use the “Fill / Refer to other layers” tool with the “Apply to connected pixels only” and “Area scaling” options deactivated, and a low Tolerance setting. Then, click to fill the color in.

This way, I now have all the dark sections looking much more saturated and slightly purple.

Example 3: Color Effects

In this final example, I wanted to look at another finished illustration.

 

Here, I’ve used a combination of various blending modes as well as layers without blending modes to achieve the final result. I won’t go into a lot of detail this time, because I wanted to instead look at some of the blending modes that are more effective at achieving various color effects than being used for creating shading or highlights in a drawing.

 

Let’s add a new layer and just fill it with a dark red color, as an example.

 

When we set the layer to “Vivid light”, we get an effect that totally transforms the scene. This could be useful if you want to create a look of colored light that fills an entire room - maybe red warning lights on a spaceship, or a darkroom.

 

“Linear light” achieves a similar effect, but the brightest colors are subdued, compared to “Vivid light”. If you want to have bright objects or elements stand out in the scene, “Vivid light” might be the better option. However, if you are looking for a darker scene and want the color of the light to be more overpowering, “Linear light” might be the better option.

“Pin light” is similar to “Linear light”, but it doesn’t darken colors as much. If you have a lot of darker sections you’d like to preserve detail in, this might be a better option.

As a side-effect of the less darkened colors, “Pin light” however also feels more purple than dark red. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to experiment with the color! With the blending mode layer selected, I use the shortcut Ctrl+U, or “Edit > Tonal Correction > Hue/Saturation/Luminosity”. Let’s make sure that the “Preview” option is checked, and now let’s simply adjust the values until we are happy with the result! This is one of the fastest ways to see how various colors affect different blending modes. Keep in mind that you can always select the “normal” blending mode once you’re done to check what the color you ended up with looks like in its natural state.

 

Another blending mode I want to look at is “Exclusion”. This one can be very useful for creating a look that might feel similar to a nostalgic or retro photo filter. This kind of effect only works with darker colors. The brighter the color is, the more it will actually create an inverted, negative effect.

 

Finally, I want to look at “Hue” and “Color”. These two blending modes are useful at applying a specific color tone to your entire picture, while still retaining the overall feel of the image. It only affects the color, not the brightness or darkness of your image. “Color” also incorporates the saturation of the color on the blending mode layer, so everything here will be much more saturated in this example (or less saturated when using a more dull red), while using “Hue” will allow the existing variation in saturations to persist.

 

I hope these examples were able to give you some creative ideas for your next artwork! Maybe you’ll even find a use for some of the other blending modes that I didn’t address in this tutorial!

Adjusting the Overview

We are coming to a close here. As mentioned before, I wanted to adjust the overview from the beginning of the tutorial to not just show the most common use cases of the various blending modes, but to also incorporate information about whether a blending mode is more useful for conveying the color of the light, or the color of the object.

 

Here is the adjusted overview, with some additional notes! Please keep in mind that this is only my personal opinion, and not a definitive statement. Regardless, I hope you find it helpful!

 

Technical Explanations

Also, if you would like technical explanations behind how each blending mode works, and what makes it achieve the various colors, I would suggest the official Clip Studio Paint documentation, or the following tutorial:

 

Thank You!

I hope this tutorial helped give you a better idea of when to use which blending mode, or maybe even when it might be smarter to add shading or highlighting manually. Let me know if you have any questions, and thank you for watching!

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