Everything You Need to Know about Blend Modes in PicMonkey

Here at PicMonkey, we make it easy to take your already awesome photos and make them even awesomer with dozens of one-click photo effects. But if you crawl just a little deeper into the rabbit hole, you’ll find another PicMonkey feature that will give you even more ways to get creative with your images.

We’re talking about blend modes! Not sure what blend modes are or how to use them? Read on. Already know what they do? Then share this article with a friend who doesn’t, and save yourself from having to explain blend modes to them.

How blend modes work

Blend modes change the way two layers interact or react to each other, which in turn affects how the overall image appears.

PicMonkey features 10 blend modes, which can be found in the Editor: Normal, Add, Darken, Difference, Hardlight, Lighten, Multiply, Graphic, Screen, and Subtract.

The Normal blend mode only looks at the top layer of your image. In this standard mode, the top layer doesn’t really interact with the layer beneath it, and its colors aren’t mixed.

Darken and Multiply add darkness to your image, while Lighten and Screen are used to lighten your image.

Graphic is a combination of Multiply and Screen and adds contrast to your image. Hardlight also adds contrast to your overall image.

The Add blend mode adds the pixel values of one layer with the other. Depending on the pixel values of the two layers, some pixels will become brighter and others may become darker.

The Subtract blend mode simply subtracts pixel values of one layer from the other.

Finally, the Difference blend mode subtracts the bottom layer from the top layer. If the values are the same, you get black. This blend mode is most useful if you’re trying to align two images that have the same subject. When they’re aligned, that part of the image turns black.

Visualizing how blend modes work

Okay, now that the technical (and possibly boring) part of blend mode descriptions is out of the way, let’s see each of them in action.

You’ll find blend modes in a few different places in PicMonkey: in the Textures tab, the Graphic palette, and a few photo effects. The 10 different options are displayed in a drop-down menu.

To illustrate how each of these blend modes work, let’s use an image that has three layers. In this image, the background is grey, the middle layer is a black and white gradient, and the top layer is a smaller grey rectangle. With the blend mode for each layer set to Normal you can’t see the background layer yet, but trust me, it’s there.

When I set the blend mode for the middle black and white layer to Add, the values of the pixels in the middle layer are added to the values of the pixels in the grey layer beneath it. This causes the black portion of the middle layer to turn grey.

When I set the blend mode of the middle layer to Darken, the white pixels of the middle layer interact with the darker colors of the background layer and this makes the white pixels darker.

Now that you have the basic concepts down, let’s examine the blend modes on some more interesting images.

Remove a white background with blend modes

The Multiply blend mode is great for removing the white background of an image while keeping the rest in tact.

The image above uses the Normal blend mode for the white box, while the image below uses the Multiply blend mode to make the white box disappear.

Make everything (including people!) look better

The Graphic blend mode is a great place to start when you want to make your image look better and unique without using a specific photo effect.

Instead of clicking Edit on the homepage and opening your photo, click Design and create a blank canvas that matches the size of your photo. Then go to the Graphics tab and use the Add your own option to import your photo as a graphic. Be sure to do this twice with the same image and don’t move it at any time in the process.

After you’ve added your image the second time, change the blend mode to Graphic. Play around with the Fade slider until you get a look you like.

The possibilities are endless

It may sound cliché, but the possibilities really are endless when you combine these 10 blend modes and other PicMonkey features with your images. For example, blend modes—combined with some creative brushing and erasing—are the key to getting the popular and classic double exposure effect.

Now that you know about blend modes in PicMonkey and how they work, start playing with them today. Be sure to share your images with and inspire us by using #picmonkey on your favorite social network!

Let your creativity run free with a PicMonkey membership. 
Mike Wong

Mike’s love of photography started when he was 11 when he tried to recreate Star Wars Episode IV as a stop-motion film with the collection of Star Wars toys he shared with his younger brother. While that didn’t work out, he followed his passion and has over 10 years of experience in the photo industry and loves to share what he’s learned over the years. Mike is Director of Marketing at PicMonkey.