Applications of Layer Masks and Blend Modes

Photoshop is a fantastic tool when it comes to editing and designing. It gives you a plethora of options by introducing a new world of possible color blends and styles. If you want to explore the various applications of layer masks and blend modes, you are at the right place.

With layer masks, you can magically bring two pictures together, while with blend modes, you can take it to the next level. From the mixing of shades to playing with transparency, once you explore these tools, you will never want to leave them.

From stitching two images together to removing people and objects, these tools have a variety of uses. You can fix the color contrast and make an image livelier, play with backgrounds, etc. The list is endless.

With these tools’ help, your work will become not only easy but also much more interesting. This article will learn about what are photoshop layer masks and blend modes, followed by their applications.

So, buckle up, and let’s get going!

What are Photoshop Layer Masks?

A layer mask is used to reduce the opacity of the top layer. Yes, that can be done by the opacity option as well, but this is different. When you use the opacity option present in the Layers palette, you can only apply the effect to the entire image.

For example, if you choose to make the image transparent by 50%, it will be entirely transparent by 50%. At times, you might not want that. This is where the layer masks come into the picture.

With the help of a layer mask, you can make the layer transparent while the other portion remains the same. The feature uses ‘black’ and ‘white’ options to let an area be transparent and visible, respectively. At the same time, gray refers to various levels of transparency.

(Source : Google Images)

To add a layer mask, you need to have two images in the photoshop document. One will be the background image, while the other will be the top one. First, choose the one that you want to add a layer mask too. Next, click on the Layer Mask icon present at the bottom.

A new thumbnail is added next to the selected layer. It is the layer mask thumbnail, which is white by default. That means the image is completely visible for now. You can choose to make it invisible by selecting the Fill option from the edit menu and choosing black.

You can edit it with the brush tool and make the required changes. Every change you make on the top layer will be recorded in the layer mask thumbnail. You can re-change it whenever you like. This means the image will not get destroyed.

Layer Masks and Clipping –How Does it Work?

A clipping mask does the same job as a layer mask (more or less), except it’s a little different. The feature changes the visibility of an image by controlling the transparency of one layer. Here, the bottom one will be controlling visibility. It is the mask, while the top one is the clipping.

(Source : Google Images)

When you have an image and go to the Layers panel, you will only have the background layer. However, to create a clipping mask, you need two layers. For this, you need to unlock the background layer and then add a second one. The new layer will become the bottom layer.

If you hide the original layer by clicking on the visibility (eye-shaped) icon, you will see the newly added layer. By default, it has a checkboard pattern. Now, you need to select the top layer, as that is going to be clipped. Select Layer > Create Clipping Mask.

(Source : Google Images)

You can edit the bottom layer with various tools, shapes, and colors present on the toolbar. Remember, you need to select the ‘mask’ or the bottom layer to make those changes. You must also keep in mind that using black for the masked layer means complete invisibility of that layer.

Now that you know what layer masks are let’s get to photoshop blend modes.

What are Photoshop Blend Modes?

Photoshop has a total of 27 blend modes. It can be overwhelming to know which one is the right option for you, isn’t it? You need not worry as this article will make it super easy for you by summing it up in groups.


Only the Normal and Dissolve modes are included in this category. They mainly work on changing the opacity with no specialized blending.


The various modes here work in darkening the overall colors of the image. It includes Darken, Multiply, Color Burn, Lcinear Burn, and Darker Color. Here, white will be invisible.

(Source : Google Images)


Lighten, Screen, Color Dodge, Linear Dodge, and Lighter Color are the various mode options of this group. On this blend layer, black is invisible.


As the name describes, this group of modes brings color contrasts on various levels. It includes 7 modes—Overlay, Soft Light, Hard Light, Vivid Light, Linear Light, Pin Light, and Hard Mix. These blending modes can help in increasing the contrast and include 50% gray.


It will help you to bring out the difference between images. The Comparative group includes Difference, Exclusion, Subtract, and Divide modes.


With this category of blend modes, you can improve your images’ color quality. It ranges from Hue and Saturation to Color and Luminosity.

Each of these groups or categories have only one or two modes that you will require for your daily work. So why take the headache of understanding all of them?

Photoshop blend modes can be used in varying tools. From painting to smart filters and layers to styles, they are present in multiple areas of photoshop. Still, using it with layers is the easiest option, and that’s what you will learn today. Moreover, this is the most widely-used combo.

Applications of Layer Masks and Blend Modes

Layer Masks

Controlling the Background

Create two layers of the same image and select Filter<Blur<Lens Blur. You can change the ratios in the options box that appears on the side. Create a mask by pressing the Alt-click option.

This will hide the layer, and only the mask will be visible. Select the brush by pressing ‘B’ and paint the background area that you want to blur. You can make the brush smaller to get the edges right.

Tone Control

Firstly, create two layers of the same image. Select the top layer and apply a layer mask. Press ‘B’ to select the brush and change its size accordingly. Paint out the areas that you do not want these effects on. Click ‘D’ for the default colors (white and black) and ‘X’ to switch them.

Now you can paint the parts that you want to mask. You will notice the change in the tone of the painted areas.

Add a Filter to a Portion of the Image

(Source : Google Images)

Create a layer and choose the Photo Filter option from the adjustment icon present at the mask icon’s right. From the drop-down menu, select the filter of your choice and set the required color and opacity.

Next, select ‘B’ for brush and ‘X’ to get the black color on top. Choose the mask layer and start making the changes. You can paint the areas you do not want the filter to appear.

Blend Modes

Screen Mode for Blending Photographs

Make two layers with the background or bottom layer consisting of the photo you want at the back. The top layer must be the image you want at the top of the pic. Make sure to select the top layer and choose the Screen blend mode. You will see how quickly and precisely the images are blended.

Hiding Black and White Image Backgrounds

If you have a textual image with a white or black background, you can easily paste it on another picture. The background will become completely invisible here. Create two layers, with the textual pic in the top layer. Select this layer and choose the Multiply blend mode. The white background of the image will disappear.

If you have a black background, choosing the Screen mode will eliminate the background leaving only the text.

Enhancing Images with the Overlay Mode

(Source : Google Images)

If you want to enhance a single photograph, create two layers of the same image. Select the top layer and choose the Overlay mode. You will notice an instant improvement in the overall quality. You can add more effects by dropping the opacity, using the blur tool, and more.

Using Hard Light and Lighter Color

(Source : Google Images)

You can blend one image’s colors and effects to the shape of another image. Make sure that the image with the shape has a white background so that it will remain the same. The shaped-pic must be the bottom layer while the other on the top.

Select the top layer and choose the Lighter Color mode. Magically, the images will blend within a few seconds. If you choose the Hard-Light blend, you will see how the figure’s shape is blended with the background picture.

Final Words

Photoshop is an exciting package of fun-filled tools that you can learn only by exploring and practicing. There are a multitude of applications of layer masks and blend modes that you can use for your daily edits.

Now you can say goodbye to the time-taking processes or visiting a photo studio to get the work done. With Photoshop layer masks and blend modes, you can blend and enhance your images within seconds!

If you’re an aspiring graphic design, there’s an infinite amount of things to learn, from theory to practical usage of all of the tools that are out there. If you would rather have us take care of this for you, learn more about our unlimited graphic design service.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reduce Your Creative Design Budget by 92% With Us!

Join 100+ Customers using Graphically!

100+ Agencies use for their creative needs. Signup now for actionable content & GREAT deals. We won’t SPAM, we promise!