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The Hidden Power of Blend Modes in Adobe Photoshop

While Adobe Photoshop can easily be called the most versatile imaging toolbox on the market, it is a monster piece of software and monsters are often frightening.  With so many features and often multiple methods of accomplishing similar tasks, it can be very intimidating for even the most experienced user.  Because of that, there is an abundance of training resources on the market, from large phone book manuals that try to tell you everything to books that dissect specific features in the software.

Trying to learn everything there is to know about Photoshop is an exercise in futility.  True there are a number of experts out there who know a lot more than the average person, but even the most educated and skilled of those professionals will agree that there is always something more to learn.

Even though my use of Photoshop is limited to what I do, which has very little to do with photos, I’m constantly looking for new ways to improve my painting skills and to streamline how I work.  Speed and efficiency applies to art as much as it does to technical operations, especially when you venture into the land of commercial art and deadlines.

I don’t recall when I started using blend modes in Photoshop, but I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t, so it has been awhile.  There isn’t a painting, editorial cartoon, or illustration that I do these days that hasn’t been touched by at least one blend mode during the process.  The four blend modes I use most in my work are Soft Light, Multiply, Screen, and Color.  In fact, I even have Actions set up in my Wacom Tablet Radial Menu for them.  If your eyes are starting to glaze over, don’t worry about it.  This happens to a lot of people when you start breaking down the building blocks of images in Photoshop.

The thing about blend modes is that the more you dig into them, the more uses you find for them.  Scott Valentine’s new book, “The Hidden Power of Blend Modes in Adobe Photoshop,”  from Adobe Press,  has answered a need that a lot of people likely didn’t realize they had.

With Photoshop evolving every 18 months or so, anybody who uses it has to keep learning and the information in Scott’s book is as current as you’re going to find.  But even if you don’t have the latest version of Photoshop (CS6), you’ll be able to apply the knowledge to previous versions, as blend modes have been around for awhile.

So what are blend modes?  It’s funny, but if you’d asked me that question before I read Scott’s book, you’d have been met with a long pause.  The truth is, I had a good idea of what blend modes are, I knew what they did and how to use them for my own work, but I really wouldn’t have given you an answer that would have left you satisfied.  Today, my answer would be this book.

Without going through chapter by chapter, I’ll simply say that Scott has done an excellent job of breaking down what blend modes are and how to use them.  He gives very technical information for those who want it, but he also offers explanations for those who don’t.

No matter how you use Photoshop, you’ll find a reason to try blend modes, but without real world examples from different disciplines, it would be easy to get lost in the information and you might fail to see the practical uses.  In this book, Scott has assembled Photoshop professionals from a number of digital creative mediums to show how they use blend modes in their own work.  In other training materials I’ve seen, you usually only get one professional’s perspective, opinion and methods.  While there is value in that, it’s great to see how many ways others use blend modes, because one artist may offer a technique that is of no use to you, but the next one could reveal the buried treasure you’ve been looking for.

In the interest of full disclosure, my own blend mode techniques are featured in this book.  I was happy to offer some of my tips for using blend modes in cartooning, painting and illustration, but even without my small contribution, I would have still bought this book.  I’ve been through it a couple of times and I’ve no doubt I’ll continue to reference it, because I learned a lot about a feature I already thought I knew.  Turns out I had just scratched the surface.

What this book does very well is reveal possibilities.  Rather than give you a step-by-step for one procedure or just give you tips and tricks, “The Hidden Power of Blend Modes in Adobe Photoshop” shows you solutions that can be applied to a number of problems, even if you don’t know what those are yet.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I’d be very disappointed if I was no longer able to use blend modes in my work.  It would take longer to do my work and painting light and shadow (which is what I primarily use them for) would feel less dynamic and more difficult.  I’m certain there are more uses for blend modes in my own work than I am currently using and I will be looking to this book to help me find them.

The tools for art and creativity are like anything else.  When you first begin to use them, you may feel awkward and it’ll take some time before you develop any finesse in your methods.  When it comes to developing that skill with Photoshop, I’d recommend giving blend modes a closer look.  Scott’s book is the best resource I’ve seen to help you do that.

To find out more and to purchase the book, follow this link to Adobe Press.

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