Work with layer blending modes

Blending modes for layers control how each layer blends with or interacts with layers beneath it. Blending modes for layers in After Effects (formerly referred to as layer modes and sometimes called transfer modes) are identical to blending modes in Adobe Photoshop.

Most blending modes modify only color values of the source layer, not the alpha channel. The Alpha Add blending mode affects the alpha channel of the source layer, and the silhouette and stencil blending modes affect the alpha channels of layers beneath them.

You can’t directly animate blending modes by using keyframes. To change a blending mode at a specific time, split the layer at that time and apply the new blending mode to the part of the layer that continues. You can also use the Compound Arithmetic effect, the results of which are similar to the results of blending modes but can change over time.

Each layer has a blending mode, even if that blending mode is the default Normal blending mode.

Note:

To blend colors with a gamma value of 1, choose File > Project Settings and select Blend Colors Using 1.0 Gamma. Deselect this option to blend colors in the working color space for the project. (See Linearize working space and enable linear blending.)

Blending modes for multiple masks on a single layer are called mask modes.

Some effects include their own blending mode options. For details, see the descriptions of the individual effects.

  • To cycle through blending modes for selected layers, hold down the Shift key and press - (hyphen) or = (equal sign) on your main keyboard.

Note:

These shortcuts provide a convenient way to experiment with the appearance of various blending modes.

  • To apply a blending mode to selected layers, choose a blending mode from the menu in the Mode column in the Timeline panel or from the Layer > Blending Mode menu.
  • To show the Modes column in the Timeline panel, choose Columns > Modes from the panel menu, or click the Expand Or Collapse The Transfer Controls button at the lower-left corner of the Timeline panel.

Trish and Chris Meyer provide tips and tricks for using blending modes to achieve a filmic look in this PDF document on the Artbeats website.

Trish and Chris Meyer explain how to use blending modes, layer styles, and the Displacement Map effect to make text blend in to appear to be part of a surface in the PDF article “Writing on the Wall” on the Artbeats website.

Blending mode reference

The following descriptions use these terms:

  • The source color is the color of the layer or paint stroke to which the blending mode is applied.
  • The underlying color is the color of the composited layers below the source layer or paint stroke in the layer stacking order in the Timeline panel.
  • The result color is the output of the blending operation; the color of the composite.

All blending modes described in this section are available for blending between layers. Some of these options are available for paint strokes, layer styles, and effects.

For in-depth information about the concepts and algorithms behind these blending modes as implemented in several Adobe applications, see section 7.2.4 of version 1.7 of the PDF reference on the Adobe website.

The blending mode menu is subdivided into eight categories based on similarities between the results of the blending modes. The category names do not appear in the interface; the categories are simply separated by dividing lines in the menu.

Normal category

Options are Normal, Dissolve, and Dancing Dissolve. The result color of a pixel is not affected by the color of the underlying pixel unless Opacity is less than 100% for the source layer. The Dissolve blending modes turn some of the pixels of the source layer transparent.

Subtractive category

Options include Darken, Multiply, Color Burn, Classic Color Burn, Linear Burn, and Darker Color. These blending modes tend to darken colors, some by mixing colors in much the same way as mixing colored pigments in paint.

Additive category

Options are Add, Lighten, Screen, Color Dodge, Classic Color Dodge, Linear Dodge, and Lighter Color. These blending modes tend to lighten colors, some by mixing colors in much the same way as mixing projected light.

Complex category

Options include Overlay, Soft Light, Hard Light, Linear Light, Vivid Light, Pin Light, and Hard Mix. These blending modes perform different operations on the source and underlying colors depending on whether one of the colors is lighter than 50% gray.

Difference category

Options include Difference, Classic Difference, Exclusion, Subtract, and Divide. These blending modes create colors based on the differences between the values of the source color and the underlying color.

HSL category

Options include Hue, Saturation, Color, and Luminosity. These blending modes transfer one or more of the components of the HSL representation of color (hue, saturation, and luminosity) from the underlying color to the result color.

Matte category

Options include Stencil Alpha, Stencil Luma, Silhouette Alpha, and Silhouette Luma. These blending modes essentially convert the source layer into a matte for all underlying layers.

The stencil and silhouette blending modes use either the alpha channel or luma values of a layer to affect the alpha channel of all layers beneath the layer. Using these blending modes differs from using a track matte, which affects only one layer. Stencil modes cut through all layers, so that you can, for example, show multiple layers through the alpha channel of the stencil layer. Silhouette modes block out all layers below the layer with the blending mode applied, so you can cut a hole through several layers at once. To keep the silhouette and stencil blending modes from cutting through or blocking all layers underneath, precompose the layers that you want to affect and nest them in your composition.

Stencil blending
Stencil (left) shows all layers below the stencil layer through the frame of the alpha channel of the stencil layer; silhouette (right) cuts a hole through all layers below the silhouette layer.

Utility category

Options are Alpha Add and Luminescent Premul. These blending modes serve specialized utility functions.

Blending mode descriptions

Note:

Some color values in the following descriptions are given in terms of the 0.0-1.0 scale from black to white.

Normal

The result color is the source color. This mode ignores the underlying color. Normal is the default mode.

Dissolve

The result color for each pixel is either the source color or the underlying color. The probability that the result color is the source color depends on the opacity of the source. If opacity of the source is 100%, then the result color is the source color. If opacity of the source is 0%, then the result color is the underlying color. Dissolve and Dancing Dissolve do not work on 3D layers.

Dancing Dissolve

Same as Dissolve, except that the probability function is recalculated for each frame, so the result varies over time.

Darken

Each result color channel value is the lower (darker) of the source color channel value and the corresponding underlying color channel value.

Multiply

For each color channel, multiplies source color channel value with underlying color channel value and divides by maximum value for 8-bpc, 16-bpc, or 32-bpc pixels, depending on the color depth of the project. The result color is never brighter than the original. If either input color is black, the result color is black. If either input color is white, the result color is the other input color. This blending mode simulates drawing with multiple marking pens on paper or placing multiple gels in front of a light. When blending with a color other than black or white, each layer or paint stroke with this blending mode results in a darker color.

Color Burn

The result color is a darkening of the source color to reflect the underlying layer color by increasing the contrast. Pure white in the original layer does not change the underlying color.

Classic Color Burn

The Color Burn mode from After Effects 5.0 and earlier, renamed Classic Color Burn. Use it to preserve compatibility with older projects; otherwise, use Color Burn.

Linear Burn

The result color is a darkening of the source color to reflect the underlying color. Pure white produces no change.

Darker Color

Each result pixel is the color of darker of the source color value and the corresponding underlying color value. Darker Color is similar to Darken, but Darker Color does not operate on individual color channels.

Add

Each result color channel value is the sum of the corresponding color channel values of the source color and underlying color. The result color is never darker than either input color.

Lighten

Each result color channel value is the higher (lighter) of the source color channel value and the corresponding underlying color channel value.

Screen

Multiplies the complements of the channel values, and then takes the complement of the result. The result color is never darker than either input color. Using the Screen mode is similar to projecting multiple photographic slides simultaneously onto a single screen.

Color Dodge

The result color is a lightening of the source color to reflect the underlying layer color by decreasing the contrast. If the source color is pure black, the result color is the underlying color.

Classic Color Dodge

The Color Dodge mode from After Effects 5.0 and earlier, renamed Classic Color Dodge. Use it to preserve compatibility with older projects; otherwise, use Color Dodge.

Linear Dodge

The result color is a lightening of the source color to reflect the underlying color by increasing the brightness. If the source color is pure black, the result color is the underlying color.

Lighter Color

Each result pixel is the color of lighter of the source color value and the corresponding underlying color value. Lighter Color is similar to Lighten, but Lighter Color does not operate on individual color channels.

Overlay

Multiplies or screens the input color channel values, depending on whether or not the underlying color is lighter than 50% gray. The result preserves highlights and shadows in the underlying layer.

Soft Light

Darkens or lightens the color channel values of the underlying layer, depending on the source color. The result is similar to shining a diffused spotlight on the underlying layer. For each color channel value, if the source color is lighter than 50% gray, the result color is lighter than the underlying color, as if dodged. If the source color is darker than 50% gray, the result color is darker than the underlying color, as if burned. A layer with pure black or white becomes markedly darker or lighter, but does not become pure black or white.

Hard Light

Multiplies or screens the input color channel value, depending on the original source color. The result is similar to shining a harsh spotlight on the layer. For each color channel value, if the underlying color is lighter than 50% gray, the layer lightens as if it were screened. If the underlying color is darker than 50% gray, the layer darkens as if it were multiplied. This mode is useful for creating the appearance of shadows on a layer.

Linear Light

Burns or dodges the colors by decreasing or increasing the brightness, depending on the underlying color. If the underlying color is lighter than 50% gray, the layer is lightened because the brightness is increased. If the underlying color is darker than 50% gray, the layer is darkened because the brightness is decreased.

Vivid Light

Burns or dodges the colors by increasing or decreasing the contrast, depending on the underlying color. If the underlying color is lighter than 50% gray, the layer is lightened because the contrast is decreased. If the underlying color is darker than 50% gray, the layer is darkened because the contrast is increased.

Pin Light

Replaces the colors, depending on the underlying color. If the underlying color is lighter than 50% gray, pixels darker than the underlying color are replaced, and pixels lighter than the underlying color do not change. If the underlying color is darker than 50% gray, pixels lighter than the underlying color are replaced, and pixels darker than the underlying color do not change.

Hard Mix

Enhances the contrast of the underlying layer that is visible beneath a mask on the source layer. The mask size determines the contrasted area; the inverted source layer determines the center of the contrasted area.

Difference

For each color channel, subtracts the darker of the input values from the lighter. Painting with white inverts the backdrop color; painting with black produces no change.

Note:

If you have two layers with an identical visual element that you want to align, place one layer on top of the other and set the blending mode of the top layer to Difference. Then, you can move one layer or the other until the pixels of the visual element that you want to line up are all black—meaning that the differences between the pixels are zero and therefore the elements are stacked exactly on top of one another.

Classic Difference

The Difference mode from After Effects 5.0 and earlier, renamed Classic Difference. Use it to preserve compatibility with older projects; otherwise, use Difference.

Exclusion

Creates a result similar to but lower in contrast than the Difference mode. If the source color is white, the result color is the complement of the underlying color. If the source color is black, the result color is the underlying color.

Subtract

Subtracts the source color from the underlying color. If the source color is black, the result color is the underlying color. Result color values can be less than 0 in 32-bpc projects.

Divide

Divides underlying color by source color. If the source color is white, the result color is the underlying color. Result color values can be greater than 1.0 in 32-bpc projects.

Hue

Result color has luminosity and saturation of the underlying color, and the hue of the source color.

Saturation

Result color has luminosity and hue of the underlying color, and the saturation of the source color.

Color

Result color has luminosity of the underlying color, and hue and saturation of the source color. This blending mode preserves the gray levels in the underlying color. This blending mode is useful for coloring grayscale images and for tinting color images.

Luminosity

Result color has hue and saturation of the underlying color, and luminosity of the source color. This mode is the opposite of the Color mode.

Stencil Alpha

Creates a stencil using the alpha channel of the layer.

Stencil Luma

Creates a stencil using the luma values of the layer. The lighter pixels of the layer are more opaque than the darker pixels.

Silhouette Alpha

Creates a silhouette using the alpha channel of the layer.

Silhouette Luma

Creates a silhouette using the luma values of the layer. Creates transparency in painted areas of the layer, allowing you to see underlying layers or background. The luminance value of the blend color determines opacity in the result color. The lighter pixels of the source cause more transparency than the darker pixels. Painting with pure white creates 0% opacity. Painting with pure black produces no change.

Alpha Add

Composites layers normally, but adds complementary alpha channels to create a seamless area of transparency. Useful for removing visible edges from two alpha channels that are inverted relative to each other or from the alpha channel edges of two touching layers that are being animated.

Note:

Sometimes, when layers are aligned edge-to-edge, seams can appear between the layers. This is especially an issue with 3D layers that are joined to one another at the edges to build a 3D object. When the edges of a layer are anti-aliased, there's some partial transparency at the edges. When two areas of 50% transparency overlap, the result is not 100% opacity but 75% opacity, because the default operation is multiplication. (50% of the light gets through one layer, and then 50% of the remainder gets through the next layer, so 25% gets through the system.) This is like partial transparency in the real world. But, in some cases, you don't want this default blending. You want the two 50% opacity areas to combine to make a seamless, opaque join. You want the alpha values to be added. In these cases, use the Alpha Add blending mode.

Luminescent Premul

Prevents clipping of color values that exceed the alpha channel value after compositing by adding them to the composition. Useful for compositing rendered lens or light effects (such as lens flare) from footage with premultiplied alpha channels. May also improve results when compositing footage from matting software from other manufacturers. When applying this mode, you may get the best results by changing interpretation of the premultiplied-alpha source footage to straight alpha.

Layer styles

Photoshop provides a variety of layer styles—such as shadows, glows, and bevels—that change the appearance of a layer. After Effects can preserve these layer styles when importing Photoshop layers. You can also apply layer styles in After Effects and animate their properties.

Note:

You can copy and paste any layer style within After Effects, including layer styles imported into After Effects in PSD files.

In addition to the layer styles that add visual elements—like a drop shadow or a color overlay—each layer’s Layer Styles property group contains a Blending Options property group. You can use the Blending Options settings for powerful and flexible control over blending operations.

Though layer styles are referred to as effects in Photoshop, they behave more like blending modes in After Effects. Layer styles follow transformations in the standard render order, whereas effects precede transformations. Another difference is that each layer style blends directly with the underlying layers in the composition, whereas an effect is rendered on the layer to which it’s applied, the result of which then interacts with the underlying layers as a whole.

When you import a Photoshop file that includes layers as a composition, you can retain editable layer styles or merge layer styles into footage. When you import only one layer that includes layer styles, you can choose to ignore the layer styles or merge layer styles into footage. At any time, you can convert merged layer styles into editable layer styles for each After Effects layer based on a Photoshop footage item.

After Effects can preserve all layer styles in imported Photoshop files, but you can only add and modify some layer styles and controls within After Effects.

Note:

For details about each layer style and its properties, see Photoshop Help.

Layer styles that you can apply and edit in After Effects

Drop Shadow

Adds a shadow that falls behind the layer.

Inner Shadow

Adds a shadow that falls inside the contents of the layer, giving the layer a recessed appearance.

Outer Glow

Adds a glow that emanates outward from the contents of the layer.

Inner Glow

Adds a glow that emanates inward from the contents of the layer.

Bevel And Emboss

Adds various combinations of highlights and shadows.

Note:

Use the Bevel And Emboss layer style rather than the Bevel Alpha effect if, for example, you want to apply different blending modes to the highlights and shadows of a bevel.

Satin

Applies interior shading that creates a satiny finish.

Color Overlay

Fills the contents of the layer with a color.

Gradient Overlay

Fills the contents of the layer with a gradient.

Stroke

Outlines the contents of the layer.

Add, remove, and convert layer styles

  • To convert merged layer styles into editable layer styles, select one or more layers and choose Layer > Layer Styles > Convert To Editable Styles.
  • To add a layer style to selected layers, choose Layer > Layer Styles, and choose a layer style from the menu.
  • To remove a layer style, select it in the Timeline panel and press Delete.
  • To remove all layer styles from selected layers, choose Layer > Layer Styles > Remove All.

When a layer style is applied to a vector layer—such as a text layer, a shape layer, or a layer based on an Illustrator footage item—visual elements that apply to the edges of the contents of the layer apply to the outlines of the vector objects, such as text characters or shapes. When a layer style is applied to a layer based on a non-vector footage item, the layer style applies to the edges of the layer’s bounds or masks.

You can apply a layer style to a 3D layer, but a layer with a layer style can’t intersect with other 3D layers or interact with other 3D layers for casting and receiving shadows. 3D layers on either side of a layer with a layer style can’t intersect one another or cast shadows on one another.

When you use the Layer > Convert To Editable Text command on a text layer from a Photoshop file, any layer styles on that layer are also converted to editable layer styles.

Layer style settings

Each layer style has its own collection of properties in the Timeline panel.

Align With Layer

Uses the bounding box of the layer to calculate the gradient fill.

Altitude

For the Bevel And Emboss layer style,specifies the elevation of the light source above the layer, in degrees.

Choke

Shrinks the boundaries of the matte of an Inner Shadow or Inner Glow before blurring.

Distance

Indicates the offset distance for a Shadow or Satin layer style.

Highlight Mode, Shadow Mode

Specifies the blending mode of a bevel or emboss highlight or shadow.

Jitter

Varies the application of the colors and opacity of a gradient, which reduces banding.

Layer Knocks Out Drop Shadow

Controls the visibility of a drop shadow in a semitransparent layer.

Reverse

Flips the orientation of a gradient.

Scale

Resizes the gradient.

Spread

Expands the boundaries of the matte before blurring.

Use Global Light

Set this option to On to use the Global Light Angle and Global Light Altitude in the Blending Options property group instead of the Angle and Altitude settings for each individual layer style. This option is useful if you have multiple layer styles applied to the same layer and want to animate the position of the light for all of them.

Blending options for layer styles

Each layer style has its own blending mode, which determines how it interacts with underlying layers. The underlying layer in this context may or may not include the layer to which the layer style is applied. For example, a drop shadow does not blend with the layer to which it’s applied, because the shadow falls behind the layer; whereas an inner shadow does blend with the layer to which it’s applied.

Layer styles can be categorized as interior layer styles or exterior layer styles. Interior layer styles affect the opaque pixels of the layer to which they’re applied. Interior layer styles include Inner Glow, Inner Shadow, Color Overlay, Gradient Overlay, Satin, and Bevel And Emboss. Exterior layer styles do not blend with the pixels of the layer to which they’re applied, but only interact with the underlying layers. Exterior layer styles include Outer Glow and Drop Shadow.

If Blend Interior Styles As Group is set to On, interior layer styles use the blending mode of the layer.

If you modify the Opacity property of a layer, the opacity of the contents of the layer and the opacity of the layer styles are all affected. If, however, you modify the Fill Opacity property in the Blending Options property group, the opacity of the layer styles is unaffected. For example, if a text layer has the Drop Shadow layer style applied, decreasing the Fill Opacity to 0 makes the text disappear, but the drop shadow remains visible.

Use the Blend Ranges From Source option to use the advanced blending options set for the Photoshop file that determine what blending operations to perform based on the color characteristics of the input layer.

Online resources about layer styles

Dave Scotland provides a video tutorial on the CG Swot website that demonstrates how to create a metallic textured logo using layer styles in After Effects.

Exclude channels from blending

You can exclude one or more of the color channels of a layer from blending operations.

Note:

The Blending Options property group is only included for a layer if the layer has had a layer style added to it. To add a Blending Options property group without a layer style, add an arbitrary layer style and then immediately delete it; the Blending Options property group and its containing Layer Styles property group remain.

  1. Expand the Blending Options property group for the layer in the Layer Styles property group in the Timeline panel.
  2. To exclude a channel from blending, set Red, Green, or Blue to Off in the Advanced Blending property group.

    You can animate these properties, so you can exclude a channel from blending at some times but include the channel at other times.

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