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Understanding the Opacity Blend Modes in Adobe Premiere Pro

Opacity blend modes are among the most mysterious features in Adobe Premiere Pro CC. So, what do they actually do, and why are they in those groups?

In this article, we’re to look at just what, exactly, each blend mode does. I’ll quickly take you through each category and each mode, and I’ll give you the best info I can find on each.

I am summarizing information found in two Adobe guides: one on Blend Modes in Photoshop and the other about Using them in Premiere. I am excluding all blend options not available in Premiere.

Before we start, Adobe uses the following naming conventions to describe the individual layers, as well as the opacity operation itself. I’ll use the same lingo.

The source color is the color of the layer to which the blend mode is applied.

The underlying color is the color of the composited layers below the source layer in the Timeline panel.

The result color is the output of the blending operation — the color of the composite.

The blend mode menu is subdivided by white lines into six distinct groups. These groups are as follows:

  • Normal.
  • Subtractive.
  • Additive.
  • Complex.
  • Difference.
  • HSL.

Normal Category

“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.”

Essentially, the normal blending modes apply the source color to the underlying color — or you are blending the image and color of your top video over your bottom one.

Understanding the Opacity Blend Modes in Adobe Premiere Pro — Normal Category

Image via Adobe.

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 the 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.”


Subtractive Category

“These blend modes tend to darken colors, some by mixing colors in much the same way as mixing colored pigments in paint.”

The Subtractive category takes into account the luminosity values and color information of both Source and Underlying layers when selecting output color values for the result color. This will usually result in a net darkening of the result image.

Understanding the Opacity Blend Modes in Adobe Premiere Pro — Subtractive Category

Image via Adobe.

Darken

“Looks at the color information in each channel and selects the base or blend color — whichever is darker — as the result color. Pixels lighter than the blend color are replaced, and pixels darker than the blend color do not change.”

Multiply

“Looks at the color information in each channel and multiplies the base color by the blend color. The result color is always a darker color. Multiplying any color with black produces black. Multiplying any color with white leaves the color unchanged. When you’re painting with a color other than black or white, successive strokes with a painting tool produce progressively darker colors. The effect is similar to drawing on the image with multiple marking pens.”

Color Burn

“Looks at the color information in each channel and darkens the base color to reflect the blend color by increasing the contrast between the two. Blending with white produces no change.”

Linear Burn

“Looks at the color information in each channel and darkens the base color to reflect the blend color by decreasing the brightness. Blending with white produces no change.”

Darker Color

“Compares the total of all channel values for the blend and base color and displays the lower value color. Darker Color does not produce a third color, which can result from the Darken blend, because it chooses the lowest channel values from both the base and the blend color to create the result color.”


Additive Category

“These blend modes tend to lighten colors, some by mixing colors in much the same way as mixing projected light.”

Essentially, these blend modes compare luminosity values and use the values to determine which layer’s information to output. This will usually result in a net lightening of the result image.

Understanding the Opacity Blend Modes in Adobe Premiere Pro — Additive Category

Image via Adobe.

 

Lighten

“Looks at the color information in each channel and selects the base or blend color — whichever is lighter — as the result color. Pixels darker than the blend color are replaced, and pixels lighter than the blend color do not change.”

Screen

“Looks at each channel’s color information and multiplies the inverse of the blend and base colors. The result color is always a lighter color. Screening with black leaves the color unchanged. Screening with white produces white. The effect is similar to projecting multiple photographic slides on top of each other.”

Color Dodge

“Looks at the color information in each channel and brightens the base color to reflect the blend color by decreasing contrast between the two. Blending with black produces no change.”

Linear dodge (add)

“Looks at the color information in each channel and brightens the base color to reflect the blend color by increasing the brightness. Blending with black produces no change.”

Lighter color

“Compares the total of all channel values for the blend and base color and displays the higher value color. Lighter Color does not produce a third color, which can result from the Lighten blend, because it chooses the highest channel values from both the base and blend color to create the result color.”


Complex Category

“These blend modes perform different operations on the source and underlying colors depending on whether one of the colors is lighter than 50% gray.”

The Complex blend group will have varying results depending on the footage you feed it. It uses the gray information to decide which of the layers to output to result.

Understanding the Opacity Blend Modes in Adobe Premiere Pro — Complex Category

Image via Adobe.

 

Overlay

“Multiplies or screens the colors, depending on the base color. Patterns or colors overlay the existing pixels while preserving the highlights and shadows of the base color. The base color is not replaced, but mixed with the blend color to reflect the lightness or darkness of the original color. ”

Soft Light

“Darkens or lightens the colors, depending on the blend color. The effect is similar to shining a diffused spotlight on the image. If the blend color (light source) is lighter than 50% gray, the image is lightened as if it were dodged. If the blend color is darker than 50% gray, the image is darkened as if it were burned in. Painting with pure black or white produces a distinctly darker or lighter area, but does not result in pure black or white.”

Hard Light

“Multiplies or screens the colors, depending on the blend color. The effect is similar to shining a harsh spotlight on the image. If the blend color (light source) is lighter than 50% gray, the image is lightened, as if it were screened. This is useful for adding highlights to an image. If the blend color is darker than 50% gray, the image is darkened, as if it were multiplied. This is useful for adding shadows to an image. Painting with pure black or white results in pure black or white.”

Vivid Light

“Burns or dodges the colors by increasing or decreasing the contrast, depending on the blend color. If the blend color (light source) is lighter than 50% gray, the image is lightened by decreasing the contrast. If the blend color is darker than 50% gray, the image is darkened by increasing the contrast. ”

Linear Light

“Burns or dodges the colors by decreasing or increasing the brightness, depending on the blend color. If the blend color (light source) is lighter than 50% gray, the image is lightened by increasing the brightness. If the blend color is darker than 50% gray, the image is darkened by decreasing the brightness.”

Pin Light

“Replaces the colors, depending on the blend color. If the blend color (light source) is lighter than 50% gray, pixels darker than the blend color are replaced, and pixels lighter than the blend color do not change. If the blend color is darker than 50% gray, pixels lighter than the blend color are replaced, and pixels darker than the blend color do not change. This is useful for adding special effects to an image.”

Hard Mix

“Adds the red, green, and blue channel values of the blend color to the RGB values of the base color. If the resulting sum for a channel is 255 or greater, it receives a value of 255; if less than 255, a value of 0. Therefore, all blended pixels have red, green, and blue channel values of either 0 or 255. This changes all pixels to primary additive colors (red, green, or blue), white, or black.”


Difference Category

“These blend modes create colors based on the differences between the values of the source color and the underlying color. ”

Simply put, these modes will create colors not found in the original images based on the color information of each layer.

Understanding the Opacity Blend Modes in Adobe Premiere Pro — Difference Category

Image via Adobe.

Difference

“Looks at the color information in each channel and subtracts either the blend color from the base color or the base color from the blend color, depending on which has the greater brightness value. Blending with white inverts the base color values; blending with black produces no change.”

Exclusion

“Creates an effect similar to but lower in contrast than the Difference mode. Blending with white inverts the base color values. Blending with black produces no change.”

Subtract

“Looks at the color information in each channel and subtracts the blend color from the base color. In 8- and 16-bit images, any resulting negative values are clipped to zero.”

Divide

“Looks at the color information in each channel and divides the blend color from the base color.”


HSL Category

“These blend 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.”

The HSL category is the easiest to understand (for me). It simply transfers the selected value (Hue, Saturation, Color, or Luminance) from the Underlying layer to the result image.

Understanding the Opacity Blend Modes in Adobe Premiere Pro — HSL Category

Image via Adobe.

 

Hue

“Creates a result color with the luminance and saturation of the base color and the hue of the blend color. ”

Saturation

“Creates a result color with the luminance and hue of the base color and the saturation of the blend color. Painting with this mode in an area with no (0) saturation (gray) causes no change. ”

Color

“Creates a result color with the luminance of the base color and the hue and saturation of the blend color. This preserves the gray levels in the image and is useful for coloring monochrome images and for tinting color images.”

Luminosity

“Creates a result color with the hue and saturation of the base color and the luminance of the blend color. This mode creates the inverse effect of Color mode.”

It is important to know what each blending mode is doing to your footage in order to select the best one, but always remember that each mode will interact differently with each clip you use — always play around with a few before selecting one.


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