Blending Modes in Illustrator: What They Are and How They Work

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Blending modes are features in Adobe Illustrator that determine how different hues of color interact with various objects or layers underneath them. Blending modes are like thin layers overlapping another surface of your artwork. Put a layer on top of two overlapping objects, and we see different results with different blending modes on the overlapping areas.

What Are Blending Modes?

Blending Modes in Illustrator enable you to blend the color of a selected object with the color of an underlying object. They add blending effects to your objects. When an object is stacked on another, blending modes let you see how they interact with each other. You can make the overlapping areas darker, lighter, or other color contrast through blending modes.

Things to Remember:

  • Blend Color: The original color of the top selected object is called Blend Color.
  • Base Color: The underlying color is known as Base Color.
  • Resulting Color: The Resulting Color refers to the color we get after applying the blending mode.

Let's learn how to apply these modes to objects in Illustrator.

Applying Blending Modes in Illustrator

Applying blending modes to objects is not a difficult task. All you need to do is create your artwork by combining objects and selecting the blending mode that suits your artwork. Let's look at the step-by-step process to better understand how to apply blending modes in Illustrator.

Step 1

Select the Shape Tool and create two shapes with it. Choose your preferred color for each shape.

Step 2

Place the shapes you created in a way that parts of them overlap each other. In my case, I have used two overlapping triangles, but you can create whatever shape you want. The blue triangle is on top, indicating this is the Blend Color. On the other hand, the brown triangle is the Base Color. The point here is that we need two different colored objects to overlap each other.

Two overlapping triangles

Step 3

Open the Transparency Panel, which is located on the right toolbar. If you can't find it there, you must enable it first. Go to Window and select Transparency from the drop-down menu.

Opening the transparency panel

Step 4

A small panel will appear on the screen once you select Transparency from the Window menu. This is the Transparency Panel, where you'll find all the blending modes to apply to your objects.

The transparency panel opened in Illustrator

Step 5

Select the objects and apply any mode from the drop-down list of blending modes. The overlapping area will change according to the selected blending mode.

Changing the blend mode in the transparency panel

Each of the modes will show different results on the overlapping areas. Now let's see how each of the blending modes work.

Blending Modes in Illustrator

In Illustrator, the default mode is normal. These are the fifteen blending modes you can apply to manipulate the color of your design elements and add a unique visual effect to your artwork.

  • Darken: When you apply the darken mode, the overlapping area will become darker. Darken mode chooses the base or blend color depending on the level of darkness.
Darken blend mode
  • Multiply: Multiply mode multiplies the blend color with the base color, resulting in a darker shade.
Multiple blend mode
  • Color Burn: Similar to the darken mode and multiply mode, color burn also darkens the overlapping areas. It darkens the base color to reflect the blend color.
Color burn blend mode
  • Lighten: Lighten chooses a color based on the lightness of the color. It chooses the lighter color and replaces or lightens the overlapping area that is darker than the blend color.
Lighten blend mode
  • Screen: Screen results in a lighter color by increasing the inverse of the blend and base colors.
Screen blend mode
  • Color Dodge: Color dodge produces a lighter color by increasing the brightness of the base color based on the blend color.
Color dodge blend mode
  • Overlay: Overlay mode multiplies or screens the color depending on the base color. However, it keeps the highlights and shadows of the base color intact and mixes the blend color to reflect the lightness or darkness of the original color.
Overlay blend mode
  • Soft Light: Soft light works similarly to decreasing opacity. Depending on the blend color, it darkens or lightens the overlapping area. The overlapping will get brighter if the blend color is light. Similarly, the overlapping area will be dark if the blend color is darker.
Soft light blend mode
  • Hard Light: Depending on the blend color, hard light mode screens or amplifies the color. It creates a kind of harsh and stronger spotlight effect on the overlapping area.
hard light blend mode
  • Difference: In difference mode, the brighter gets subtracted from either the blend or base color. When applying this mode, It inverts the brighter color. When you blend with white, the base color gets reversed, but no changes will be applied while blending with black.
Difference blend mode
  • Exclusion: Exclusion produces a similar effect to the difference mode. What differentiates these two modes is that the exclusion mode has a lower contrast than the difference mode.
Exclusion blend mode
  • Hue: When applying the hue blending mode, the resulting color is formed by considering the luminance and saturation of the base color and hue of the blend color.
Hue blend mode
  • Saturation: Unlike Hue, Saturation mode considers the luminance and hue of the base color and the saturation of the blend color to create the resulting color.
Saturation blend mode
  • Color: Color mode generates the resulting color from the saturation and hue of the blend color and luminance of the base color. This mode is useful when working with monochrome artworks where you must retain the grey levels and tinting work.
Color blend mode
  • Luminosity: In Luminosity mode, the resulting color is produced by the hue and saturation of the base color and the luminance of the blend color. It creates the opposite effect from the color mode.
Luminosity blend mode

With blending modes, Illustrator gives you the opportunity to make your artwork stand out by bringing unique color variations to your artwork. I hope this article has helped you understand the blending modes and the ways all these modes work. Explore them all and enjoy them while learning to use blending modes.