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Blend Modes in Adobe CS5 Illustrator

In Adobe Creative Suite 5 (Adobe CS5) Illustrator there are many ways to blend a transparency in your artwork. The transparency feature changes an object to make it transparent so that what’s underneath that object is visible to varying degrees. Illustrator allows you more control over the application of transparency via Blend modes.

A blending mode determines how the resulting transparency will look. To achieve different blending effects, you choose different blend modes from the Blend Mode drop-down list in the Transparency panel.

Truly, the best way to find out what all these modes do is to create two overlapping shapes and start experimenting. Give the shapes differently colored fills. Then select the topmost object and change the blending mode by selecting an option from the Blend Mode drop-down list in the Transparency panel. You see all sorts of neat effects and might even pick a few favorites.

We define each blend mode in the following list, but we’ll say it again: The best way to see what each mode does is to apply them — so start experimenting.

  • Normal: Creates no interaction with underlying colors.

  • Darken: Replaces only the areas that are lighter than the blend color. Areas darker than the blend color don’t change.

  • Multiply: Creates an effect similar to drawing on the page with magic markers, or like the colored film you see on theater lights.

  • Color Burn: Darkens the base color to reflect the blend color. If you’re using white, no change occurs.

  • Lighten: Replaces only the areas that are darker than the blend color. Areas lighter than the blend color don’t change.

  • Screen: Multiplies the inverse of the underlying colors. The resulting color is always a lighter color.

  • Color Dodge: Brightens the underlying color to reflect the blend color. If you’re using black, there’s no change.

  • Overlay: Multiplies or screens the colors, depending on the base color.

  • Soft Light: Darkens or lightens colors, depending on the blend color. The effect is similar to shining a diffused spotlight on the artwork.

  • Hard Light: Multiplies or screens colors, depending on the blend color. The effect is similar to shining a harsh spotlight on the artwork.

  • Difference: 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. The effect is similar to a color negative.

  • Exclusion: Creates an effect similar to, but with less contrast than, Difference mode.

  • Hue: Applies the hue (color) of the blend object to underlying objects but keeps the underlying shading, or luminosity.

  • Saturation: Applies the saturation of the blend color but uses the luminance and hue of the base color.

  • Color: Applies the blend object’s color to the underlying objects but preserves the gray levels in the artwork; works well for tinting objects or changing their color.

  • Luminosity: Creates a resulting color with the hue and saturation of the base color and the luminance of the blend color. This mode is essentially the opposite of Color mode.

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