Whether you’re editing, retouching or restoring images, designing web layouts or creating amazing photo effects, understanding how Photoshop’s layer blend modes work, what they do and how to use them is an essential skill. Yet no matter how long you’ve been working with Photoshop or how familiar you are with blend modes, it’s not always easy to predict exactly what effect they’ll have on your image, making the classic “try each one out and see what it looks like” approach the only real option.
Unfortunately, with so many blend modes to choose from, this approach can result in a lot of valuable time wasted if you’re trying each one out by clicking on the Blend Mode option at the top of the Layers panel, choosing a blend mode from the list, then clicking again on the Blend Mode option, choosing the next blend mode in the list, and so on as you slowly click your way through them all. In this tutorial, we’re going to learn a better way to scroll through and select blend modes in Photoshop, and that’s by using handy keyboard shortcuts!
Normally, we select blend modes from the Blend Mode option in the top left corner of the Layers panel. It’s the drop-down list that by default is set to “Normal”:
Clicking on the word “Normal” opens a list of all the blend modes we can choose from. To select any of them, we simply click on its name in the list:
Scrolling Through The Blend Modes
Selecting a blend mode from the list may be fine if you know exactly which one you need, but what if you just want to test different ones out to see what results you get? In that case, there’s a better way. And by “better”, I mean easier, faster and more convenient! First, make sure you have Photoshop’s Move Tool selected in the Tools panel. You can either click on its icon at the top of the Tools panel to select it, or since we’re looking at keyboard shortcuts here, just press the letter V on your keyboard to quickly grab it with the shortcut:
The reason we’re selecting the Move Tool first is because the layer blend mode keyboard shortcuts we’re about to look at will only work when certain tools in the Tools panel are selected. The Move Tool is one of the tools they do work with. Rather than trying to memorize all of the tools they work with and all of the tools they don’t, I find it’s easier just to remember that they do work with the Move Tool, and since the Move Tool is located at the very top of the Tools panel, it has the added benefit of being as easy to select as it is to remember!
With the Move Tool selected, to scroll through the list of blend modes, simply hold down your Shift key and press the plus sign ( + ) on your keyboard to scroll forward through the list one blend mode at a time, or press the minus sign ( - ) to scroll backwards through the list. You’ll see the Blend Mode option in the Layers panel changing to show you the currently selected blend mode as you scroll through them. Keep an eye on your image in the document window as you’re scrolling to judge the results. You’ll find it’s a lot faster and easier than selecting blend modes one at a time from the Layers panel.
Selecting Specific Blend Modes From The Keyboard
Scrolling through the list isn’t the only thing we can do from the keyboard. Each blend mode comes with its own keyboard shortcut so we can jump straight to it! For example, to quickly select the Screen blend mode, just press Shift+Alt+S (Win) / Shift+Option+S (Mac). For the Multiply blend mode, press Shift+Alt+M (Win) / Shift+Option+M (Mac). Need to select the Overlay blend mode? Press Shift+Alt+O (Win / Shift+Option+O (Mac). It’s that easy!
Here’s the complete list of keyboard shortcuts for Photoshop’s layer blend modes. Again, if you find they’re not working for you, select the Move Tool first in the Tools panel, then try again:
|Blend Mode||Keyboard Shortcut|
|Normal||Shift + Alt + N (Win) / Shift + Option + N (Mac)|
|Dissolve||Shift + Alt + I (Win) / Shift + Option + I (Mac)|
|Darken||Shift + Alt + K (Win) / Shift + Option + K (Mac)|
|Multiply||Shift + Alt + M (Win) / Shift + Option + M (Mac)|
|Color Burn||Shift + Alt + B (Win) / Shift + Option + B (Mac)|
|Linear Burn||Shift + Alt + A (Win) / Shift + Option + A (Mac)|
|Lighten||Shift + Alt + G (Win) / Shift + Option + G (Mac)|
|Screen||Shift + Alt + S (Win) / Shift + Option + S (Mac)|
|Color Dodge||Shift + Alt + D (Win) / Shift + Option + D (Mac)|
|Linear Dodge||Shift + Alt + W (Win) / Shift + Option + W (Mac)|
|Overlay||Shift + Alt + O (Win) / Shift + Option + O (Mac)|
|Soft Light||Shift + Alt + F (Win) / Shift + Option + F (Mac)|
|Hard Light||Shift + Alt + H (Win) / Shift + Option + H (Mac)|
|Vivid Light||Shift + Alt + V (Win) / Shift + Option + V (Mac)|
|Linear Light||Shift + Alt + J (Win) / Shift + Option + J (Mac)|
|Pin Light||Shift + Alt + Z (Win) / Shift + Option + Z (Mac)|
|Hard Mix||Shift + Alt + L (Win) / Shift + Option + L (Mac)|
|Difference||Shift + Alt + E (Win) / Shift + Option + E (Mac)|
|Exclusion||Shift + Alt + X (Win) / Shift + Option + X (Mac)|
|Hue||Shift + Alt + U (Win) / Shift + Option + U (Mac)|
|Saturation||Shift + Alt + T (Win) / Shift + Option + T (Mac)|
|Color||Shift + Alt + C (Win) / Shift + Option + C (Mac)|
|Luminosity||Shift + Alt + Y (Win) / Shift + Option + Y (Mac)|
Don’t go stressing yourself out thinking you have to memorize all 23 keyboard shortcuts, especially for the blend modes you’ll rarely if ever use. But for the ones you use every day, like Screen, Multiply, Overlay and Color, being able to quickly select them from your keyboard, and knowing how to easily scroll through them all from your keyboard, can definitely save you some time and make working with Photoshop a little bit easier.
For more information on how layer blend modes work, be sure to check out our Five Essential Blend Modes For Photo Editing tutorial, where I cover the blend modes you need to know in much more detail.
And there we have it!