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Premiere Pro Blending Modes Explained: How to Use Video Overlays

The Premiere Pro Blending Modes Guide - understand the various effects you can created with video overlays and blending modes in Premiere Pro CC.

Video blending modes are an easy and fun way to add an extra bit of artistic interest to video clips. In this tutorial, we will be explaining the various video blending modes that Premiere Pro offers. This will include what sort of effect they will have, as well as some situations that each blending mode is useful in.

What Are Video Blending Modes?

If you’ve used Photoshop extensively, you are most of the way there in terms of learning how video blending modes work. The terms and phrases used in this article will sound familiar, as they are the same terms used to describe the way layers interact in Photoshop.

Essentially blending modes are different ways of overlaying multiple layers. The decision you need to make is which of the many algorithms you want to use, as there are quite a few unique effects. They all have different looks and styles, so it is best to know what to expect from them before you dive in.

Video blending modes add a layer of difficulty over the same tactic in Photoshop, because you have to consider how the effects will look on an entire video clip, not just one frame. The lighting can change from scene to scene, so sometimes it is best to cut your clips and add adjustments on an individual level.

Three common terms are used to describe what goes into a blend. The source layer is the upper layer that the blend mode is applied to, or the video loop/clip to overlay. The underlying layer is the lower layer (which in most cases will be set to Normal), or your original video clip. The result is the composite layer showing the blending mode effect.

We will be using a simple example today by blending some leftover clips from past projects with these free video loops:

Normal Modes

The Normal blend modes include Normal and Dissolve. Normal is the default blending mode, and will not combine layers unless the upper layer has opacity turned down. Dissolve mode will also only blend if the source layer has opacity turned down, and will choose which layer is shown on a pixel-by-pixel basis, depending on that opacity. You will likely never choose Dissolve, but you will see Normal a lot.

Subtractive Modes

The first subtractive category is Darken, which will use the darkest value of the source layer to overlay that color on the underlying layer. So, a dark colored source image will block out most of a lighter colored underlying layer, but any very dark points will poke through.

Darken Example:

Premiere Pro 'darken' blending mode example with bokeh lights.

Multiply mode is well-named, as it quite literally multiplies each pixel, between the source and underlying layers. If a pixel in the source layer is white, then the result will not change. If it is black, the result will be black. Generally this mode will be used to darken an image, since white does not change anything. In our example, the bokeh effect’s black background makes the resulting image way too dark.

Multiply Example:

Premiere Pro 'multiply' blending mode example with bokeh lights.

Color Burn will output a darkened version of the source layer with increased contrast with the underlying layer. White in the source layer makes no change. Generally, this is a blending mode that you want to avoid, as it can be rather intense and create a lot of unwanted artifacts. Similarly, Linear Burn will darken the source and reduce the brightness of the result. This blending mode works best when the source is rather light, as your footage will be very dark otherwise.

Color Burn Example:

Premiere Pro 'color burn' blending mode example with bokeh lights.

Linear Burn Example:

Premiere Pro 'linear burn' blending mode example with bokeh lights.

Darker Color is similar to Darken. It compares the two layers and keeps the darkest of them in each pixel. This can result is some weird effects, and you will probably only use this if you’re trying to do something abstract.

Darker Color Example:

Premiere Pro 'darker color' blending mode example with bokeh lights.

Additive Modes

Lighten is the opposite of Darken. The resulting output is the lightest color of each layer. This works really nicely for softening up some footage, and also looks good for overlaying an image or texture over a logo or other solid color.

Lighten Example:

Premiere Pro 'lighten' blending mode example with bokeh lights.

Screen is a very common blending mode, and results in a lighter version of each layer. This will probably result in a subtle blend. Black in the source has no effects, and any other color will always result in a brighter image.

As you can see in our example, the Screen effect removed all of the black from the bokeh clip and created a more natural-looking soft glow. The lighten effect above does remove some of the black background, but not as clearly as the ‘screen’ blending mode option.

Screen Example:

Premiere Pro 'screen' blending mode example with bokeh lights.

Color Dodge decreases the contract between the two blended layers by lightening the source layer. As with many additive effects, black in the source layer has no effect. White will tend to completely blow out an image, however.

Color Dodge Example:

Premiere Pro 'color dodge' blending mode example with bokeh lights.

Linear Dodge (Add) will result in an image that lightens the source to increase brightness. you can think of this as a more intense version of Screen and Color Dodge.

Linear Dodge (Add) Example:

Premiere Pro 'linear dodge (add)' blending mode example with bokeh lights.

Lighter Color is the inverse of Darker Color. It keeps the brightest color between the source and underlying layers, but has the same abstract look that Darker Color has. According to Adobe’s blending mode reference, Lighter Color is similar to Lighten, but Lighter Color does not operate on individual color channels.

Lighter Color Example:

Premiere Pro 'lighter color' blending mode example with bokeh lights.




Complex Modes

The first of the complex modes, and one that is frequently used by video editors, is Overlay. This effect can produce a similar result to Multiply or Screen, depending on if the underlying layer is darker or lighter, respectively. The difference is that Overlay preserves shadows and highlights, meaning that this is a relatively safe mode to play with.

You can expect it to increase contrast and saturation. It is easy to make something that looks good and natural with this video blending mode. In this case, most of our bokeh effect is dark, so we get a result similar to Multiply. We can also see that this blend mode kept more detail than Multiply did.

Overlay Example:

Premiere Pro 'overlay' blending mode example with bokeh lights.

Soft Light is a similar effect, which lightens the final image if the source is light, and darkens it if the source is dark. Hard Light works in a similar way, except it checks for the lightness or darkness of the underlying layer, and uses the Screen and Multiply effects. Also, Soft Light will generally show more of the underlying layer while Hard Light will favor showing the source layer.

Soft Light Example:

Premiere Pro 'soft light' blending mode example with bokeh lights.

Hard Light Example:

Premiere Pro 'hard light' blending mode example with bokeh lights.

Vivid Light uses burn and dodge effects by changing the contrast based on the underlying layer. This will result in darker darks and lighter lights. Linear Light uses the same tools to adjust the brightness. Colors are often extreme in both of these modes, so tread carefully!

Vivid Light Example:

Premiere Pro 'vivid light' blending mode example with bokeh lights.

Linear Light Example:

Premiere Pro 'linear light' blending mode example with bokeh lights.

Pin Light is another of the complex video blending modes, and produces a very interesting effect. Essentially if both the source and underlying layer are dark or both light, it will darken and lighten respectively. Otherwise, it will not change anything in the underlying layer. This mode can yield some interesting results, so experiment with this one.

Pin Light Example:

Premiere Pro 'pin light' blending mode example with bokeh lights.

Hard Mix boosts the contrast of the underlying layer, and is limited to black, white, and the six primary colors. This is a very extreme effect that has some interesting looking results. The combination of just black/white and the six primary colors make for a cartoon looking video which can be cool for certain projects and edits.

Hard Mix Example:

Premiere Pro 'hard mix' blending mode example with bokeh lights.

Difference Modes

Difference mode uses lighter colors in the underlying layer to invert the colors of the source, whereas black will make no  change to the result. Technically what the blend mode does is set each pixel to the difference between the source and underlying pixel. Exclusion creates a similar effect, but is lower contrast. Again, white will create an inverse color and black will do nothing.

Difference Example:

Premiere Pro 'difference' blending mode example with bokeh lights.

Exclusion Example:

Premiere Pro 'exclusion' blending mode example with bokeh lights.

Subtract mode does exactly what it says. This blend mode subtracts the source from the underlying layer. In this case, white in the source will create a black space. Colors in the source will product their inverse.

Subtract Example:

Premiere Pro 'subtract' blending mode example with bokeh lights.

Divide creates the opposite effect of Subtract. Darker colors in the source will lighten the underlying image. Colors in the source will produce their inverse.

Divide Example:

Premiere Pro 'divide' blending mode example with bokeh lights.

HSL Modes

Hue causes the result to keep the luminosity and saturation of the underlying layer and the hue of the source. Black and white will result in grayscale, while a solid color will appear to put a somewhat transparent layer of that color over the underlying image. This mode is great for creating pops of color in certain parts of a piece of footage.

Hue Example:

Premiere Pro 'hue' blending mode example with bokeh lights.

Saturation mode preserves the luminosity and hue of the underlying layer, but applies the saturation of the source layer. This will effectively keep the colors of the underlying layer, but apply extra saturation. In this case the color does not make a difference, but the saturation of that color.

Saturation Example:

Premiere Pro 'saturation' blending mode example with bokeh lights.

Color mode has the luminosity of the underlying layer and the saturation and hue of the source. This is useful for applying color to grayscale images, as it will effectively make your underlying layer grayscale, and then layer color from the source layer on top of it.

Color Example:

Premiere Pro 'color' blending mode example with bokeh lights.

Luminosity mode maintains the hue and saturation of the underlying layer, and the luminosity of the source. This is the opposite of Color mode, and will result in some abstract looking images. You can think of this as the underlying layer coloring the source layer.

Luminosity Example:

Premiere Pro 'luminosity' blending mode example with bokeh lights.




More Premiere Pro Blending Mode Examples

Below are some additional examples of what you can create with video overlays and blending modes in Premiere Pro CC.

Example of the 'overlay' blend mode in Premiere Pro.

video overlays tutorial for premiere pro

premiere pro blending modes example image




Hopefully this guide to blending modes in Premiere Pro can give you an idea of the different types of effects and edits you can create with your footage.

As you can see, not every blend mode will work for every type of footage. Depending on how light or dark your clip is will determine the types of blending effects that will work best. You can also adjust opacity to further customize the effect for your project.

For further help learning how to edit video, check out these great sites to learn video editing.


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