I’m sure we’re all familiar with Photoshop’s blending modes. Multiply, Screen, Soft Light and Overlay are among the most commonly used, but have you ever heard of Behind and Clear?! Despite decades of Photoshop experience, I only discovered these two elusive blend modes recently. I’ll be honest, they aren’t going to completely transform your Photoshop experience, but they’re useful options to know about for those rare occasions when you just might need them!
Blending modes in Photoshop are mostly used in combination with layers, but they are also incorporated into some tool-specific options. Behind and Clear are two additional blending modes that are exclusive to the Brush, Shape, Paint Bucket and Pencil tools. They can be found in the toolbar at the top of the screen whenever the relevant tools are active, within the Mode dropdown menu, or activated directly with the Shift+ALT+Q and Shift+ALT+R shortcuts respectively.
What does the Behind blending mode do?
The Behind blending mode allows you to edit or paint only on the transparent part of a layer. It’s effectively the opposite of the ‘Lock Transparent Pixels’ option at the top of the layers panel, which confines editing to the opaque portions of the layer. Using the Behind blending mode has the same effect as painting on a layer below the existing artwork, except everything is contained within a single layer. However, since layers are so useful for non-destructive editing, the only advantage I can see is it could help keep your layer management concise.
What does the Clear blending mode do?
The Clear blending mode edits or paints each pixel and makes it transparent. Its effect is similar to that of the Eraser, or hitting the Backspace key to delete a selection from a layer, but everything is done without having to swap tools, thus cutting out any unnecessary steps. The Clear blending mode could help speed up your workflow by eliminating the need to switch to the Eraser when using the Brush, or having to make a selection of a shape to delete from a layer. Instead, quickly activating the blending mode using its shortcut allows you to erase your desired pixels directly.
Are they worth using?
In summary, both these blending modes provide a slightly quicker process to achieve a result that could be created using alternative methods, but it’s a trade-off between saving an extra step versus editing your artwork non-destructively. In my example of the Behind mode above, painting the sky on an additional layer would preserve the clipping of the airplane. In the Clear example, drawing the circle within a Layer Mask would preserve the full image.