11 Dec 2015

How to Blend Colors in Photoshop: 4 Essential Techniques

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Knowing how to effectively blend colors is arguably the most important aspect to digital painting.

Like painting, there is no one 'right' way to blend. Photoshop offers a number of tools you can use, and it is up to you as an artist to decide how and when to use them. This depends both on your personal preference and style, as well as what you are trying to achieve. Experiment and practice with the different tools, and you will soon discover which fit your way of working.

We've put together an overview of the 4 most useful techniques. To allow you to practice these techniques yourself, we've bundled all the brushes and tool presets, which you can download here for free:

Download free brushes and tool presets

Overview: 4 Essential Techniques

As you can see, each tool blends in a slightly different way. The key is to learning to use the correct technique at the right stages in your painting.

Technique 1: The Soft Edge Brush

Soft, round brushes are perfect for creating smooth gradients, both between highlights and shadows, as well as between two different colors.

Unless you're going for a specific effect, you'll generally want to start out with soft brushes to create the basic shapes and values. It allows you a great deal of flexibility, and lets you work out the basic, geometric shapes before you start painting in all the details.

Due to it's round faded edges, the soft brush is the easiest tool to create smooth, blended transitions. However, over-using it can lead to muddy colors and fuzzy details. Ideally you want to use it in combination with hard edge brushes, to get some sharp edges back into your painting.

When to Use It:

  • To lay out the basic structure of your painting
  • When blending large, smooth surfaces

Things to Consider:

  • Can lead to muddy colors if over-used, especially with too low of an opacity
  • Creates soft, fuzzy edges, that can look airbrushed and generally lack details

Pro Tip:

Photoshop Tip: Hold Alt to temporarily transform your brush into an eyedropper. This makes blending soo much easier!

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Technique 2: The Hard Edge Brush

Whilst the soft edge brush is ideal for creating smooth gradients, the hard edge brush allows you to retain structure and edges in your paintings.

Almost every object has hard edges in one form or another. As the soft brush makes everything appear soft and gradated, we need a tool that can blend while still allowing us preserve these edges. This is where the hard edge brush excels.

Using only hard brushes, however, can lead to a sketchy, unfinished look, which may not be what you are after. Ideally you want to vary between soft and hard brushes frequently.

As its edges aren't semi-transparent and faded, it is important to remember that you have to drop the opacity and flow when blending with a hard brush.

When to Use It:

  • To preserve details in your paintings
  • To create crisp edges and structure around shapes

Things to Consider:

  • Difficult to create smooth gradients

Pro Tip:

Photoshop Tip: When blending with a hard edge brush, lower the opacity and flow to better control your brushstrokes:

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Technique 3: The Smudge Tool

Though it should be used sparingly, the smudge tool can be a handy way to very quickly blend and smooth-out overly hard edges.

Rather than painting new values on top of your painting, the smudge tool takes the existing colors and 'smudges' them together. This allows for very fast blending, though it can very quickly lead to muddy colors.

To use the smudge tool effectively, make sure to adapt your tool presets (as outlined in the video​). 

When to Use It:

  • To blend away imperfections left by hard edge brushes

Things to Consider:

  • Use the smudge tool sparingly as it generally doesn't mix colors with as much accuracy and quickly leads to muddy colors

Pro Tip:

Improve your blending with the smudge tool by downloading these tool presets and brushes: http://bit.ly/1lDAtMw #digitalpainting

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Technique 4: The Mixer Brush

The mixer brush is the closest thing to painting with real oil on a canvas, making it a very interesting tool to blend with.

Like a traditional brush, there are two ways the mixer brush can be used: to apply new 'paint' or values to the painting, or to smudge and blend the values that have already been laid down.

It is especially interesting to use in combination with rough, bristle brushes (see the free download link below), as this will create a textured look, similar to using a traditional dry-brush.

When to Use It:

  • To add a little texture or special effects to your blending
  •  To create a more 'tactile' feel (especially useful when your painting looks airbrushed from over-using the soft edge brush

Things to Consider:

  • Using the right settings is important, and varies from brush to brush
  • To get started, try this free brush and use the settings described in the video

Pro Tip:

Digital Painting: Create a tactile, oil-painted feel in your artwork by blending with this free brush: http://bit.ly/1lDAtMw

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5 Responses

  1. Pingback : HOW TO APPLY FILTERS INDIVIDUALLY ON LAYERS | Digital Lady Syd's Fun Photoshop Blog

  2. Hey! You said you’ll show how to install the brush for smudge (I think I’ve heard this?) But I don’t find where. Because I have two files with the download, one ABR for the brush and one for the brush tool (TPL). But when I try to charge form with the smudge tool, Photoshop doesn’t find the other which is in a TPL format. Is this for another version of photoshop?
    Otherwise, thank you very much for those tutorial, I was unable to paint skin and I didn’t understand why, but I think the problem was mixing. Thank you for all your videos!

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