Photoshop: Merge layers with various Blend Modes, while maintaining original appearance.

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  • Updated 4 years ago
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Merging layers with different Blend Modes often (i.e., always) ends with a different appearance...unless the bottom layer in the merge has a normal blend mode. Let's change this!

Example:

Top Layer: solid blue shape

Middle Layer: gradient going from black to white (but set with a Multiply blend mode, so it really goes from black to transparent)

Bottom layer: solid red

In this example I want to merge the Top Layer and Middle Layer, so that no matter what I change the Bottom Layer color to, the gradient will always have the same (black to transparent) effect that the Multiply gave it. Currently, depending on how I merge, I will either lose the transparency effect in the gradient from Middle Layer, or the blue Top Layer will change to black. Not cool

Basically, there should be an option to merge layers (or convert to a Smart Object) while keeping the effect/appearance. Obviously doing this would change the blend mode to Normal, but the transparency/blend effects would still exist.

I'm almost surprised that converting layers to a Smart Object doesn't already do this. Though I'm not sure how it would work if after doing this, you ended up changing the blend mode from Normal to a different mode.

I realize grouping and what-not would do the same thing, but there are times when I need it to be a single layer while keeping more than 1 blend mode present.
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Jon Fuller

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Posted 7 years ago

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Chris Cox

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Official Response
In general, that is not possible because the appearance can depend on all layers in the document.

The only time you can really preserve the appearance when merging, is when you merge all layers.

Mathematically, there is no way to do what you are asking (except in very limited, and probably uninteresting circumstances).
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Jeffrey Tranberry, Sr. Product Manager, Digital Imaging

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What Chris said. It's mathematically impossible to because you're tossing away the layer data which is needed to achieve the blending.
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Austin Anthony

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I can understand how it may be impossible and/or very difficult to do this.. but if the end goal is simply to keep the 'appearance' of the layers (maybe not the ability to edit them layer, like smart filters), could you not just have the program take a 'screenshot' of what it looks like as separate layers (with respective blending modes), and then replace the existing layers with the new 'merged layer' (screenshot)?

Ie. a 'Merge Layers' option (for what it would really merge them into), and a 'Aesthetic Merge Layers' for the above?

(or am I waaay off?)
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Austin Anthony

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I mention the 'screenshot' method as it has been the only conceivable way of negotiating this problem for me, and sometimes even it isnt enough, lol.
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Chris Cox

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If you want to preserve the appearance, you have to merge ALL the layers (which is what a real screenshot does -- along with throwing away all color accuracy).

Yes, you're waaay off.
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Austin Anthony

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Hmm, maybe I have a slightly different problem to Garconis...

To achieve my desired effect, I can:
Zoom to 100%, press Print Screen, paste it into the image, crop out everything except the content of the layers I would have merged, and then delete the would-be merged layers

If I simply merge them, sometimes the colouring and effects become muddled (which is understandable, as explained to me in the other posts). So I guess my question is, is there an easier method to reach this desired effect, other than merging all layers?
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Chris Cox

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You haven't described what you're actually trying to do.

You can select a set of layers and merge them as best as possible within Photoshop - but, again, that may not preserve the appearance because they wouldn't be interacting with all layers anymore. Or you can merge the entire document into a new layer - preserving appearance, but of all layers. Or you can use smart objects, or ....
Again, the general goal stated in the original post is usually not possible. But for more limited circumstances, there are lots of ways to merge layers and preserve as much appearance as possible. (though, a screenshot is probably the worst possible approach)
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christoph pfaffenbichler, Champion

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I am kind of impressed by Mr. Cox’ and Mr. Tranberry’s patience and restraint.

Garconis, in your example if you are working in RGB simply substituting a black to transparent gradient for the black to white multiplying gradient should work out.
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Mama Shan Canfield

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I can't help but ask for this instance why you don't simply choose to use the black to transparent option for the Gradient layer to begin with? Then merging a composite layer of the blue shape and the underlying gradient to a single layer would be functional over any colored, patterned or image background.
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Jon Fuller

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In response to why I don't just use a gradient:

This was simply an example. There are many other times when there isn't a simple work-around. Such as a detailed full-color raster image that I want to apply a certain effect (Blend Mode) to -- whether it be Overlay, Soft Light, Multiply, etc.
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Nate Chatellier

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I frequently have this problem as well. I often find myself copying layers into another temp psd, merging visible, then copying it back into the original psd that I wanted to be able to do this in the first place.
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Nate Chatellier

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A co-worker just showed me a trick that solved my case:

First, merge all layers that don't have blend modes.

Then, hold [OPTION] and click in-between the layers that have the blend mode / transparency values that you would like to maintain. Keep doing this so the effect-layers only impact the single layer that you flattened in step one.

Finally, select all of your effect layers plus the base layer they are impacting, and merge.

Yay, it works!
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Vico Ughetto

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Yeap it worked. You created a clipping mask with the 2 layers that interact with the blending and then apply the merge. It may result in a problem if the backlayer is smaller then the top one because it will be clipped (hence the name clipping mask). But for me it was fine.
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PayPaul

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What is "Hold[option] mean? I have a similar problem with a next to top layer that produces a dissolving effect that influences lower layers. When I flatten it either to jpeg or stamp visible I lose it and the background of the spheres and other objects is a flat black. See image below.

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Chris Cox

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I think they mean hold the option (aka ALT on Windows) key.

And to judge a dissolve, you really need to zoom in to 100%, you're zoomed out at about 9%.
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PayPaul

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It displays at the zoom level I have set in Photoshop which was a little higher than what is presented in this screenshot but on the jpeg it does not display at any zoom level. Many times when a layer with a blending mode affects an image I do not get WYSIWYG on the jpeg file. I even tried a white filled background layer but that changed the image overall to something I didn't want even in PSD viewing.
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Chris Cox

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The document title bar display the zoom you were using when you took the screenshot - which is about 9%. Especially for noisy effects like Dissolve, you need to look at the image at 100% to judge the result.

If you don't get WYSIWYG, then you probably have a lot of noise, and aren't at 100%.
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PayPaul

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Wow! You're absolutely right. It is curious that I do see the effect at lower zoom rates in Photoshop but it takes looking at the same image as a jpeg in 100 percent zoom to see them again. Unfortunately, due to the size limitations of this site, I can't upload it. If I reduce the image size to the point where it meets the requirements, the effect is lost. I'm not sure if even reducing the quality of the jpeg at its present size will not do the same thing.