Get Creative With Texture Blending

Texture blending in ON1 Layers is a simple yet powerful technique to give your photos an artistic flair. It’s a fun way to experiment and get creative with your photos. Ordinary photos can take on an entirely new look after blending a texture or two.

Selecting A Photo

What photo should I choose for texture blending? Any photo can be blended with a texture. However, there are some subjects and scenes that I feel lend themselves to textures more than others.

I typically look to texture blending to add visual interest to a photo. For example, I will blend textures into photos with large areas of a uniform color or a scene with a fair amount of empty space (not negative space, empty space). Subjects that impart an “old world” feel and scenes that could resemble a painting are good choices too.

I’ll also apply textures to my “I was here” vacation photos. You know the ones… the photo you take at the wrong time of day, or in the wrong light, because your there when you’re there and schedule won’t permit a return visit during golden hour.

Coliseum, Basic Stylization
Great subject, boring sky, and shot at an inopportune time of day

Selecting A Texture

What texture should I choose? This is a question I get asked reasonably often, and there’s no one correct answer or a silver bullet. When I am selecting textures to blend with a photo, I approach it from my envisioned end state. I ask myself two questions:

  • Do I want to lighten/warm or darken/cool the photo?
  • Do I want harsher, coarser look or a softer, smoother look?

The lighten/darken question helps me select textures with a certain tone or color. The coarser/smoother question helps me home in on the material or grit of the texture, how much contrast is in the texture. For example, suppose I want to add a gentle texture and warm my photo a bit. I’ll search through my texture packs for one with less contrast and a warmer color, like orange or yellow.

These are, of course, general guidelines and purposely vague questions. My answers help me get started. I never discount free form experimentation when blending textures. That uncertainty and potential for a happy surprise is part of the fun!

The Blend

With your photo and texture selected, blending them together is a simple process.

  1. Load your photo in ON1 Layers.
  2. Using the Browser panel on the left, select a texture. You can select texture packs bundled with or specifically packaged for ON1 using the Extras tab. You can also choose any file on your computer in the Files tab.
  3. Double click the texture and choose Add as New Layer. A new layer with the texture is created.
  4. In the Layer Stack, set the texture layer opacity and blending mode to taste

Adding a texture as a layer

I typically start with a 50% opacity to get a quick idea of how the texture will blend. I also turn to the Multiply, Overlay or Soft Light blending modes as a starting point. Other blending modes may work well, too. Results all depend on the photo and the texture selected. Experiment!

Textures are often smaller than our photos, too. You can quickly resize the texture to match your photo.

  1. Select the texture layer
  2. Choose the Transform tool in the Tool Well
  3. Click the Fill Canvas (the four-headed arrow icon) in the Tool Options Bar
  4. Click Apply in the Tool Options Bar

A significant resize may soften the texture, although that’s generally fine. The texture is an accent for your photo, not the main subject.

Texture Blending Tips

Something I find fun about texture blending is the technique is simple, yet the variations are limitless. I can (and do!) get lost sometimes trying out different textures, blending modes, masks and so on as I stylize a photo. Once you understand the basic approach, leverage the other tools in ON1 Layers, Enhance and Effects to take your blends to the next level.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Transform the texture: I mentioned resizing above to match the texture to your photo size. Don’t stop there. Stretch, rotate and flip the texture, too.
  • Cycle through blending modes: There is no “one size fits all” for blending modes. Open up the blending mode popup and arrow down through the choices. Although I may start with Multiply or Soft Light, a quick scan of the blends often has me switch to Color Burn, Screen or Hard Light (just to name a few).
  • Stylize the texture layer: Any layer can be stylized in Enhance or Effects, including textures. You don’t need to take a texture at face value. Add a different color cast in Enhance or Effects. Denature the texture so the blend is more about the texture grain and less about the texture color. Stylize textures in any way that suits your vision for your photo.
  • Masking: Textures do not need to be universally applied to your photo. All of the masking tools in ON1 are available for textures. A favorite trick of mine is to use the Center shape Masking Bug with a moderate opacity and a nice, gradual fade to play down the texture around my subject.
  • Use multiple textures: You aren’t limited to a single texture. Applying multiple textures with different opacities and blending modes can produce very interesting results.

Bottom line… play! And have fun!

Here’s a look at the texture build-up to create my Coliseum photo. I drew inspiration from the airbrush artists that work outside the Coliseum, and in many of the squares throughout Rome, creating unique works featuring classic architecture of their city.

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 8.52.24 PM
Texture Blend 1 – Multiply blend mode at ~50% opacity, applied globally
Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 8.52.20 PM
Texture Blend 2 – Color Dodge blend mode at ~20% opacity, masked away from the lower right quadrant of the scene
Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 8.52.15 PM
Texture Blend 3 – Hard Light blend mode at ~50% opacity, applied to the sky only