For example, say I create a new layer, change my brush to solid black, but to 50% opacity, then draw some artwork. Then after the artwork is drawn, I realize it's too light and want to increase (darken) the artwork's to say 75% (so it's darker), or 100% (so actually appears solid black). How can this be done? Just to be extra clear, the color is solid black, it only appears grey (or lighter) because of the 50% brush opacity (layer opacity is 100%). Here are the methods I've tried so far:

  • Levels: no adjustment here will darken the artwork
  • Layer opacity: is already at 100%, the 50% is in the artwork itself (brush stokes)
  • Variations: darken in here does nothing either
  • Hue/Saturation: sometimes lightness will darken a little, but can't get anywhere near 100% solid black
  • Burn tool: does nothing

Here's an example PSD:


There is only one layer where I drew the word "test" with a 50% opacity brush. If you can make that "test" turn black you will save the day.

(Whenever I try to Google this problem I just get stuff about changing layer or brush opacity.)

4 Answers 4


Duplicate the layer by selecting it and hitting CtrlJ.

Then adjust the new layer's opacity so that it matches what looks good to you.

You may need to duplicate the layer several times if it starts very light.

As suggested by Scott, you may also set the Blending Mode (found to the left of the Opacity in the image above) to Multiply on each subsequent layer if you think it looks better. This option may or may not be good depending on each case, so do what looks best.

After you have the opacity you want, select all the duplicated layers by clicking the first one then holding Shift and clicking the last one. The right click the layers and select Merge Layers.

Merge Layers

  • 1
    It took me to some time to realize what's going on, but it works. Basically, when you dupe the layer of 50% art, you get two 50% layers which add up to 100% - you can then merge the new layer back down to get one layer with 100%, or as you say adjust the opacity of the top layer if you want something between 50 and 100. Thanks!
    – Joe
    Commented Aug 27, 2014 at 4:52
  • 1
    @Joe Actually they multiply to 75% if both layers are at 50% opacity. I'm not entirely sure how the math works, since 0.5 * 0.5 = 0.25 but it does logically make sense. With Multiply selected instead of Normal, you are multiplying the lighter parts more strongly than the darker parts. In this case, it's 100% black so it makes no difference.
    – Keavon
    Commented Aug 27, 2014 at 4:55
  • 1
    @Keavon by your own math, 0.5*0.5 = 0.25 so you'll get 50% from the first layer PLUS 25% from the second, to a total of 75% visibility.
    – Luciano
    Commented Aug 27, 2014 at 9:34

One method is....

  • Copy the layer
  • Set blend mode of the copied layer to Multiply
  • Repeat until it's the level of opacity you want.

It is often best to always paint at 100% and adjust layer opacity rather than adjusting brush opacity. Of course, it depends on the end goal though.

  • 1
    Sometimes I want a sketchy pencil-like look, where each stroke adds up and some parts are light but where many sketch lines overlap it gets darker. So, if I was adjusting the entire layer opacity, it would all be the same tone, otherwise I would totally do that. Also sometimes I'll do a few light strokes that I really like (that sounds awful) but they're way too light in comparison to the rest of the image, so I'll just want to darken that part to match, but until now I couldn't figure out how to do that. Thanks!
    – Joe
    Commented Aug 27, 2014 at 4:57
  • @Joe I think you mistakenly believe you'll lose the 'sketchiness' using the Fill Layer technique, or maybe I'm reading into your reply. But I think it's better all round for your circumstance and well worth knowing. See my answer.
    – MG_
    Commented Aug 27, 2014 at 12:49

Switch to using a Fill Layer

The set up:

Layer menu > New Fill Layer > Solid Color…

In the resulting dialog box, leave the defaults (mode: normal and opacity: 100%). Click OK.

Next appears the color picker. Choose black, and click OK.

enter image description here

Now your canvas will be filled with black, so select the layer mask of your newly created fill layer and choose Edit menu > Fill…, then choose Black, click OK. This will restore your canvas to white, by completely hiding the black fill layer.

Start painting

Now you're ready to start painting. Choose your brush tool and set its opacity to 50%, then paint into the layer mask with 100% black.

enter image description here

You'll still have the sketchy effect of darkening where two strokes overlap, but once you're done you can use Image > Adjustments > Levels… to adjust overall blackness. Or Dodge and Burn for selectively darkening / lightening. Overall, much more flexible.

enter image description here

  1. Make sure you don't have any background in your artwork (use wizard / pen / selection tool to remove the background from the artwork).

  2. find the colour of the artwork (if it is one colour). What I mean is, for example, look at the image given by @Keavon earlier, it's like light grey. Use the colour sample tool to see what colour it is.

  3. double click on the layer to bring blending option up, go to colour overlay and set the colour to what you recorded earlier, then change the colour to slightly darker tone of the same colour (for example, turn light grey to darker grey).

Are you using monotoned artworks?

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