I often get PSD assets that have layers with blending modes that end up blending them into a background layer. I'm trying to figure out of there is any way to cleanly extract these layers from the background, ending up with a transparent background, but keeping the color effects that were created by blending onto, say, a blue background?

Hopefully that's clear...

A very simplified example:

  • blue background
  • take a white brush and paint a line on a higher layer
  • set this layer to Overlay
  • You end up with a light-blue streak with blurred edges.
  • I ultimately want an image that has this same light-blue color but blends to transparent instead of blue.

Obviously real-life examples are much more complicated, but hopefully this explains what I'm trying to do :)

  • which tool you are using ? photoshop fireworks illustrator??
    – Jack
    Commented Sep 23, 2011 at 10:04
  • Are you using the right brush? Use a brush that feathers to transparent. Commented Sep 23, 2011 at 17:53

3 Answers 3

  • Blue background
  • New layer with white squiggle
  • Set blend mode to overlay
  • Select > Color Range, click on white squiggle and adjust fuzziness.
  • Use quick mask to clean up as required
  • Duplicate layer to move the squiggle into a layer with transparent background

Or use select color range, select the background, quick mask, then delete to remove background.

The other thing you could try is duplicate your background layer, move it to the top, and set blend mode to subtract or difference. You'll get a black background with the "white" squiggle, but the squiggle will be a bit darker too.


If I understand the question correctly, you want the resulting color appearance and the shape with that color appearance to become a layer, with the (previously blended) color now a full "native" color and the remainder of the layer transparent.

Here's how I would tackle it, given this as a starting point (your example):


  • First create a new layer that duplicates the color appearance of the current composite. You do this by targeting the current top layer, then using Ctl-Alt-Shift-E (Cmd-Opt-Shift-E) to create a new layer. This basically creates a new layer and applies "Merge Visible" into the new layer.

First Step - Merge to new layer

  • Ctl/Cmd-click on the layer thumbnail of your blended layer to create a selection. (Don't target the layer, just Ctl/Cmd-click the thumbnail in the layers panel.)

Second Step - Create selection

  • The new solid layer should still be targeted in the layers panel. Press Ctl/Cmd-J to copy that portion of the solid layer onto its own layer.

Final image


I did this:

  • Blue background
  • New layer with white squiggle
  • Set blend to color dodge (overlay didn't do much for me)
  • Cmd+Click (Mac) on the squiggle Layer icon to select the luminance
  • Double click the background layer and turn it into a normal layer
  • Add layer mask on that layer

That should do it.

  • I knew my simplified example would bite me :) What if the top layer is 100% opaque but only parts of it visible due to a blending mode? E.g. a white square with a red squiggle through it, blended so the white doesn't show up
    – cwolves
    Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 20:12
  • Also, doesn't quite work. If you take this new image and put the same color blue behind it there's an odd halo
    – cwolves
    Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 20:14
  • I'm having trouble with the exact scenario you're describing. Is it the "blend-if" kind of blending or blend modes? Can you comp a before/after of a simplified example of the desired effect. BTW: The solution I proposed probably shows the halo because you used a soft brush and the edge feathering interacts with the bottom layer.
    – Steve Ross
    Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 20:34

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