How to Convert an Image to a Duotone in Photoshop - Digital Photography School

How to Convert an Image to a Duotone in Photoshop

PS_duotone_before-after.jpg

A duotone is an image made up of just two colors. It’s often used in the printing world where a photograph is included in a publication and where the publisher wants to use some color on the page but not pay for full color printing. As a duotone, the image is created as a mix of two colors – hence its name duotone. Typically the colors are black and a spot color but they can be any two colors.

You can convert a photo to a duotone in Photoshop using its Duotone feature and you can customize the duotone and determine just how much of each color is applied to the image.

Here’s how to convert your photo into a duotone in Photoshop:

Step 1

PS_duotone1.jpg

Open your photo in Photoshop and apply any desired adjustments to it – concentrate more on developing pleasing contrast in the image than on the colors because in the next step you will be removing the color.

Step 2

PS_duotone2.jpg

Create a black and white version of the image. Typically this is done by selecting Image > Mode > Grayscale. The problem with this conversion method is that you don’t get the chance to determine how the image is converted and it is often a lackluster result. You can do better by converting the image yourself.

I recommend using a specialist black and white conversion tool – in Photoshop CS2 you can use the Channel Mixer and in Photoshop CS3, choose the Black & White tool. To do this, choose Image > Adjustments > Black & White and drag the sliders to create your custom black and white image. Then choose Image > Mode > Grayscale and click Discard to discard the color.

Step 3

PS_duotone3.jpg

Choose Image > Mode > Duotone to display the Duotone Options dialog. From the Type list select Duotone. The first Ink color defaults to Black and you can now add a second ink color by clicking in the swatch box.

Because duotones are typically used in commercial printing, you are offered a choice of colors from a Pantone color swatch. If you aren’t printing commercially and if you prefer to use the color picker, click the Picker button and select a color this way – type a name for it in the text area.

Step 4

PS_duotone4.jpg

Click the curve icon to the left of each of the color in turn to adjust how the color is applied to the image. The highlights are on the right of the chart and the shadows on the left. Drag upwards on the curve to apply more color in that area of the image, or drag down to apply less color. This feature lets you add more of your second ink color, for example, to the highlights.

Step 5

PS_duotone5.jpg

You can save the Duotone settings by clicking the Save button and type a name for it. Later you can load those colors and the curve into the dialog to use for another image. When you are done, choose Image > Mode > RGB Color to convert back to color mode so you can continue to work on the image or to save it.

PS_duotone_compare.jpg

The Duotone on the right was created from an image converted to a monochrome image using Image > Mode > Grayscale. The one on the left uses a custom Black and White conversion first – notice how the differences in how the duotone colors are applied.

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Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at Projectwoman.com.

  • JE

    Good tip… For those that may be placing the image in Quark or inDesign for commercial printing, save the image as a native psd file or as a Photoshop eps so that they separate correctly into the duotone colors.

  • http://danferno.deviantart.com Danferno

    Using a Hue & Saturation adjustment layer with “colorize” works very nicely too.

  • http://www.travelinlocal.com LisaNewton

    I feel like I’m so far behind in the Photoshop curve. I really need to spend time on this each day to learn the program, even though I only have the first edition of Photoshop.

    Thanks for the great ideas, and I love the effects you presented here. I’ll be using it for future reference.

  • http://smartboydesigns.com Smart Boy

    Although I too use Hue & Saturation layers, I like this method. Thanks for sharing!

  • Lisa

    Great tip and thanks Je for the separation requirements.
    I think the advantage to this method is the ability to change the tones in the highlights and shadows. You can’t do that with the Hue and Saturation method. Hue and Saturation is more monotone. I like using Hue and Saturation “colorizing” when I just need something to match a background tone.

  • http://pixatography.com Ken

    I love duotones! Nice tutorial, thank you.

    One thing tho: When I do Step 3, PS tells me I need to pick a color from the Pantone options. It won’t let me just use the color picker and name the color myself. Any ideas why? I’ll look into that again and see if I can’t find the answer.

  • http://interesting.ozlady.com Stephanie

    Hi – thanks for the tutorial and I just tried it out. I was a great source of information in how to affect the tones of the image, not just discard colour information – thanks.

    I struggled with how much colour to add, and I guess it’s just a trial and error thing and depends on taste. The ‘hint’ of colour was easy to attain, however it was a fine line before it went from hint to totally blah. Loads of practice for me to do here!

    Thanks again!

  • http://www.DaveThePaintingGuy.com David R. Darrow

    If you save as EPS or PSD for Quark or InDesign, be sure to write down the exact Duotone names of the colors used in the duotones (channels), case sensitive, and name those colors in Quark or InDesign, otherwise you will generate extra plates/negs

  • Mindy

    Could you use this to make a ‘chocolate’ conversion as well? I cannot for the life of me find a good tutorial on how to do it.

  • C Garrett

    How about morning help with Photoshop Elements?

  • Granger

    I like duotones too, but I do find them difficult to tweak in order to get the effect you are looking for. One of the reasons is that you have to convert to duotone mode and thus alter your file. At the least you should duplicate your image before going through the duotones process. However, if you know how to create a colored gradient and can figure out the gradient map adjustment layer, you can develop an artful duotone effect without having to go through the duotone mode conversion problems. Its also much easier to tweak and visualize on screen.

  • shoaib

    hi there,
    thanks pal people like us whi love photography really get alot benefited from you guys…this is indeed a very helpful techniques as only those would understand who who have face it for sum reason…thanks for sharing this.

  • http://www.tschantz.myexpose.com starrpoint

    Corel PhotoPaint also has a great duotone feature, where you can choose colore or even do three/four color conversions. It is in the image > mode > duotone (8 bit)

    I have used this for a long time to quickly add special depth to photos.

  • http://www.phillprice.com Phill

    Oh so that’s what it’s called? I now have to retag half my work with it’s proper name, lol!

  • Edith

    For photoshop elements?

  • Selvam_A

    how to enter a values in duotone curves dialogue box, is it have any standard rule for this?

  • pupu

    Hi,

    Actually i was wondering if you could help me convert a color image into an absolute black & white image, wherein only the black ink is used while printing.

  • Rob

    Is it possible to convert a four colour image to a single colour without losing the image details well the above techiques is cool but wont it possible without converting it into grayscale. Please guide me.

  • http://Firefox John Castle

    Great tutorial. No comment on last submission. My problem is not saving duo settings but saving a JPEG image which has been duotoned adjust as a JPEG. My CS3 will only save changed image as .psd. HELP.

  • http://www.projectwoman.com/phototips.html Helen Bradley

    Hi John, chances are your document is not in the correct mode. Choose Image > Mode > RGB Color and you should be able to save it as a JPG file.

    Helen

  • http://firefox John Castle

    Thanks Helen for reply. After my submit last day I persevered and found solution. TaTa ever so much.

    John

  • http://www.coolantiques.info Egyptian

    When the pixels, memorable For example?Little or no, these anyway Theres.To move sliding, promote swinging the.Olympics which say Egyptian, who really has up golf clubs.Covers of supermarket, is cheaper to.,

  • http://www.computergearonline.info Computer Components

    Things they like, that is right?Reports that no, There are not.Take well-informed decisions, research before deciding.Good strategy As Computer Components, – CancerDeity: all the resources.And dents A, addition to writing.,

  • http://www.dgdesignportfolio.com Dean

    Thanks for the tutorial. Very helpful

  • http://www.sksphotos.com Saud

    It is possible to print Duotone image in Epson printers like we find in many Digital Studio?…

Some older comments

  • Saud

    December 22, 2011 03:31 am

    It is possible to print Duotone image in Epson printers like we find in many Digital Studio?...

  • Dean

    July 25, 2011 11:46 pm

    Thanks for the tutorial. Very helpful

  • Computer Components

    August 12, 2010 05:03 pm

    Things they like, that is right?Reports that no, There are not.Take well-informed decisions, research before deciding.Good strategy As Computer Components, - CancerDeity: all the resources.And dents A, addition to writing.,

  • Egyptian

    August 12, 2010 10:55 am

    When the pixels, memorable For example?Little or no, these anyway Theres.To move sliding, promote swinging the.Olympics which say Egyptian, who really has up golf clubs.Covers of supermarket, is cheaper to.,

  • John Castle

    July 23, 2010 11:06 pm

    Thanks Helen for reply. After my submit last day I persevered and found solution. TaTa ever so much.

    John

  • Helen Bradley

    July 23, 2010 04:37 am

    Hi John, chances are your document is not in the correct mode. Choose Image > Mode > RGB Color and you should be able to save it as a JPG file.

    Helen

  • John Castle

    July 23, 2010 04:18 am

    Great tutorial. No comment on last submission. My problem is not saving duo settings but saving a JPEG image which has been duotoned adjust as a JPEG. My CS3 will only save changed image as .psd. HELP.

  • Rob

    April 14, 2010 07:57 am

    Is it possible to convert a four colour image to a single colour without losing the image details well the above techiques is cool but wont it possible without converting it into grayscale. Please guide me.

  • pupu

    August 21, 2009 01:58 pm

    Hi,

    Actually i was wondering if you could help me convert a color image into an absolute black & white image, wherein only the black ink is used while printing.

  • Selvam_A

    August 18, 2009 08:33 pm

    how to enter a values in duotone curves dialogue box, is it have any standard rule for this?

  • Edith

    May 16, 2009 04:19 pm

    For photoshop elements?

  • Phill

    February 20, 2009 11:01 pm

    Oh so that's what it's called? I now have to retag half my work with it's proper name, lol!

  • starrpoint

    February 18, 2009 03:03 am

    Corel PhotoPaint also has a great duotone feature, where you can choose colore or even do three/four color conversions. It is in the image > mode > duotone (8 bit)

    I have used this for a long time to quickly add special depth to photos.

  • shoaib

    February 15, 2009 06:59 pm

    hi there,
    thanks pal people like us whi love photography really get alot benefited from you guys...this is indeed a very helpful techniques as only those would understand who who have face it for sum reason...thanks for sharing this.

  • Granger

    February 15, 2009 02:30 am

    I like duotones too, but I do find them difficult to tweak in order to get the effect you are looking for. One of the reasons is that you have to convert to duotone mode and thus alter your file. At the least you should duplicate your image before going through the duotones process. However, if you know how to create a colored gradient and can figure out the gradient map adjustment layer, you can develop an artful duotone effect without having to go through the duotone mode conversion problems. Its also much easier to tweak and visualize on screen.

  • C Garrett

    February 15, 2009 12:23 am

    How about morning help with Photoshop Elements?

  • Mindy

    February 13, 2009 12:46 pm

    Could you use this to make a 'chocolate' conversion as well? I cannot for the life of me find a good tutorial on how to do it.

  • David R. Darrow

    February 13, 2009 02:27 am

    If you save as EPS or PSD for Quark or InDesign, be sure to write down the exact Duotone names of the colors used in the duotones (channels), case sensitive, and name those colors in Quark or InDesign, otherwise you will generate extra plates/negs

  • Stephanie

    February 12, 2009 09:00 pm

    Hi - thanks for the tutorial and I just tried it out. I was a great source of information in how to affect the tones of the image, not just discard colour information - thanks.

    I struggled with how much colour to add, and I guess it's just a trial and error thing and depends on taste. The 'hint' of colour was easy to attain, however it was a fine line before it went from hint to totally blah. Loads of practice for me to do here!

    Thanks again!

  • Ken

    February 12, 2009 12:57 pm

    I love duotones! Nice tutorial, thank you.

    One thing tho: When I do Step 3, PS tells me I need to pick a color from the Pantone options. It won't let me just use the color picker and name the color myself. Any ideas why? I'll look into that again and see if I can't find the answer.

  • Lisa

    February 12, 2009 05:22 am

    Great tip and thanks Je for the separation requirements.
    I think the advantage to this method is the ability to change the tones in the highlights and shadows. You can't do that with the Hue and Saturation method. Hue and Saturation is more monotone. I like using Hue and Saturation "colorizing" when I just need something to match a background tone.

  • Smart Boy

    February 12, 2009 05:03 am

    Although I too use Hue & Saturation layers, I like this method. Thanks for sharing!

  • LisaNewton

    February 12, 2009 02:00 am

    I feel like I'm so far behind in the Photoshop curve. I really need to spend time on this each day to learn the program, even though I only have the first edition of Photoshop.

    Thanks for the great ideas, and I love the effects you presented here. I'll be using it for future reference.

  • Danferno

    February 12, 2009 01:06 am

    Using a Hue & Saturation adjustment layer with "colorize" works very nicely too.

  • JE

    February 12, 2009 12:46 am

    Good tip... For those that may be placing the image in Quark or inDesign for commercial printing, save the image as a native psd file or as a Photoshop eps so that they separate correctly into the duotone colors.

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