Split Toning in Photoshop

Split Toning in Photoshop


Split Toning is an effect which has its origins in the days of film and it involves tinting the highlights in a black and white image one color and the shadows another color. The best results are where you use opposite colors for each, such as yellow and blue, green and magenta and so on.


If you are a Lightroom user you’ve probably experimented with the very cool Split Toning tool in the Develop module. However, you can achieve a similar effect in Photoshop with just a little more work.

Here’s how to create the effect in Photoshop:


Start by creating a black and white image using your favorite tool in Photoshop. I’m using Photoshop CS4 so I’m using the Black & White filter but you could use the Channel Mixer or Hue/Saturation and drag the Saturation slider into -100.


To create the split tone effect you can use a Color Balance adjustment layer as it lets you isolate the highlights and shadows in the image and to apply different colors to each. To start, choose Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Color Balance and click to select the Highlight tones. Now adjust the color sliders until you get a pleasing color in the image highlights.


Click the Shadows tone selector to isolate the shadows in the image and adjust the color sliders to get a pleasing color in the Shadows.


If necessary you may want to select the highlights again and fine tune the color used so it complements the color you’ve chosen for the shadows.


You can consider your image done for now or you can apply a filter effect. Here I’ve created a flattened image layer by pressing Control + Alt + Shift + E (Command + Option + Shift + E on a Mac) and applied a Diffuse Glow filter (Filter > Distort > Diffuse Glow) to it before blending the layer back into the underlying image.


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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.

Some Older Comments

  • Kaitlyn September 26, 2013 10:52 am

    Couldn't you also use a gradient map, and pick the colors for the highlights and shadows there? Then fiddle with the opacity/blending of the gradient map layer.

  • Abigail Stoops December 25, 2012 05:18 am

    Thank you for another awesome tutorial!!!

  • David November 28, 2012 01:01 am

    I have con my img to BW using filter
    I have sel CB and highlites
    moved the sliders and nothing hapens
    please can you assist

  • Duncan G. September 2, 2011 02:59 am

    Thanks Helen, great explanation on the split toning , I've tried several ways but not quite what I'm looking for, now yours has me going over several photos from the past . Thanks again

  • Marilyn August 21, 2011 07:38 am

    This is one area where I've twiddled around before, sometimes achieving some pretty interesting effects. What I like about it is that it takes what would otherwise be a very ordinary landscape and makes it interesting enough to look at, maybe even look at it a second time.

  • Marilyn Armstrong August 20, 2011 01:57 pm

    I am so grateful for these tips. Gonna try this one tomorrow. Tried a different one (high pass sharpening using and overlay and the high pass filter) today and it took ordinary photos and made them pop. I've been using PS for years, but I'm really a writer ... photography has been a hobby for my whole life. I've learned the rudiments of PS, but I could never before make magic. I'd seen the results, so I knew it was possible. I just didn't know how to make it happen. With the help of this incredible site and columns like this, I'm learning. And oh what a difference it is making!! Thank you for sharing!!!

  • Alexandru Vita November 4, 2010 11:31 pm

    Great article, useful tips!
    Don't forget that split toning can be very powerful when used on color image too! It can induce various moods just by discretely adding color casts. Or to take it even further, it can become strong cross-processing (also works well with strong vignettes!).
    Here are some of my own tips, examples and resources on the matter: http://www.alexandruvita.com/blog/2010/11/04/the-power-of-split-toning-for-color-images/

  • CanonRebelz October 25, 2009 01:38 am

    Great article, thanks for the tips.

    I'm wondering though, if you were to desaturate it in Picasa and then add a graduated tint, would the outcome be near the same?

  • Lambert October 19, 2009 02:37 am

    An interesting technique. Another way to achieve a similar result is

    1/ Image/Mode/Grayscale
    2/ Image/Mode/Duotone

  • zmippie October 18, 2009 08:11 pm

    I'd like to apologize for the tone of my comment, above. Reading it back today, it does seem like it's written with disdain. I have no doubt about the author's good intentions, I was merely trying to point out a quicker and more effective way to accomplish the same. So please skip the "Yeah uh..." and "1/10th of its length" parts.

  • William Bullimore October 18, 2009 07:55 pm

    zmippie... clearly your PS skills are way awsomer than everyone else. Why aren't you writing the articles for this blog or for magazines like Helen has been doing for years?

  • ray October 18, 2009 12:38 am

    yeah.. uh. yeah.. to the person above: this article is not long or complicated at all.. desaturate, 2 adj layers, and a filter.. you may not find it helpful, but many people do

    great article though.. these tutorials are quite helpful in getting to understand the many complexities of photoshop..

  • zmippie October 17, 2009 08:20 pm

    Yeah, uh... if you're using PS CS4 you can open TIFF and JPG images along with RAW images in Adobe Camera Raw and there are split toning controls there. I think that may have made this article about 1/10th of its length...