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A Duo Of Duotones

A subtle overlay of color can really perk up a flat black & white image. A two color overlay, composed of (usually) black and another color, called Duotone, and three color, black and two other colors, or Tritone, add depth and tonality to an otherwise uninteresting composition. Photoshop gives us an easy way to give our images a Duotone, Tritone, even a Quadtone look. I’ll go over how to do that, then I’ll show you a very simple way to fake it!

I started with a public domain photo from the Library of Congress. It had been scanned in grayscale, so I went over the steps covered the past two weeks on TipSquirrel, then did a bit of restoration, mostly on the sky to correct the glare.


The problem with using the Duotone method in Photoshop is that the photo will now have to be re-converted to Grayscale in order to work, the option is grayed out when the image is in any other mode. In essence, you’re destroying all the work you’ve just done to reconstruct your RGB color channels. One way to get around that, of course, is to make a duplicate file and convert it to Grayscale (Image > Mode > Grayscale). If you do this, I recommend merging all the layers in the convergence as the Duotone process will be affecting all the layers anyway. Now when you go to Image > Mode > Duotone, it will be available and, upon selection, the Duotone Options dialog will come up.


In the Type selection box, choose Duotone. The Preset box is where you’ll choose the colors you’d like, or you can input your own by selecting the color, or second box in the ‘Ink” areas. You can also adjust the depth of the color by adjusting the histogram located in the first box, the one with the line through it. Try as many colors, combinations and adjustments as you like until you find the one that looks best on your image. I usually stick with the brown / sepia or blue tones for the older images. You can also create a Tritone by choosing that option in the Type box, and selecting the color box under Ink 3.


I love the looks that can be achieved using the Duotone mode, the subtle variations of color that Duotones and Tritones have are beautiful. I don’t like having to convert to Grayscale. I also don’t like the destructive nature of the Duotone color mode, the fact that it effects all layers. I’d much prefer having the black and white image intact on a layer in case I decide I’d like to lower the opacity of the Duotone or Tritone layer. Call me indecisive, but it’s happened – often. So more often than not, I use a “fake” Duotone method. For this, I make a combined layer at the top of my layer stack (Ctrl+Alt+Shift+E or Cmd+Opt+Shift+E). Add a new, blank layer over that and fill with black. Change the Layer Blend Mode to Overlay and bring the Opacity down to around 25%.


Over that add a new, blank layer and fill with the color of your choice (I used # 855B27 in this case). Change the Layer Blend Mode to Overlay and the Opacity to 15%.


If you’d like a faux Tritone, add a third blank layer and fill with a third color. I used # 877924. Change the Layer Blend Mode to Overlay and the Opacity to 10%. Play with your opacity levels to see what works best for you, of course, but these are good places to start.


And there you have a very simple way to add a bit of depth and interest to your black and white image!



About Janine Smith (114 Articles)
Janine Smith is the owner of Landailyn Research and Restoration, a Fort Worth, Texas based company whose services include family history research and photo restoration. Janine honed her skills in restoring badly damaged photos as a volunteer with Operation Photo Rescue, a non-profit organization whose mission is to repair photographs damaged by unforeseen circumstances such as house fires and natural disasters. <br> Janine’s work is well-known in the world of genealogical and historical societies, museums, libraries, university archives, and non-profit organizations; appearing on the board of directors for several organizations and institutions. She is a sought-after lecturer on photo restoration and preservation to libraries, genealogical and historical societies. <br> In addition to being a Lynda.com author, Janine is the author of many articles on research and restoration appearing in newspapers and magazines, both on and offline. Janine's history and photo restoration columns appear regularly on TipSquirrel.com and in the popular Shades Of The Departed Digital Magazine. <br> Janine is the winner of the 2010 “Photoshop User Award” in the photo-restoration category.

1 Comment on A Duo Of Duotones

  1. Great tutorial, thank you.

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