Better B&W Prints Thanks to Digital Toning - 12/1/08
Master Traditional Darkroom Effects with Photoshop’s Duotone mode
The digital darkroom was a giant step forward in retouching and printing for most photographers. The one area that has always lagged behind, however, is black & white (or monotone) printing. Sure you can make great black and white images in the computer, but it has always been a challenge to get them out effectively.
Aside from high-end black & white digital printing options from your local pro lab, and without converting a home printer to a dedicated grayscale system, there’s another option for making great black & white prints: the Photoshop Duotone. Duotones effectively extend the tonal range of a monotone (i.e., black & white) print by adding another ink color to help deliver the details and tones of an image. Especially useful if you want to make black & white prints on an inkjet printer full of color inks.
But even if you’re not interested in printing the finished black & white images, maybe you just want to recreate a sepia-toned darkroom effect in the computer, or you’d like to experiment with funky effects for photos to share online with your friends. Either way, Photoshop’s duotone (and tritone and quadtone) controls are a great way to take a color image and turn it into a black & white (or other-colored) classic. Here’s how:
1. Make it grayscale. Since duotones start from monotone images, first convert your color photos to grayscale mode. Alternatively, you can use channel mixer or any number of other methods to maximize the black & white conversion of your color images. As long as it ends up grayscale for this process you’re off to a good start.
2. Next make it duotone. In the Mode menu in Photoshop’s Image dropdown, click the duotone option (which is grayed out if you’re not in grayscale mode already). Choose Load and navigate to the Duotones Presets in the Photoshop Presets that were installed in the program files with the original software. Choose one and go with it, or just use it as a jumping off point to experiment.
3. Clicking on the color swatches in the duotone menu allows you to adjust the colors and choose others from the picker. You can instantly see the differences made by simple selection changes, from subtle warming or cooling tones, to wacky effects from bright and contrasting colors. For a sepia print, for example, choosing browns and yellows goes a long way toward mimicking the darkroom toning process. Vivid reds and blues can help make an image look a little more far out.
4. Click on the curves thumbnail to the left of each color and tweak the perceived contrast and brightness of the color’s final input into the duotone image. Click to add points on the curve, each of which represents a percentage of color (i.e. ink) that will be used to render the values on that particular part of the curve. Click and drag to change them, or enter specific values in the corresponding boxes to the right. This is a great way to also add special effects and create intentional blocking of details in any part of the image. It almost looks like a posterization effect. If you’re unsure of working with curves, don’t hesitate to experiment and undo. And if it’s all too much, feel free to skip it and move right on to the next step.
5. Once you’re happy with the duotone (or tritone or quadtone) effect that Photoshop has created, you can save the ink and curve options to create your own preset for reuse later on other images. Click OK to render the image, and you’re ready to print like a digital darkroom master—without ever setting foot in an actual darkened closet.
For an added effect, consider adding a third color and creating a tritone (or a fourth for a quadtone). You can start with that third color as black to see the added pop you’ll get by mixing two additional colors—especially if you utilize those colors in separate areas of the image, like yellows only in highlights and blue tones only in the shadows. These toned image effects look quite unlike anything else, and they’re easily recognizable for the unique results they provide. No matter whether they’re made with the one-click simplicity of the built-in presets or customized completely inside the Duotone mode’s powerful controls, the technique is versatile and powerful for a number of applications.