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Duotones in Photoshop

NewThis subject is featured in Issue #2 of  The Luminous Landscape Video Journal 

Monochrome Printing

There appears to be a resurgence of interest in monochrome printing. Many long-time photographers who have switched to the desktop darkroom from the traditional one miss working in B&W and look back fondly at the beauty of selenium toned, gold toned and sepia toned prints.

Regrettably, because inkjet printers are inherently 4 colour or 6 colour machines, with only one black cartridge, B&W prints don't always look as good as we'd like them to. There are solutions, including the use of Quadtone inks in some of the older 4 colour printers, or the highly regarded Piezography system from Cone Editions. One of the downsides of each of these approaches though is that a printer needs to be dedicated to the process, and in the end the tonalities available are restricted to those of the ink supplier.

There is a solution, and if you have the full version of Photoshop and any inkjet printer you need nothing more to make stunning prints other than some experimentation.

And Tritones and Quadtones

Did you ever see the word Duotone under Image / Mode in Photoshop and wonder what it did? Did you ever wonder how to get the equivalent of sepia toned, selenium toned or gold toned B&W prints from your inkjet printer? Read on.

Duotones, and as you'll soon see Tritones and Quadtones, derive from the graphic art world. But as you may have already discovered, many of the powerful features in Photoshop which were originally intended for graphic artists and printers are actually of considerable utility and interest to photographers.

Duotones to the rescue.

Understanding What a Duotone Is

A Duotone is a wonderful way to make a monochrome print. Experienced printers know that Epson's Photo printers, as good as they are — and they are the elite of the inkjet printer world — don't do a terribly good job printing B&W images. The reason for this is that an 8 bit monochrome image has 256 black tones. But the dithering pattern used by inkjet printers can't produce 256 different tones from just 1 shade of black ink. If you print an image in full colour mode the printer's software tries to create a monochrome print from the 4 or 6 inks available, but usually produces an unpredictable overall tonal colouration. It just wasn't designed for the job.

A Duotone takes a monochrome grayscale image and allows you to take the tonal range, from lightest tones to darkest, and allocate a different colour to specific part of the tonal range. You can for example make the highlights red and the shadows green (though you're unlikely to want to). What you may want to do though, as in the combination called yellow bl 4 that Adobe provides with Photoshop 6, is to combine black and yellow so that they produce the tonalities seen in my example image below called Point Pelee Fisherman. Other combinations that work well are black and medium-blue, or black and cyan, or black and brown. 

Typically you'll use black for the shadows and a lighter tone of another colour for the midtones and highlights. Though we won't be getting into them here, with Tritones and Quadtones you can use a third or fourth colour as well for finer gradations of control. It takes a while to master Duotones so leave Tritones and Quadtones for later when you feel the need for greater flexibility and have mastered Duotones.

An Example

The photograph above was shot very near Point Pelee National Park in southwestern Ontario in mid-March. It was an ugly scene in more ways than one. In addition to the depressing litter and pollution visible, the water was a sickly gray-green, the sky an insipid blue and the straw foreground washed out and unclean after a harsh winter. Yet, I liked the composition, so I decided to see how it would look as a B&W print.

Here, in a step-by step manner I'll describe how I took it from insipid to interesting.

If you would like to use this image to follow along with the tutorial, click here or on the thumbnail above and follow the instructions below the picture on that page. 

Point Pelee Fisherman — Leamington, Ontario

Mamiya 7 II with 65mm f/4 lens on Provia 100F

The version you see immediately above is the final Duotone. (Click here or on the photograph to see a larger version)

Step by Step

The first thing I did was to use Channel Mixer to make it a monochrome image. If you're not familiar with Channel Mixer please read my tutorial on Better Black & White before proceeding. Also, since what you can do with it is the same as what is achieved through the use of colour filters and black and white film, there's great scope for creativity and flexibility, so don't overlook this important tool. As well, you may wish to use Adjustment Layers so as to make changes easier. 

(See Instant Photoshop for more on using Adjustment Layers, but be aware that you may wish to do Levels and Curves and so on after conversion to Duotone, as the processes of making the image Grayscale forces you to flatten the image, which loses the Layers if you do them beforehand).

Turn on the Monochrome box and adjust the Red, Green and Blue channel sliders to taste. (Remember that the final combination should add up to around 100%). Click OK. Though the image on-screen appears to be black and white, it isn't — yet. It's still in RGB colour mode. To turn it into a Grayscale you now need to use Image / Mode / Grayscale and say Yes to discarding colour information.

Next, use Image / Mode / Duotone. Click on Load.

You'll see this dialog. For this example the bottom, select yellow bl 4 and Load it. (These are sample Duotones provided with Photoshop 6.0. If you're using an earlier version of Photoshop with different sample Duotones you'll have to select one of them instead).

Layers of Complexity

This dialog is the heart of using Duotones and a great deal of experimentation is needed. 

Next to Ink 1 and Ink 2 you'll see a Curves box, a black or coloured square and a name. Experiment for a while with clicking on the coloured squares and the Curves boxes. I could write pages on all of the things that are to be seen here, but I won't since you can explore and experiment on your own, and will learn a lot more a lot faster by doing so. Don't be afraid to change anything that you see. You can't break anything.

Colours

When you click on a colour square you see the above dialog. Graphic arts types who use Duotones need to use precise colours to match printing press inks. We don't. You can select any colour you like by using the Picker or of course from the various Books that are available. If you use the Picker to select your own custom colour be aware that you need to provide a name for it. You can then save the combination of colours that you've selected and the Curves that you've used under a new name for future use with the Load command.

Curves

Now click on the Ink 2 (Yellow) box. Play with the curve much as you would with the Curves tool generally in Photoshop. (If you're not familiar with working with Curves, please read this tutorial). A click on a curve places a handle. To remove a handle click on it, hold, and drag it outside the box. The numbers in the boxes either reflect what you've done in WYSIWYG mode with the curves, or may be entered to create curves. The numbers represent the percentage of ink that will be used on that part of the curve,

Note as well the step-wedge at the bottom of the Duotone Options dialog box above. This gives you a very good visual impression of how the Grayscale is affected by the colour being applied. As you see here the Yellow curve as provided in this example from Adobe pretty much affects the midtones only.

Experimentation

If you've been experimenting with this file while reading the tutorial you'll have seen by now that the possibilities are literally infinite. The colour that you use and the curve that you apply each affect in an interrelated way how your image will appear. Keep your eye on the relationship between the curves. Where possible try and have one ink in the highlights and the other in the shadows, without too much overlap.

Finally, because the colour that you'll be applying as your second tone will likely be subtle, your monitor really needs to be properly calibrated or you won't properly see what you're doing. If this is the case, and Duotones interest you, this is a good excuse to pick up a calibration program and spider and finally calibrate your screen. (To learn more about this read my article on Monitor Calibration and Profiling).

Prepared Quadtones

If you don't want to experiment too much yourself, go to the Quadtone subdirectory and load some of the Adobe provided files. These are the most sophisticated tone files available. They can be found under Program Files / Adobe / Photoshop 6 / Presets / Duotones / Quadtones / Gray Quadtones

Speaking of Quadtones, as soon as this tutorial was published I received a number of inquiries about how to design a quad that created the "look" of a traditional selenium toned print.

Below is the recipe for a Quadtone that I simply call Selenium Quad.  To recreate it on your machine select the Quadtone subdirectory and then choose the ink colours shown in the screen immediately below. Then click on each curve and type in the numbers that you see in the screen captures below. Please feel free to experiment. There's nothing sacred about either the colours that I chose or the curves applied. I find the result subtle and attractive but you may wish to develop your own with these as a starting point.

 

Ink 1                                                                                     Ink 2

 

Ink 3                                                                                     Ink 4

Epson 2000P & Duotones

The common wisdom (with which I agree) is that the Epson 2000P as well as its larger archival-ink siblings, the 5500, 7500 and 9500, don't do a very good job printing monochrome images. Give Duotones and Quadtones a try. They print beautifully, and on Archival Matt paper you'll have a print that will conceivable last as long as a traditional fiber-based print that has in fact been treated with selenium. (Be aware though that metamerism rears its ugly head and you'll have to play with the inks to remove the green cast).

August, 2001

As mentioned above, Photoshop ships with a number of interesting Duotones, Tritones and Quadtones. Though I enjoy experimenting with creating my own recipes, one Quadtone that I've found that produces B&W tonalities that I really enjoy is the first one found in the Gray Quadtones subdirectory of Photoshop 6.0.

You'll find it under Photoshop 6.0 / Presets / Duotones / Quadtones / Gray Quadtones. It is called (expressively) BI CG10 CG4 WmG4. Try it out. 

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Concepts: Printing, Color, Monochrome, Inkjet printer, RGB color model, Ink, Color space, Color theory

Entities: Leamington, Program Files, Point Pelee National Park, selenium, B&W, Michael Reichmann, Pelee Fisherman, Epson, Ontario, Photoshop

Tags: duotones, images, Photoshop, inkjet printers, monochrome, monochrome images, b&w print, Point Pelee, Point Pelee Fisherman, mode, good job printing, curve, Gray Quadtones, colour mode, grayscale, Quadtone subdirectory, selenium, yellow bl, tutorial, graphic arts, monochrome print, Channel Mixer, Adjustment Layers, coloured squares, tonal range, sample duotones, Point Pelee National Park, RGB colour mode, inks, monochrome grayscale image, experiment, dialog, Adobe, bit monochrome image, Tritones, Many long-time photographers, colours, overall tonal colouration, colour printers, image grayscale forces