You will discover how to create a duotone hue in Photoshop in this article.

Both the conventional duotone printing technique and a fresh and potent method of color grading standard RGB photos will be covered. I’m drawing on my practical expertise as a working graphic designer and fusing it with my photography knowledge in this Photoshop tutorial to create something that, in my opinion, is pretty unique in the world of photographers and takes the less-traveled path for new designers.

A duotone is typically used to expand the dynamic range of a grayscale image. However, there is much more to it (read on to learn more). There is a relatively little dynamic range in a single plate of black when printing a grayscale image (with a printing press, not a desktop printer). To get a very excellent print with a lot of dynamic range and more printable gray tones, you can add more color plates and gray ink. As an alternative, you might create some extremely attractive prints by using various colored inks on each of these plates. These have presumably been featured in high-end coffee table books or black and white prints. Additionally, colored images are produced using this method. Printing with two or three colored inks was once more affordable than using the four color process (CMYK, which creates full color). I can still recall creating duotone photos (as well as spot color work, but that’s another conversation for another day) to cut costs on one or two print jobs. These days, printing using the four color method is so affordable that you wouldn’t do it to save money. Please note that I’ve oversimplified the definition of duotones here; I could go into much more detail and write many more paragraphs about it, but since this is a Photoshop tutorial and not a printing tutorial, this brief explanation should be sufficient for most people (I know, most of you don’t want to read paragraphs about it).

A duotone is a two-channel image that you create. A curve is used to spread the color after the first channel, which is black, and the second channel, which is a selected color. Tritones use three colors, quadtones use four. The term “duotone” is used by Adobe to group all of these together, so we will too. Okay, let’s get to the tutorial.

  1. Begin with the color (or black and white) image.

Let’s create a copy of this document that is identical to the original and work on it.

  1. Select the duplicate document button in the History panel (Window>History).

Before moving on to the next stage, I suggest performing your color conversion in Camera RAW or Channel Mixer. This is all explained in the video up top, but for the written instructions, I’ll keep it straightforward.

  1. Select Grayscale under Image>Mode.

The result will be a grayscale image.

You can see that we now just have a single channel document in Channels (RGB has three).

Select Duotone under Image > Mode.

This is where you have the option to use

  • Monotone (single color)
  • Duotone (2 color)
  • tritone (3 color) or
  • Quadtone (4 color)

We will use Quadtone for our example. But choose the amount of inks you will print, if this is going to be a real print job. (For the “duotone effect” in RGB use quad tone).

You’ll see that there is a colour swatch and a curve next to each ink.

We will select the colour using the colour swatch.

That colour will be used where the curve is.

  1. Begin by selecting Ink 2 and then the colour swatch.

You can select a colour just like you would in Photoshop using the colour picker once it has opened.

However, pick Colour Libraries if you plan to print and want to use a colour library like PANTONE colours.

You’ll see that the libraries have various colours. The PANTONE colour matching system is the one that graphic designers use the most frequently in the USA. A colour chip is an additional component that lets you examine the real printed colour before selecting the correct numbers from a library. The colour is exceptionally true as a result. The real coloured ink, which has been specially blended for an exact match, will be used by the printer (the person who will print the image).

  1. Click Picker to return to the standard colour picker.

Press “OK”

  1. To choose where the colour will be applied, click on the curve. (Photoshop curves: how to use them)

The colour will automatically be applied to the shadows.

The image’s tones are represented by the white to black bar at the bottom; this is the reverse of the RGB curves because we are working with pigment rather than light. The highlights are on the left and the shadows are on the right.

I have the colour set to the mid-tones in this example.

These below examples show how the curves affect where the new color will be applied. Color (ink) will be added where the curve is high, where it is low, no color will be applied.

Let’s include a new hue. Apply some yellow to the highlights under Ink 3.

  1. To finish, we’ll give the shadows a stronger blue colour. See how this strategy gives us unparalleled control over the colour distribution.

To apply, click ok.

There is still only one channel when you look at the available ones.

Skip the next step if you’re using this as an effect on an RGB image.

  1. (If you’re making colour separations, optional) When getting ready to print an image, select Image>Mode>Multichannel.

A separation will result from this. Each channel displays the ink colour that will be applied. The printing plates utilised by the printer will be made using these channels. This can be saved as a PSD, PDF, or EPS file that you can then send to your printer for printing. Call your printer and ask them what kind of format they prefer.

If you are creating a duotone print job, you are completed at this phase. Whether you plan to print in CMYK, create a standard digital file for sharing on social media or another platform, or use a desktop printer. Don’t switch to multichannel; instead, carry out the next few stages.


  1. Merge the freshly coloured image with the earlier coloured image…

selecting the Move tool.

Don’t let your grip just yet as you click and drag the duotone image into the tab of the coloured image.

The tab will launch with the image. To keep it in the centre, depress the Shift key. Release, and a new layer with the dupotone image on top should appear.

To make the new colour blend in with the previous colour, adjust the top layer’s opacity.

Make a layer mask on the layer if you wish to leave some of the original colour showing in some places, like the face. Use the layers panel’s add layer mask button.

  1. Use black paint to outline the areas of the mask where you want colour to peek through.

For diverse results, try mixing in various modes as well.

This method somewhat resembles utilising a gradient map, but it gives you much more control over how the colours are distributed. Naturally, a gradient map won’t be able to create the colour separations you require if you are printing with pantone colours.

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