Photography: Apply a Stylish Duotone

Beginner level Adobe Photoshop Adobe Photoshop


Welcome to this Tutpad tutorial where I'll show you how to "colorize" an image, an effect which is widely used in advertising and was one of the top graphic design trends of 2017. First of all, we're going to see what kind of image this effect produces and how it's different to other color editing techniques. 

The effect we're going to apply to our image is commonly known as a duotone. This is a greyscale image that is printed in two colors, the black for shadows and the gray for mid-tones and highlights. However, it's more frequent nowadays to see a colored ink for the highlight color. 

It's very important to distinguish this effect form these other two:

  • Fake duotone: this is an image made up of one halftone printed over a solid colored background to simulate a true duotone which consists of two halftones. 
  • Greyscale image in color: this is a monochrome image, where the greyscale is one color, but is neither black nor white.

In this tutorial, we'll also learn how to create the duotone effect in two different ways, applying some of the techniques of our "Learn to use Photoshop actions" by Carlos Behrens. You'll then be able to use this effect for any photo you like. So all you need to do to get started is to download the Freepik photo in the attachments section.  

Prepare the document

Step 1 — Uncompress the image and open it in Photoshop

Download the file attached to this tutorial. Go to the folder and look for the file called "999.jpeg". there are two ways to open the image:

  • You can first create a new document of the size you need and then go to File > Place Embedded. If you have the file open, you can also just drag the image onto it. 

  • The other way, which I think is easier and is what I usually use, especially when I'm learning a new technique or tool. Right - click on the image > Open with… > Adobe Photoshop

Step 2 — Convert the image into a Smart Object. 

Smart Objects preserve the original content and properties of the image, this allows us to edit the layer in a non -destructive way. This is not only important for this tutorial, but for your workflow in general; you should get used to working this way, and smart objects are essential to do this. 

If you used the first method to import the image, this will have already been included as a Smart Object in Photoshop (you can tell by the icon that appears in the bottom left-hand corner of the layer's thumbnail, as you can see in the image above). If on the other hand, you used the second method to open the image, you need to right-click on the layer and select Convert to Smart Object

Once you've done this, we can go over the various ways of getting our effect. 

Prepare the image

We're going to learn to prepare the image for the two different methods you can use to get that duotone effect. So if you want to try out both, I recommend you make two copies, one for each. 

Step 1 — Convert the image to black and white

There are a few ways to do this. I've decided to use an adjustment layer. You can do either of these things:

  • Go to the Adjustment panel and select the Black and White option. 
  • Click on Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Black and White. 

We don't need to make any adjustments to this layer, so we're done with this step. 

Step 2 — Adjust the contrast

You can follow the same process used to convert the image to black and white, but this time clicking on the Brightness and contrast option. What would be ideal for this type of image is to have quite a bit of contrast, so I'll increase this to around 90. However, you can adjust it depending on your taste and how you want the image to look, making sure to flatten the whites and strengthen the blacks (you can also do this by duplicating the brightness and contrast effect).

Step 3 — Tidiness

Having a tidy workspace is very important in design. All the layers should be appropriately named and all the elements should be organized into folders. For this image, I'll create a folder called "Adjustments" to save the two adjustments layers that we've already created. You can do this clicking on the folder icon at the bottom of the layers panel or by selecting both adjustment layers, then Right Click > Group Layers

Now we can save the document and create a copy; one is for the first method to creating this effect another one for the second. 

How to create a duotone I

Now that the image is prepared, we're going to go over the first method to creating a duotone. 

Step 1  Adjust the whites

Our layer order is very important for this exercise, so the whites layers should always be below the layer we'll be using to adjust the blacks. 

We're going to apply a very bright color to the image. Create a solid color by going to Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color, or click on the New adjustment layer icon (the black and white half circle). 

Name the layer as green and search for a very bright tone of green. I've used this one: #00ff36. Once you've done this, you'll see that the green hasn't been applied to the image, so you need to set the Blending Mode to Multiply

Step 2 — Adjust the blacks

Now, we'll play around with the dark areas. Create a new solid like we did before, but this time choose a very dark color. I've gone for this one: #23278a. Then set the Blending Mode to Lighten

Step 3 — Final touches

We could leave it at that, but we need to finish up renaming and organizing the layers. Create a new folder, to place all the colors we've used inside, and call it "Color". 

One of the great advantages of creating a Smart object is that we can repeat this effect as many times as we want, just by substituting the image (just as we would do for a mockup, check out this tutorial: "Use and create mockups" by Emma Hall). 

Create a duotone II

I think this second way is easier and we have more room to play around, but it's not actually that much different, so the method you choose is completely up to you and whatever you find more comfortable. 

To begin with, we just need to keep the smart object we made of the image and the two adjustment layers we created earlier. If you made a copy of the adjustment layers, just open the copy. 

Step 1  Add a gradient map 

Apply a gradient map on the image by going again to the adjustments layers and selecting Gradient Map. 

With the map added, adjust the colors of the gradient so these will be applied to the light and dark areas of the images, bearing in mind that the color on the left will be applied to the dark areas and the one on the right, to the light areas. So the color on the right should be a brighter color and obviously, the one on the left needs to be a bit darker. 

Although for this method, you don't need the black and white effect we applied at the beginning; this gives a higher contrast to the image, but you can play around activating and deactivating the layer to see the different results. 

End result

So you've learned a very simple effect that will add a touch of color to your photos. Now all that's left is to share your creations with us by uploading your work to the projects section. We can't wait to see your results!

What do you think of this tutorial?


Edited 1 month ago

Love the tutorial and the final look. Personally I would build a bit the vintage look by adding a vintage texture. By adding an old paper texture as overlay I got this result:


what do you think?

thanks again

4 weeks ago

I'm so glad you'll like the tutorial! As for the texture, it looks great and gives a perfect contrast between vintage and modern design. Thank you very much for sharing your project with us, and I hope to see new results soon. Regards :)

Edited 4 weeks ago

Thank you very much for sharing your project with us! It looks great! Please upload your project here so that the community is able to see your work. Congrats! Regards.

3 weeks ago

hey guys, I followed your advice and created a new project with a twist: Duotone Retro Picture With Polaroid Frame

check it out!

5 months ago

Excellent Tutorial! Personally, I use another software for such tasks cause it's quite time-consuming to duotone in photoshop. It would be great if you could make a tut on making old paper texture with photoshop. Look forward to seeing your next tutorial.

5 months ago

Hi doramaul07! We are glad that you like it, and we will think about your suggestion for upcoming tutorials. 

8 months ago

Genial!! me encanta!! :)

Great!! I love!! :)

8 months ago

Buenas noches, estimados diseñadores de este tutorial:

Creo que estoy confundido. A mi entender un duotono es un procedimiento que se realiza en Photoshop que nos permite conseguir que una imagen utilice solo dos tintas a la hora de imprimirse. En la información de la imagen solo están esos dos colores que hemos utilizado.Con esto podemos abaratar costes de impresión.

Sin embargo aquí lo que entiendo es que explican un efecto de Photoshop que permite conseguir un resultado quizás más atractivo pero realmente tendríamos que utilizar cuatricromía en la impresión porque está a todo color.

Un saludo

Good evening, dear designers of this tutorial:

I think I'm confused. In my opinion a duotone is a procedure that is done in Photoshop that allows us to get an image to use only two inks at the time of printing. In the information of the image there are only those two colors that we have used. With this we can reduce printing costs.

However, what I understand here is that they explain a Photoshop effect that allows us to achieve a more attractive result, but we would really have to use process printing because it is in full color.

a greeting

7 months ago

¡Hola! Efectivamente como comentas, si quisieras hacer una impresión de este efecto tendrías que utilizar la cuatricromía ya que estos dos colores no se corresponden con tintas planas convencionales. Si habláramos de Tintas Pantone, podríamos hacer la impresión perfectamente tan solo utilizando los colores que apliquemos a la imagen (obviamente si estos están incluidos dentro de la gama de Pantone).

En cuanto a lo que comentas acerca de la confusión que te ha creado el hablar de Duotono para designar una imagen que obviamente no se puede imprimir con dos tintas mediante “impresiones convencionales”, solo decir que se habla de Duotono siempre que afrontamos una imagen compuesta de dos colores, sean o no imprimibles a dos tintas, aunque como bien comentas, es interesante plantear el proyecto usando tan solo dos tintas con el fin de abaratar costes en la impresión.

Un saludo :)

Hello! Effectively, as you comment, if you wanted to make an impression of this effect you would have to use the four-color process since these two colors do not correspond to conventional flat inks. If we talked about Pantone Inks, we could make the impression perfectly just by using the colors that we apply to the image (obviously if these are included within the Pantone range).

As for what you mention about the confusion that Duotono has created for you to describe an image that obviously can not be printed with two inks by "conventional impressions", only to say that Duotono is spoken whenever we face a composite image two colors, whether or not printable two inks, but as well commented, it is interesting to raise the project using only two inks in order to reduce costs in printing.

A greeting :)

Edited 1 year ago

Thank you for using my photo for example. It's really useful article. 

1 year ago

Hi! I can't find the clear option in the blending mode panel. Please, help me. 

Thanks, M.

Edited 1 year ago

Sorry, there's been a mistake in the translation, the blending mode is Lighten :)

Give your images a trendy look and create stylish duotones for your photos!

Tut Details

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