January 13, 2009 ·

Michael Reichmann

NewThis subject is featured inIssue #2of 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 ofQuadtoneinks in some of the older 4 colour printers, or the highly regardedPiezographysystem fromCone 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 wordDuotoneunderImage / ModeinPhotoshopand wonder what it did? Did you ever wonder how to get the equivalent ofsepia toned,selenium tonedorgold tonedB&W prints from your inkjet printer? Read on.

Duotones, and as you’ll soon seeTritonesandQuadtones,derive from the graphic art world. But as you may have already discovered, many of the powerful features inPhotoshopwhich 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 thatEpson’s Photoprinters, 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 calledyellow bl 4that Adobe provides withPhotoshop 6, is to combineblackandyellowso that they produce the tonalities seen in my example image below calledPoint 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 nearPoint Pelee National Parkin 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, clickhereor 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.(Clickhereor on the photograph to see a larger version)

Step by Step

The first thing I did was to useChannel Mixerto make it a monochrome image. If you’re not familiar withChannel Mixerplease read mytutorialonBetter Black & Whitebefore 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 useAdjustment Layersso as to make changes easier. 

(SeeInstant Photoshopfor more on using Adjustment Layers, but be aware that you may wish to doLevelsandCurvesand so onafterconversion 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 theMonochromebox and adjust theRed,GreenandBluechannel sliders to taste. (Remember that the final combination should add up to around 100%). ClickOK. Though the image on-screen appears to be black and white, it isn’t‚yet. It’s still inRGBcolour mode. To turn it into a Grayscale you now need to useImage / Mode / Grayscaleand sayYesto discarding colour information.

Next, useImage / Mode / Duotone. Click onLoad.

You’ll see this dialog. For this example the bottom, selectyellow bl 4andLoadit.(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 toInk 1andInk 2you’ll see aCurvesbox, 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.


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 thePickeror of course from the variousBooksthat are available. If you use thePickerto 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 theCurvesthat you’ve used under a new name for future use with theLoadcommand.


Now click on theInk 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 withCurves, please read thistutorial). 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 theDuotone Optionsdialog 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.


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 onMonitor Calibration and Profiling).

Prepared Quadtones

If you don’t want to experiment too much yourself, go to theQuadtonesubdirectory and load some of theAdobeprovided files. These are the most sophisticated tone files available. They can be found underProgram 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 callSelenium 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 theEpson 2000Pas well as its larger archival-ink siblings, the5500,7500and9500, don’t do a very good job printing monochrome images. Give Duotones and Quadtones a try. They print beautifully, and onArchival Mattpaper 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 underPhotoshop 6.0 / Presets / Duotones / Quadtones / Gray Quadtones. It is called (expressively)BI CG10 CG4 WmG4.Try it out. 

Avatar photo

Michael Reichmann is the founder of the Luminous Landscape. Michael passed away in May 2016. Since its inception in 1999 LuLa has become the world's largest site devoted to the art, craft, and technology of photography. Each month more than one million people from every country on the globe visit LuLa.

You May Also Enjoy...

Chicago Architecture

May 8, 2013 ·

Michael Reichmann

Please use your browser's BACK button to return to the page that brought you here.

Camera & Technology

Of the Leica SL2

November 26, 2019 ·

Dan Wells

FacebookTweet A week after I thought there were no more cameras coming for the year (except possibly for an irrelevant Leica SL2), the surprising Leica