Black And White In Color
Something Extra From Monochrome Digital Images

This image was originally shot on slide film then digitized with Kodak's Photo CD process. This color image is the raw file that has had no color correction or image enhancements added.
Photos © 2000, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved

One of the reasons purists often refer to black and white prints as "monochrome" is that it's a much more precise term that also covers prints made in sepia and other tones. One of the advantages of working with monochromatic digital photographs is the original image can come from many sources. Some digital cameras even have black and white or sepia modes for capturing images but more often than not capture these monochrome images as an RGB file instead of as a gray scale file. Instead of being able to capture more images because it's gray scale, you can only capture the same number of images as if they were color. Another advantage of working with gray scale digital images instead of color is that their file size is 1/3 smaller. An 18MB color image quickly becomes a 6MB gray scale file.

Whether you originate your monochromatic digital photographs in color or by using black and white film, you can add subtle color that gives the images more depth or a different look. What's more, these manipulations are fun. While I'll use Adobe's Photoshop 5.5 software for all of the enhancements in the article, many image-editing programs have similar commands with similar sounding names. Check the User's Guide of your favorite program for specific commands and functions, but before you use any of the techniques that follow, you must have a digital photograph that's saved as a gray scale file. The easiest way to convert a color image into a gray scale one is to use Adobe Photoshop's Grayscale command, which is found in the Image/Mode menu. But is it the best?

This image was converted to monochrome using Photoshop's Image/Mode/ Grayscale command. It's no longer in color, but that's about it.

Start With Color
If you start with a color image, you may have a better shot at getting a good-looking gray scale image. There are many other ways that you can use Adobe Photoshop to convert RGB files into gray scale, including the Image/Adjust/Desaturate command. Using the Image/Adjust/Channel Mixer command lets you mix color channels to produce gray scale images by choosing the percentage contribution from each channel. Because of the convenience, I prefer to use Photoshop compatible filter plugs from SilverOxide and TECHnik for most of my color conversion projects. Both plug-ins have sliders that let you tweak the way the conversion is applied and have Preview windows that let you see what the final result will be before applying the filter.

The Duotone Command
When black and white photographs are printed on a press, they are sometimes produced using more than one color ink in order to add depth. When two colors of inks are used it's called a duotone; when three inks are used it's called a tritone; and when four are used it's called a quadtone. As with all photographic techniques--including digital imaging--there is more than one way to accomplish working with monochromatic images. Located inconspicuously in Photoshop's Image menu (under Image>Mode) is the Duotone command, which can open many creative doors for the pixographer who is interested in printing monochrome images.

This was converted into monochrome using the B/W Conversion filter that's part of nik Color Efex Pro's comprehensive package of effects plug-ins. This is much better than Photoshop's built-in conversion and can be tweaked further with the plug-in sliders.

In order to apply the Duotone command, the image must first be in gray scale mode. When starting with a color image, be sure to convert it first. When you select Image>Mode>Duotone you'll see a dialog box showing the two colors that are used. To use sets of color that are guaranteed to work together, click the dialog's Load button to get to Adobe's Duotone Presets folder. In Adobe Photoshop 5.5, a Duotone Presets folder, containing all kinds of color combinations, is found inside the Goodies folder, inside the Adobe Photoshop Only folder. In Version 6.0, look in the Presets folder inside the Photoshop folder. This is true for Macintosh and Windows versions of the program. In the latest version, there are three choices: Gray Black Duotones, Pantone Duotones, and Process Duo-tones. Open any folder and click on one of the choices. If you don't like any of the results that you get, keep trying until you find one that you like. Using the Duotones command creates a file that has layers. This means you can save the finished file in Photoshop's native format (.PSD) or use the Flatten Image command in the Layers menu to save it in other formats such as TIFF.

Making a tritone image is identical to making a duotone, the only difference is that now you have a three color palette of colors to work with. For an image of a model dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, a red-based set of presets was loaded from the Process Tritones folder to compliment the image. If I wanted to show a snowy landscape, I might have selected a blue-oriented combination. While looking at the finished, printed image, you should notice it has more depth than a duotone.

SilverOxide's film conversion plug-ins convert color images into monochrome images as if they were originally created using specific kinds of Kodak and Ilford black and white films. In this case, the Tri-X filter was used.

If you've been following along, you should know how to make a quadtone image: start by applying the Duotone command that converts your gray scale file into a duotone, then load in a collection of four complimentary colors to add depth and color to a monochrome image.

There's nothing new about printing monochrome images in color. Photographers have been toning prints in gold, blue, and sepia toners for years. One of the most popular techniques is sepia toning to give your images a warm nostalgic look. While you can go the duotone route, one of the easiest ways to turn a color image into a sepia-toned one is to use a Photoshop Action. There are many different Sepia Actions available. Adobe includes two with the original installation of Photoshop: one for color images and one for gray scale. Some Actions are provided by Adobe on their Photoshop CD-ROM in the "Goodies" folder, but the best place to find them is The Action XChange at:

What€™s The Color Really Like? All of the illustrations were delivered to Shutterbug€™s designers as both color ink jet prints and high-resolution TIFF files, but because of the vagaries of magazine reproduction they may not reproduce on these pages as they did on my monitor or as they appeared when output by my printer. This may be especially true for subtle effects such as duotones, so take a few minutes and apply some of these techniques to your own photographs before making up your mind.

The original portrait of Kim Goetz as "Little Red Riding Hood" was made on Kodak Ektapress Plus color negative film, but was converted into gray scale using nik Color Efex Pro's B/W Conversion plug-in. It was converted into a tritone using the Duotone command selecting the BMY Red 1 (Black-Magenta-Yellow) preset from the Process Tritones folder. When the author prints it, he typically adds a few points of magenta in the printer driver to accent the red color.


Adobe Systems Inc.
(408) 536-6000
fax: (408) 537-4031

Eastman Kodak Company
(716) 724-4000

Extensis Corporation
(503) 274-2020
fax: (503) 274-0530, Inc.

(619) 725-3150
fax: (619) 725-3151

The nik Color Efex Pro includes many image enhancing plug-ins, including the B/W Conversion filter.

One gateway to adding duotone, tritone, or quadtones to a gray scale photograph is the Duotone Options dialog box that appears after selection Mode/Duotone from Photoshop's Image menu.

This image of a steam locomotive was made on black and white film, but had to be converted into an RGB file before applying a Sepia Action that the author downloaded from The Action XChange web site listed above.