Design and Printing With Duotones

b/w before
b/w before

A duotone is an image taken from a black and white original and produced through two-color printing. The two colors may be used to achieve a wide variety of effects on letterhead, business cards, envelopes and other business stationery. What’s exciting about duotones is they offer virtually limitless variety, yet are reasonably easy to generate in pre-press and to run on press. As a result, duotones are a great value, providing wide creative freedom at economical costs.

There is no one duotone. In fact, there are three types of traditional duotones – created from two halftones of the same image – and two types of “fake” duotones – halftones printed over a solid or screened second color. When you consider that duotones may be created in any color or hue, the full range of possibilities seems limitless. Even within the confines of a specific duotone technique, the compression or extension of the density range, intensity of color, and a myriad of other details can have a dramatic effect on the end product. Achieving the duotone effect you want depends on clear and open communication with the print shop. Explain what you’re looking for in detail and, most important, be ready for some trial and error as you work through the process of finding the best technique and color combination.

basic duotone after
basic duotone after

One thing is certain, good duotones begin with good photography. If you start with photos which offer a broad range of tonal value and detail, you will have more flexibility to adjust screen densities and tonal range. Finally, the best duotones are printed on paper that can hold halftone dots in tight, crisp resolution.

Selecting Ink color Subject matter often suggests the choice of duotone color. For example, wood surfaces and finishes can often be replicated closely in duotones combining black and brown or orange and dark brown inks. Many designers have discovered that duotones, created with unusual colors, can add power and impact by transforming photography into images which are virtually illustration. Most important, duotone effects depend as much on how you use the two colors as what colors you specify.

The difference in effect is dramatic. The choice is up to you. Consider duotones for your next two color printing project.

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