Photoshop CS Tutorial: How to Split Tone a Photo in 30 Seconds or Less

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Split toned photo of a girl in a bikini

What is Split Toning?

Split toning is a technique that originated in the black and white darkroom. A traditional printer split tones by using two toners one after the other, one to tone the print’s shadows and the other to tone the highlights.

Photoshop CS does away with the messy chemicals and lets you tone prints with just a few clicks of the mouse. In this tutorial I’m going to show you an easy way to split tone using Gradient Map.

First, you need to start with a black &white photo. I’m not going to discuss colour to black & white conversion in this tutorial simply because there are several ways to do it, each with its own advantages, and I’m sure that many of you already have your favourite technique.

(The quick way, for beginners, is Image -> Adjustments -> Hue/Saturation and then move the Saturation slider all the way to left and click OK).

Black & white photo of a girl in a bikini


I’d like to encourage you to try this technique with your best black & white photos. Split toning is a great technique for bringing the best out of your most amazing work. It’s not a good technique for improving bad photos.

The Split Toning Technique

For this tutorial I’m going to assume that you’re already familiar with basic Photoshop techniques of changing the foreground and background colours, creating new adjustment layers and changing layer blending modes. If these are new to you, scroll down to the bottom of the tutorial where I’ll describe how to do these things.

Choose Your Colours

The first step is to choose your two toning colours. You do this by setting the foreground and background colour swatches at the bottom of the toolbox. The foreground colour becomes the shadows in the photo, and the background colour becomes the highlights. For my first example I chose a chocolate brown for the foreground/shadows (63441C) and cream for the background/highlights (FFF5D8). I recommend you start with these and experiment with your own colours once you’ve got the hang of it.

Screengrab

Create a Gradient Map Layer

Now we’re going to create a Gradient Map layer using the two colours you’ve just selected. Bring up the Layers Palette and create a new adjustment layer, choosing Gradient Map from the list of options. A new window appears showing a graduated bar with the foreground and background colours you chose.

Screengrab

Click ‘OK’ and, if you used the two colours I listed above, the photo will look something like this:

Split toned photo of a girl in a bikini

Change the Blending Mode

Now change the layer blending mode from ‘Normal’ to ‘Color’:

Adjust Opacity

The strength of the effect can be adjusted to taste by using the Opacity or Fill sliders (it doesn’t matter which):

Split toned photo of a girl in a bikini

More Colour Combinations

Try these colour combinations or experiment with your own:

Foreground:       Muted Brown (45392B)

Background:       White (FFFFFF)

Split toned photo of a girl in a bikini

Foreground:       Midnight Blue (2A4469)

Background:       White (A9C6C6)

Split toned photo of a girl in a bikini

Foreground:       Dusky Blue (4A616F)

Background:       Muted Orange (E6CFAA)

Split toned photo of a girl in a bikini

What’s a Gradient Map?

The Gradient Map command creates a greyscale image that uses the foreground colour for the shadows and the background colour for the highlights. When you create a Gradient Map adjustment layer, click the small black arrow to the immediate right of the graduated bar for more colour options. You can play around with the different colour combinations to see the effect.

Change Foreground and Background Colours in Photoshop CS

Left-click on either the foreground or background colour swatch at the bottom of the toolbox. The Color Picker window will appear and you can choose a new colour from the colour square or type the hexadecimal value of the colour in the highlighted box at the bottom.

Screengrab

Create a New Adjustment Layer in Photoshop CS

Use ‘F7′ or Window -> Layers to bring up the Layer Palette. Create a new adjustment layer by clicking on the half black half white circle at the bottom of the palette or by Layer -> New Adjustment Layer then choose the type of the layer you want to create.

Change the Layer Blending Mode & Adjust Layer Opacity in Photoshop CS

The highlighted areas on the picture show you where to change the layer blending mode and layer fill and the locations of the ‘Create new fill or adjustment layer’ button and the foreground & background colour swatches.

Screengrab Screengrab



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7 Responses to “Photoshop CS Tutorial: How to Split Tone a Photo in 30 Seconds or Less”

  1. […] How to Split Tone a Photo in 30 Seconds or Less Magical Places Fine Art Photoshop CS does away with messy darkroom chemicals and lets you split tone black & white prints with just a few clicks of the mouse. […]

  2. […] Photoshop CS 3 Tutorial: How to Split Tone a Photo in 30 Seconds or Less by Andrew […]

  3. […] I stumbled on this tutorial for a split tone effect in Photoshop.  I really like the effect and the more than just black and white tinting.  Now that we are […]

  4. patrick says:

    nice work i will be doing such in the near future

  5. nad33m.com says:

    great work and detailed explaination. I used to actually print duo tone prints on a lithographic press. Its great to use just 2 colours and get such a glowing effect. One i remember especially was a duo tone using gold and black ink. Just save the channels as Cyan or Black in RGB mode if you want the printer to make plates. Photoshop CS3 has a filter to make these dou tones but ive not yet used it.

  6. […] and by the way you noticed the Split-Tone pass in my […]

  7. Peter says:

    Thanks for great tutorial. This is the clearest explanation I’ve found since getting Photoshop last Christmas.

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