Toning Black & White Images


Black and white prints are rarely made to have an absolutely neutral gray 'color.' B&W images actually look nicer with a slight color tone added to them! They tend to have a greater 'depth' to the image when toned.


The Traditional Way

Photographers who make black & white prints in the darkroom have always had the ability to control the 'color' of their prints through choice of paper type and the use of chemical toners.

Manufacturers of silver-based papers used in the darkroom made "Cold Tone" papers, which had a slightly cool color to the image; "Neutral Tone" papers that were close to neutral gray in color; and "Warm Tone" papers that had a warm brownish or olive image tone.

In addition, chemical toners could be used on the prints after they were developed and fixed to augment the image color built in to the paper. Selenium toner shifted the image slightly to a blue-purple hue (this was subtle, not a strong color change!), while Sepia and brown toners gave a warm brown image. The effect of these could be varied from a subtle change to a strong brown tone, depending on how long the paper was left in the toner.


Digital Printing

There are two ways to tone a digital/Inkjet B&W print.

One way is to add a color tone in Photoshop (as demonstrated below in the "Web Display" section on this tutorial), then print the image as if it were a color image. This method does not work well because most inkjet printer drivers have trouble printing toned B&W images in their color printing modes. Often, darker tones will go too dark and the color tone will not be consistent across the whole tonal range. The color might look different in the light tones than in the mid-tones and the midtones different than the dark tones.

The better way is to keep the image in Grayscale mode and print it using either the printer's dedicated B&W print mode (Epson's Advanced B&W Mode, for example) or using third-party printer drivers like Quadtone RIP. Both Quadtone RIP and Epson's Advanced B&W Mode have built in settings for Cool, Neutral, Warm, and Sepia tones. Epson's system also allows you to set your own color tone if you want something different than the built-in toning choices.

Epson's Advanced B&W Mode and QuadTone RIP both give beautiful B&W tonality and toning quality. I have tutorials for both systems that show you step-by-step how to make prints with them.

Epson Advanced B&W Tutorial (YouTube)

Quadtone RIP Tutorial


Web Display

If you show your work online, you'll need a toned version of the digital image so that people will see an online version that looks like the actual prints you make of the image. This can be done in Photoshop.

1: First, you should resize the image to the size you want to use for your website.

2: Convert the image from Grayscale to RGB color. You cannot add a color tone to a grayscale image. For the web, the image should be converted to the sRGB color space.

In Photoshop, go to the Edit menu, and choose Convert to Profile. You'll see this dialogue box pop up. Choose sRGB as the destination space.

Photoshop convert to profile controls. Grayscale to sRGB.


3: There are several ways in Photoshop to tone a B&W image. The two ways I have found that work best are using the Color Balance settings (under Image/Adjust/Color Balance) and the Hue-Saturation settings (under Image/Adjust/Hue-Saturation). I use the Color Balance settings for Selenium Toning, and the Hue-Saturation settings for Warm and Sepia Toning. The example images below show the actual settings I use, though you can certainly experiment and see what works best for you. These are good starting points, but are not carved in stone!

Note that when you use the Hue-Saturation settings, you MUST check the Colorize checkbox, as shown in the examples below.


Examples (click images to see larger version)

Neutral toned black and white photograph.

Neutral Toned image.


Selenium toned black and white photograph, made using Photoshop color balance settings.

Selenium Toned image. I used the Color Balance settings in Photoshop. Choose "Midtones" and set the color levels to 6, 0, 6.


Warm toned black and white photograph, made using Photoshop hue-saturation settings.

Warm Toned image. I used the Hue-Saturation settings in Photoshop. Check the "Colorize" box and set the Hue to 16, Saturation to 7, and Lightness to 0.


Sepia toned black and white photograph, made using Photoshop hue-saturation settings.

Sepia Toned image. I used the Hue-Saturation settings in Photoshop. Check the "Colorize" box and set the Hue to 15, Saturation to 19, and Lightness to 0.





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©2022 Christopher Crawford