Graphic Design Trend: Duotone

Do you want your logo, brochure, book cover, or corporate website to stand out? Of course you do. In order to attract more clients, you need to have an awesome design—from the packaging of your products down to the branding of your business. One important design principle is that of color.

Color wields a lot of power on consumers. It can easily influence and change their perception of your brand or business. In order to make color work to your advantage, it helps to stay up on the latest design trends. Duotone is definitely one of the latest trends that is making a lot of waves within the design industry.

What are Duotone Designs?

Duotone Design

As its name implies, duotone makes use of two colors. The term was initially used in the early stages of photography in the printing press industry. Back then, attempts were made to reproduce photographs on the printing press.

Duotone was used to create a rich tonal reproduction of black-and-white photography, and could bring out the middle tones and highlights of photographs. In those days, duotone images were created using a dark color as a base, with a lighter color on top.

Duotone Design

Duotone Designs Now

Duotone Design

Once mainly a staple in the print industry, duotone is now widely used everywhere. The great thing is that it can be created using any colors. It can be subtle or radiant, delicate or shouting, depending on the colors used. This versatility makes duotone suitable for a wide range of design applications.

When used in a conservative design environment, a duotone can create a classic and timeless look, great for traditional brands that want to invoke stability and longevity in their campaigns. An ever-popular choice, sepia, is an example that is frequently used in the print industry.

Duotone Sephia

Elsewhere, duotone is used to create brightly-colored campaigns composed of clashing and contrasting color combinations. Many graphic and web designers use this technique to make bold, sweeping statements which cater to millennials—Spotify for example.

Spotify hired Collins—a design agency based in New York—to come up with a refreshingly bold and brash brand identity for the company. The campaign relied heavily on the combination of duotone and bright colors in order to create images of its featured artists. The duotone campaign was so successful that it prompted Collins’ director to create a software program—called “The Colorizer”—to automate the process of creating duotone images.

Duotone Spotify

Duotone is now a recurring trend in pop culture and even Pantone used a pair of colors as its “Color of the Year”. The company came up with the color by blending together rose quartz (a warm rose tone) and serenity (a cool blue tone) to form a color that is a reflection of the times where mindfulness and minimalism are absolute essentials.

Duotone Pantone

How to Create the Duotone Effect

Duotone Effects

Duotone is easy enough to create using Photoshop’s Gradient Map. This cool feature changes the dynamics of an image by replacing all the colors while retaining the contrast and tone of the original file.

First, upload the image you want to duotone in Photoshop. From the main menu, click on Layer, click on New Adjustment Layer, and click on Gradient Map. Once there is a new gradient map adjustment layer, click on the gradient map adjustment bar below to bring up the gradient editor.

From the gradient editor, you will see a color bar in the middle of the menu screen. You need to click on that to bring up the color palette. Choose contrasting colors for each end of the gradient scale. The left side of the scale allows you to replace the color of the shadows, while the right side allows you to replace the color of the highlights.

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Tips for Creating Great Duotone Images

Duotone Tips

First, make sure you pick a high quality image because blurred photos typically don’t do well in a duotone. Second, don’t randomly choose a color for the image; instead, pick a color that reflects the overall mood of the photo. In order to achieve maximum impact, pick contrasting colors from the opposite ends of the color spectrum.

Play up the brightness and/or contrast further using the adjustment layer below the gradient map to strengthen/soften the shadows and highlights of the image.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to experiment with the colors. Don’t limit yourself—test out different kinds of colors in order to create all sorts of cool duotone effects.

Duotone Mood

Where to Use Duotone Images

Duotone Placement

There are many places that you can use this color trend to your advantage. You can use it as a dominant image and emphasize a design element to create a focal point. You can go all-out and choose quirky, whimsical colors that do not even have to match. The resulting visual will certainly command the attention of whoever sees it.

A duotone is also useful when building a color palette for your website. You will be able to choose dominant and complementary colors that are completely in sync with your brand identity. You can also use it to improve the readability of your text. It can act as a stabilizer to help “flatten” the color variations on an image so that the text stands out.

Creating a duotone design is now made easier, with the help of Photoshop. Using it allows you to add an attractive element into an otherwise mediocre design. It also helps make a design more visually appealing to viewers. Integrate this trend into your projects this year and your clients will thank you!