A duotone is a type of image which is printed in two colors. Duotones have been in existence since the early days of photography: most consumers are familiar with sepia toned prints, for example, which use various shades of brown. A duotone is also called a monochrome print, because the image appears to be comprised of variants on a single color.
Many graphic designers choose to use a duotone to make an artistic statement. It has a classic and timeless look which can be quite appealing for specific marketing and brand campaigns. Duotones often appear in advertisements which want to suggest stability, longevity, and style. While sepia is a common choice, a duotone can be made with any color. A duotone can be subdued or radiant, depending on what color is used, making it suitable for a wide range of graphics applications.
A duotone is also more cost effective than a four color image. Full four color process printing can be prohibitively expensive, especially for small companies. A company may want to produce an elegant looking brochure or flyer, but be unable to afford process printing. Using duotones in the design can enhance the appearance without creating a crippling price. Sepia or silver duotones have a saturated, rich look which grayscale images do not have, while duotones printed with more bright colors can pack a visual punch.
Most graphics programs have an option which allows the user to make a duotone. Examining a magnified duotone shows that the accent color is not an accent at all. In a duotone, the second color completely saturates the image, and every pixel will be altered. These programs also allow the user to play with hue and saturation, creating a striking or simplistic image. While duotones are commonly made with black and another color, any combination of colors could be used depending on the desired effect.
The look of a duotone is favored over plain black and white photography in some cases because the duotone has a more saturated, compelling appearance. Duotones often seem more textured to the eye, and they also capture more photographic detail. For high end companies, duotones can send a subtle, yet effective message. They can also be used to create a heavily tinted retro look, popular in some types of advertising. The uses for duotones are myriad, and they are easy to explore and print for people at all levels of graphics experience.