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Create beautiful black and white images for low-budget print

Added on Sunday 27th of May 2007 01:46 am EST


Adobe Photoshop 7/CS/CS2

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows


The unfortunate reality is that budgetary restraints often force you to forfeit full-color imagery in favor of black and white for your print collateral. The good news is that it doesn’t mean your images need to be dull or flat. We’ll show you how to convert your full-color images to black and white, while retaining all the richness of the original image.


To generate outstanding black and white images, we’ll:

     Examine the nature of color in terms of hue, lightness (luminosity), and saturation.

     Describe how you can get fantastic black and white images with the Lab color mode.

     Explain how you may get lucky in the Channels palette.

     Show you essential channel-mixing techniques you can use to make the color to black-and-white conversion as high quality as possible.


When your company is trying to do everything on a shoestring-budget, four-color print jobs are just a pipe dream. But just because you’re cornered into monetary restraints doesn’t mean your images have to suffer. You can generate outstanding black and white images with a full tonal range, as demonstrated in Figure A, if you k now the right techniques.




The duotone solution

When you need to keep a print job’s cost down, an alternative to printing with black and white images is to create duotones of your images. However, because you first need to convert your image to grayscale before you can make a duotone, following the steps outlined in this article will help you achieve a greater tonal range before you create a duotone.

For more information on duotones, see these other Inside Photoshop articles:

        Demystify duotones for perfect two-toned images” (January 2006)

        Duotone curves in depth (January 2006)


Contrast is key


The chief difference between color images and grayscale images isn't an absence of color, but a difference in contrasts. A grayscale image consists of black, white, and grays that form a range from light to dark. It has contrast in terms of luminosity, or brightness levels.


While color images also have luminosity contrast, they frequently have two other types of contrast as well: hue and saturation. An image with a complementary color scheme, red and green, for example, has hue contrast, but the brightness value (luminosity) of the colors may not differ significantly once they're converted to grayscale, as you can see in Figure B.





In saturation, contrast is based on how much a color differs from a neutral gray. Saturation contrast doesn't necessarily translate to good luminosity contrast either, as you can see in Figure C.




If your image relies on hue and saturation for the bulk of its contrast, then you'll have more difficulty converting it into a rich black and white image. Many similar tones will flatten or dull the power of your grayscale images. However, you can work around it, as we'll show you.


Don’t convert to grayscale


If you rely on Image > Mode > Convert to Grayscale to prepare your color images for your two color print jobs, you’re not giving your images the attention they deserve.


The problem with this technique is that Photoshop uses a weighted-average conversion method to convert images to Grayscale. While this conversion may work for some images, it won’t be suitable for all, often resulting in images that are flat or dull and lacking contrast, as shown in Figure D.



Black and white in the lab


While Lab mode isn't as commonly used as RGB, Grayscale, and CMYK, it can come in very handy for certain operations such as image sharpening and making the conversion to grayscale. This is because Lab mode separates the Lightness component (luminosity) of an image into its own channel. All the colors of an image fall into either the a or the b channels, enabling you to utilize the Lightness channel on its own.

What this boils down to is you can convert your image to Lab ...