I am preparing my first print project to be realised with a Risograph. In the process, I have come across multiple recommendations to consider a duotone print as an effective way to print images/photos. There is an example to be found here: Duotone Risograph Print

The website suggests a separation of the image into two layers and the subsequent printing of each layer with a different color. I am not sure how this separation of colors is done and would like to know. I know of the Duotone Mode in Photoshop but this is yielding a different result for me.

Do I have to select the areas which are supposed to be printed in a certain color by hand? That does not seem to be the case to me, as the images in the example look more like individual channels (like when separating an image into the separate Red, Green or Blue channel of RGB), each having been converted to a separate greyscale-image. Can someone help me out and explain this separation process to me?

Here are the images which go along this explanation:

Duotone Explanation

Printed Duotone Image:

Duotone Image

Orange Layer:

Orange Layer

Green Layer:

Green Layer

Here's one of the images I would like to print in duotone with the Risograph (all other images are somewhat similar) :

enter image description here

  • Can you show the actual image you want separated please?
    – wch1zpink
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 4:15
  • @wch1zpink My apologies, I just added one of the pictures I would like to separate to my question.
    – JoSch
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 8:53
  • Notice that the greyscale images are really measurements of ink-density, not a visual measure of brightness in the final result: the darker the grey, the greater amount of that color will be applied
    – Yorik
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 20:12
  • Take a look at this: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/77703/…
    – Rafael
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 21:07

2 Answers 2


Short answer

There is not one correct way to make two-color images.

Difference between CMYK and spot colors

The process of separating an RGB image to the four CMYK colors has been totally standardized. It is native to Photoshop and other applications. It is the best/most versatile way we know to reproduce the colors of real life on paper. We have a wide array of color profiles, created to be able to do the conversion from RGB to CMYK so it suits the specific inks and medium.

When it comes to images in spot colors (1, 2, 3, 4 or more inks of for example Pantone or the inks used in Risograph printing) we are more ore less on our own. There is no real standard. In the end it is a matter of aesthetics and taste. It is not given that we would even be able to make a good reproduction of an image in any two colors.

Furthermore, we might not be able to get an accurate preview while creating the document (especially if we use metallic or fluorescent colors). We have to rely more on our imagination and to do some experiments.

But the result can be beautiful and truly distinguish itself from CMYK so it's worth the trouble in my opinion.

Choosing colors

Let's focus on two colors. Choosing the right two colors is important. You could try this as a way of playing around with the possibilities:

In InDesign, create two Pantone spot color swatches (you will have to find out which Pantone colors to use to simulate the Risograph inks by asking the print shop). I have deleted the other swatches.

two swatches

Now, in the Swatches menu, select New Mixed Ink Group. Set it up as shown and click OK.

mixed ink

We now have a set of 9 swatches (one of them white - nothing), showing the possibilities of that color combination. You can change the colors dynamically to try out different stuff. If you choose complimentary colors (lying opposite of each other in the color circle - or almost), you will get the widest array of perceived colors.

swatch combinations

You will have to find a combination that matches the colors of your image (if you want realistic colors - you could also just go psychedelic). In your case I am not sure what to choose. The image contains all hues, but you would probably need the blue. And the maybe green for the grass. But if we use a yellow we could mix it with blue to get the green. But that means yellow skin and no red shirts (and no blood). In Photoshop, I used Image/Mode/Indexed Color and scaled it down to make some quick sketches to show the dilemma in blue/yellow, blue/orange and green/orange:

blue/yellow blue/orange green/orange

The last one (green/orange) looks like it might be on the right track, but as you see the image gets kind of flat.

What to do now?

There are different kinds of styles of two-color images you could explore. Here are some of them.


Try giving Duotone Mode another try. You can achieve many different things if you play around with the curves (take a a look at my answer here for inspiration: Matching cmyk photo with pantone colour).

Color grayscale images in InDesign

You could convert the image to grayscale and flatten it. Then place it in InDesign, select its content and then choose a Pantone color. Maybe place it on top of another, apply a gradient. Experiment.

Work with channels in Photoshop

You could add some spot color channels to your image and try how it works using the different RGB or CMYK channels in the spot channels. You could add, subtract, multiply, filter, grainify, paint and manipulate the channels till you get a good result. But you would have to be able to repeat the same process on all images so it can't be too complex.

Make manual masks

In channels in Photoshop or with vector shapes in InDesign, you could manually draw the areas to color.

Use a color profile

It is also possible to buy special color profiles for two-color printing. They are made like CMYK profiles: Test prints are made with combinations of the two colors, they are measured using a measuring device and the results is entered into dedicated software. Then a color profile can be created which can convert any given image into those two colors. The aim is to create an image which looks as similar to the original as possible when printed with the chosen colors. The only place I have seen these kinds of profiles for sale is colorlibrary.ch which offers profiles for Risograph colors as well as a selection of Pantone colors.

  • 1
    back in ye olde days, in an animation studio at my University, we used to use a "black and white" video camera and three color filters to capture the R,G, and B of color artwork. This method can also be used to capture any arbitrary set of colors if you have a decent match between inks and filters.
    – Yorik
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 20:09
  • 1
    Sounds cool @Yorik! I love the way you had to be inventive in the pre-digital age. We must not forget to challenge the tools we use today in the same manner.
    – Wolff
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 20:29
  • 1
    @MadsWolff Thank you for your answer, it is really helping me get a better insight into the process of printing two colors and provides me with the technical info I needed to get started. Regarding the aspect of realistic reproduction of photos: It's not what I am aiming for. Rather, I am trying to find an aesthetic way of making good use of the Risograph's capabilities which fits my print project. Fortunately, I have access to the Risograph at my university and can play around with various combinations and methods. So I will grateful take your advice and simply experiment.
    – JoSch
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 21:27

I see this is an old question, but anyway, here's another quick(ish) way to do it in Photoshop.

  1. Change the image mode to Multichannel, then go into the channels and delete the yellow channel, leaving only the Cyan and Magenta.

  2. Double click the Cyan channel, choose a green colour from one the Pantone spot colour library.

  3. Double click the Magenta channel, choose a reddish/orange colour from the Pantone spot colours.

  4. Select each channel individually and do a curves adjustment on each until you get something that looks acceptable.

Here's one I made using the above technique.

enter image description here

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