Advice on Duotone Printing?

Fellow publishers and people who just plain know more than me:

I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a print version of Mythender for sale, since people keep asking for it. But, there’s one catch: it uses a bit of color. One color, dark red (CMYK: 0, 100, 100, 50). That’s for chapter titles, certain game terms, demonstrating using the game’s UI, and certain dice icons (as I’m already using black dice & white dice).

If I were to do a print book, it would have art, and the art would also be duotone — the color of mortality would be black, mythic nature that same dark red, and Mythenders having a mix between the two more less or more mythic they are.

Right now, maybe 2% of the ink is this color. With art, that might approach 10%.

Here’s what the book looks like right now (screencap’d from Acrobat because I’m being a bit lazy). They’re all from the RKE edition of Mythender.

So, how do I do that?

Mainly, can you recommend a printer that handles this? I believe the process is called duotone, though I’m not certain. And getting many pages as full-color would just be stupid expensive for something that’s not actually fully utilized. (I would prefer to do printing in the States, but I’m open to all information.)

Point of note: it would be 6″x9″, 272 pages I’m guessing after padding the last signature. Perfect bound, softcover. Maybe  hardcover.

And is there something I should be doing in my InDesign documents to facilitate that? Right now, I have two swatches I use, black for the registration & that dark red.

When it comes to getting the art, is there something I can do in Illustrator/Photoshop to make sure it stays within black & that single other color (and gradients/mixtures of)?

This is not a promise

To be clear, this question is in no way a promise that I’ll actually make a print version of Mythender. But if that is to possibly happen, this is one of the hurdles I need to clear.

– Ryan

P.S. Before someone gives me the useless comment of “you don’t need to use red,” yes, I know. I could just use gray. But that doesn’t interest me at all — I learn nothing by not trying something new.


11 Responses to Advice on Duotone Printing?

  1. You can set the Red up as a spot color in InDesign. If you’re sending it to a printing press (rather than a POD printer), it’ll probably be cheaper than if they try to do a full CYMK run. Every printer I’ve dealt with can handle this type of set up (Walsworth Printing has good prices for the stuff we do, but I don’t know how they’d be on RPG stuff, you can contact printgroup@walsworth.com for a quote).

    As far as the art, if you don’t want to use/order greyscale art (or convert to greyscale), the printer can deal with it, but it’s best to convert the art to greyscale before you insert in into your document so you can make sure the contrast ratios are right. A lot of color art printed as greyscale w/o conversion will be too light or too dark in the wrong places.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      I’m confused, regarding the comment on grayscale art. Some of the art would have the red elements as well, mixed in. What would I do in those cases?


      – Ryan

  2. Ryan Macklin says:

    From Logan Bonner via Twitter:

    “2-color printing is tricky. Make sure your colors are all using the same swatch, none of them should be using soft color picks. Pick the closest Pantone color and make sure you get good proofs; your paper choice changes the look drastically.”

    “You can use PS to turn B&W art into duotones. Making art with the colors separated out deliberately is a can of worms.”

  3. You’re talking about spot color in offset printing, I think, and its affordability is directly proportional to print volume. Fiasco has very similar color ratios and we just made it black and white with color plate inserts due to costs at first. When we were able to do larger print runs, we just went with full color, even though many pages had no color on them at all. Our unit cost for full color books with Taylor is substantially less at 1000+ than it was for smaller B&W runs.

  4. It sounds like you are making a boutique product though, so my advice would be to make it gorgeous, print a small number, and charge accordingly.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Yeah, unless there was some crazy shit, I *might* do a lifetime run of 300 books. Or less. Probably just one run, and when it’s out, it’s out.

      – Ryan

  5. Steve Segedy says:

    What you’re describing is what we wanted for Fiasco. What we found out is that there is no “spot color” for digital press printers (small scale POD printers like Alphagraphics, Publishers Graphics, etc). They can print pages either in color or B&W, and they can mix them together when binding. So Fiasco was something like 20 pages (10 double-sided sheets) of color and 112 of black ink. Those color pages aren’t cheap no matter how much or little color there is, so you might as well use as much as your design warrants.

    That said, we just got finished doing a new printing in full color throughout using an offset printer (Taylor Specialty Books) and it was cheaper than previous printings. It helps that our print run is larger.

  6. Ben Hartzell says:

    Ok, in very long response follows! I worked in printing for 10+ years. Feel free to hit me up for more detail if needed.

    Your other comments have you on the right track for PoD digital 4-color vs. offset 2-color vs. offset 4-color printing: it comes down to quantity for what’s most cost effective. Any traditional printer (not PoD) should be able to handle it. I could give Bay Area recommendations if you want, but not worth the Bay Area cost premium if you’re not on-site for proofing. And at you’re quantity, you’re probably best off going with a PoD printer which is generally B&W or 4-color only.

    For text laid-out in InDesign, you’re on the right track — Just change your red swatch to a Pantone you like. In swatch properties, change from Color Type: Process to Spot and change Color Mode to Pantone Solid [coated or uncoated].

    Images are a bit more of a bitch. You can use photoshop’s built in duotone color mode (Image -> Mode -> Grayscale then Image -> Mode -> Duotone), but personally I don’t like it. I prefer to have a new grayscale document open side-by-side to the original document. In the new document (while still blank), go to the ‘channels’ window and add a new spot color channel with the same name as your red spot color in InDesign. You should now have a Gray and a Pantone color channel. Then you can select one at a time (turning off the other) and copy paste the isolated color elements from your source file into the appropriate color channel. You might need to save Photoshop files at Photoshop DCS EPS to have spot colors match up in InDesign.

    Last thing: in InDesign, you can verify you’re output is 2-color by going to Window->Output->Seperations preview. Your Black and Pantone should be the only ones with content; Cyan, Magenta and Yellow should be blank. You can do the same verification in Acrobat Professional with Advanced->Print Production->Output Preview window.


  7. Matt says:

    Late to the party here but these guys got you covered.

  8. Alan says:

    Thanks to an incredible session of Mythender at Gen Con thanks to Games on Demand, I was inspired to finally make time to read my copy of the Random Kindness Edition. I really like your use of red in it. The red dice are clear and “right”. The red headings are sharp looking. I certainly hope for a print release!

    On that note, I’m now excited and want to run the game and share the awesome I experienced with my friends. I could certainly run just printing out the history/heart/fate pages and the play mats, and using the PDF on a computer for reference, but I would like a print version. I’m considering making a fairly large sacrifice to the gods of paper and toner. But given that the final version may be out soon, and that a book may eventually appear, I’m not sure if I should hold off. How imminent is the final version? Is the printing hunt going well?

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Thanks! I have several people to thank for helping me with the layout (and I still have some stuff to tweak).

      After several conversations at Gen Con, it’s unlikely I’ll do a print version of Mythender. There are a few reasons for that, some of which I’ll go into in a later post updating Mythender’s progress (post-PAX). Still, the answers in this post will be useful for a future project.

      The final version should be out in October, and with that I’ll be looking at how to make it easier for people who want to print stuff for it (and happy to take suggestions!)

      – Ryan