VitaminBW Tutorials

Instructional Videos By Marco Olivotto

A quick start introduction to all the functions of VitaminBW explained step by step.

All the screencasts are in HD. We do recommend you to watch them in full screen in order to enjoy the quality of the images and properly see the Photoshop interface. Open the tabbed contents to read text transcripts, additional technical notes and credits.
If you like the video a like at the end will be appreciated.


1.1 Quick Start Tutorial | Basic Single Tone conversion and the power of Triple Tone

1.1 Text Transcripts

VitaminBW | Quick Start

Let’s start from a color original.

This is Photoshop’s default grayscale conversion.

This last version was made with VitaminBW with Triple Tone.
What is Triple Tone and how can you get here?

Triple Tone is an exclusive feature of VitaminBW, a Photoshop filter by Know How Transfer.
You can get Triple Tone by clicking on this button: no sliders and no parameters.

Triple Tone’s default is an already very interesting B&W image.
With two additional tonal variations: this one… and this one…

There are three available tones which you can choose from or blend.
This allows you to create an infinite number of tonal variations and express your creativity.
Let’s see how.

You can decide to use a single tone.
Or you can blend different versions: just use the opacity slider.
If you need more control, you can paint on the layer masks: this technique will allow you to reveal the best parts in each tone.

A more detailed tutorial is available on our website.

Notice that the groups are colored in orange and blue. Why?

Vitamin defaults to a neutral version.
Orange and blue are only two out of the five color filters available in Vitamin.
These filters work exactly like traditional filters for B&W film.
Each one yields a different effect.

If you don’t need the full power of Triple Tone, you can choose Single Tone: one tonal version, with the same amazing b&w conversion.

An in-depth tutorial for Single Tone as well.

Basic and advanced tonal editing made easy.
With Triple Tone.
Exclusively in VitaminBW.

1.2 Install & Launch | Unzip, install with Adobe Extension Manager and open VitaminBW

1.2 Text Transcripts

VitaminBW: Install and launch

This tutorial deals with the installation and first launch of VitaminBW. The procedure is shown on a Mac, but it is identical on Microsoft Windows, with one difference: in that case you MUST operate within an account which has administrator privileges enabled, and launch Adobe Extension Manager.

VitaminBW is downloaded as a .zip file. The file should decompress itself, but in case it doesn’t you can do it by double clicking on it. We strongly suggest you move the file into a folder, Know How Transfer in this case, where you can store all of our products and documentation.

Double-clicking on the .zip file produces a folder called VitaminBW with a version number, namely 1.0.

Inside the folder you will find four items: the extension proper, two pdf manuals (in English and Italian) and a folder called z_Manual Installation, which you will need only in case you run into problems with your version of Extension Manager, which is rare. The instructions for this are contained in the pdf manual, section 2b.

To install, simply double click on the file with the .zxp extension. If this procedure should fail, the problem is likely due to a missing Adobe Extension Manager.

If you need to check that Adobe Extension Manager is installed for the version of Photoshop you’re using, search for the file by writing its name in the proper field.
In case it doesn’t show, you can download the Extension Manager for free from Adobe’s website. Both Win and Mac versions are available.

Once the Extension Manager is installed, if Photoshop is open, quit. Double click on the file with the .zxp extension. This will launch the Extension Manager corresponding to the latest version of Photoshop installed on your system: CC, in our case.

You must click on Accept in the Extension Disclaimer window, and you will have to confirm installation at the next window. The process is automatic and VitaminBW will appear in the list of the installed extensions. Notice the Remove button on the right which removes the extension, should you need to do so for whatever reason.

In case you want to install the extension on a different version of Photoshop, you can do that by launching the corresponding extension manager: let’s do it with CS6 as an example. Select Install and navigate to the folder which contains the extension. Click on VitaminBW.zxp and then on Open. The procedure goes on as before. At the end, you will have VitaminBW.zxp installed on Photoshop CS6 as well as CC.

Please notice: in case you try to install the same extension twice, Adobe Extension Manager will ask you if you really want to overwrite the existing version. The correct answer is YES in case you are upgrading, otherwise just click on NO.

You can now quit the Extension Manager. To use Vitamin you must launch Photoshop first, because Vitamin is not a stand-alone application. Open any image you want to work on and choose Vitamin BW from the Filter menu. The window of the extension will open and you’re ready to work.

If you want to know more about the interface and its functions, please see our dedicated tutorial.


1.3 The Interface| Conversion, BW Filters, Preview, Tint & Process

1.3 Text Transcripts

VitaminBW: The interface

This tutorial explains the interface of VitaminBW. Vitamin’s interface is simple and easy to use. It is divided in four main sections called Conversion, BW Filters, Tint and Process. There is also a checkbox called Preview, and we’ll start from that.

Vitamin’s settings can produce 48 different variations on a single image. Computing a preview for each one of these would be very time-consuming. This is the reason why a real preview isn’t available. Anyway, you can choose from two different images, a landscape and a portrait named Harbor and Woman. If you uncheck the Preview, you’ll see the original color version of the image. When Preview is checked you will see the effect of the chosen settings on either image.

Top left is the Conversion section. There are two available options: Default and Boost. The latter yields a stronger version in case you’re after an aggressive black and white image: basically, the contrast is boosted more than in the default version.

Immediately below, you will find the BW Filters section. Its default is None. The five colors listed, namely Yellow, Orange, Red, Green and Blue, emulate the result of color filters with black and white panchromatic film. In a portrait, for instance, the Red filter whitens the skin, whereas Green yields a more traditional look. The skin becomes very dark when you use the Blue filter, instead. Orange and Yellow are rather similar in this case, but the result of course depends on the image.

As a rule of thumb, remember this: a color filter lightens the areas which fall in its chromatic range, and darkens those which fall in the complementary range. For example, in the Harbor picture, the Blue filter produces a very light sky, while the Red filter produces a very dark result: the cyanish blue color of the sky falls in the complementary area of the red and is therefore darkened.

Let’s move to the Tint section. The default is Neutral and yields a proper grayscale image. Cool gives it a slight cyanish appearance while Warm pushes the tone towards sepia. Mixed is, as the name suggests, a mix of the two: shadows get colder and lights get warmer, therefore creating a split toning effect.

The Process section allows you to choose between Single Tone and Triple Tone. These two processes are explained in dedicated tutorials, but Single Tone processes the image with the parameters you’ve chosen. Triple Tone takes longer to process and corresponds to three passes of Single Tone.

We now hit Cancel, which closes the window without processing the image and move on to the tutorial on Single Tone.

1.4 Single Tone | Vitamin’s basic engine. Basic features and advanced use

1.4 Text Transcripts

VitaminBW: Single Tone

In the tutorial about the interface of VitaminBW we learned that there are two processes available: Single Tone and Triple Tone. Let’s recap: with an image opened in Photoshop we can launch Vitamin from the Filter menu, choose a conversion, whether we want to use a Black and White filter and if we want a tint or not. Once we’ve made our choice, we’re ready to use Single Tone. This tutorial explains how this process works, whereas Triple Tone will be discussed in another tutorial. As a reminder, keep in mind that Vitamin will work only in RGB.

The picture we start with is similar to the one of the harbor which we can choose for the preview. I’d like to create a strong contrast, so my choice falls on the Boost conversion and the Red filter. A neutral tint is ok, so it’s just a matter of hitting Single Tone. Vitamin goes into processing and this is the result we are presented with.

The first important thing we need to discuss is the structure of the layers in the Layers panel. As we can see, there are three image layers: starting from the bottom, the original picture in color and two black and white versions which need to be discussed.

First of all, the black and white layers are contained in a group named Vitamin BW. The layer below is named Flat with a reason: it comes from the RGB channels of the image without further manipulation. Each choice of BW filter produces a different result. The topmost layer, born with a layer mask attached, is named Conversion; in this case it is also labeled Boost because that was our choice.

Why do we need two black and white layers? The Base layer is usually rather flat, but the Conversion can be very aggressive. I personally like this particular result because of the added drama in the sky and the movement in the water. But let’s assume that I find it too far-fetched, instead. To reduce the effect, we can choose any blend we like between the two layers: Flat and Conversion.

The most straightforward way is to use the opacity cursor. Both layers are set to Normal mode at 100%, so the Base layer is actually hidden by the Conversion layer. But we may reduce the opacity of the latter to, say, 60% or whatever we like to obtain a less pronounced effect.

This is what I call a global blend: “global” because it involves the whole image and doesn’t target specific areas. In other words, if you decide to blend 60/40 like in this case, this ratio will be applied to each pixel.

It’s worth mentioning that Normal is not the only blend mode available. Darken and Lighten, for instance, are worth exploring. If we bring back the Opacity to 100% and change the blend mode of the Conversion layer to Darken we pick whatever pixel is darker from either layer, and obtain a gloomy effect. Otherwise, we may choose Lighten and let shine whatever pixel is lighter in either layer: a very different effect. Even in this case we have opacity, if we need it.

But we are not limited to global blends. The layer mask available on the Conversion layer allows us to blend the two layers locally, with whatever precision we want. Let me show you how.

We’re going to use a portrait, this time. My choices for this photograph are Default Conversion, a Green filter which usually yields good results with skintone, and a warm tint. One click on Single Tone… and here’s the result.

Notice that we now have a third layer stacked on top of the two already discussed. This is because we’ve chosen a non-neutral tint in this picture. The tint layer is set to Color blend mode so that the luminosity of the underlying layers is used, while the color of it is retained.

We can see that this conversion has a problem, which is halos. Halos are unfortunately common in this kind of processing when a photograph contains a flat background like this one, and they are sometimes not welcome. Lowering the opacity of the Conversion layer won’t do, or won’t do enough: if we set it to 50% the problem is reduced but still present; most of all, the effect on the face is reduced as well, and that’s probably not what we want. The key point is that the Base layer contains no halos at all. So we may hope to solve the problem by recovering some parts of the image from this layer. A lot of efforts have been made to create a tonally compatible Flat layer so that the blends are usually smooth and easy to perform.

So, enter the layer mask. The Conversion layers comes to life with a white mask attached. Remember the basic rule of layer masks: black hides, white reveals. A white mask therefore means that the layer is fully visible. A layer mask can be activated by clicking on it, and you can tell it’s active from the four corners which now surround it. We now invert it via Image -> Adjustments -> Invert, or CMD-I, and the mask becomes black. This means the layer is now completely invisible. Of course we may decide to fill the mask with any shade of gray, and we can do so by using, for instance, Edit -> Fill -> 50% Gray. As you can see from the thumbnail, the mask is now filled with medium gray and this is equivalent to setting an opacity of 50% on the layer.

This is still a global effect: no area in the image is treated differently from another. To make the correction local, we need to paint on the mask. So, with the mask active, I go back to the original white fill, we select a round brush with a size of about 300 px, select black as foreground color and start painting near the halos. Let’s see what’s happening: we can inspect the mask by Alt-clicking on it and clearly see the result of our painterly efforts: the area where we put black hides the current layer, the rest remains visible instead. The smooth transition from black to white ensures that no artifacts show in the final image. On different images, of course, a different brush may be a better choice.

Alt-click again to return to the original image. I keep on painting and decide that the sweater should also come from the Base layer, the corresponding area in the mask gets covered in black. We can de-activate the mask by shift-click: this toggles the mask on and off, and the “off” state is of course like having a completely white mask. While it’s true that I don’t want to have much effect on the sweater, I now realize that I’ve probably overdone the mask. No fear, a mask is non-destructive and I can bring some of the Conversion layer back by using a gray brush. Select some proper gray as foreground color and paint: the jumper is partially revealed.

I guess I’m happy with this result, so let’s check: the original conversion can be seen by de-activating the mask: shift-click. The Base layer can be seen by making the Conversion layer invisible. Now, shift-click again to re-activate the mask, make the Conversion layer visible: this is the final result. Quite nice, I would say. If you’re curious to see the actual mask we can alt-click on it. It is what we expect: and it’s amazing that this kind of retouch only took a few seconds in practice.

Masks become even more important in the next step of VitaminBW, namely Triple Tone. Now that we’re sure to have mastered their use in the Single Tone process, we can move to the Triple Tone tutorial and get the most out of VitaminBW.

1.5 Triple Tone | Basic and advanced tri-tonal editing made easy

1.5 Text Transcripts

VitaminBW: Triple Tone

This tutorial deals with the second and most important process available in VitaminBW: Triple Tone. Compared to Single Tone, it is a more demanding process for your computer but it is still very easy to implement and powerful. Basically, it produces an image which is based on three distinct runs of Single Tone.

The first consideration is that you don’t have to worry about the BWFilters. With Triple Tone, whatever choice you make has no effect: the resulting image will always contain three versions based on None (which means no filter is used), Blue and Orange. These settings cannot be changed so you may as well leave None as a choice. You still can choose if you want a Default or Boost conversion and a tint, though. For this image I will pick Default and Warm, respectively. Click on Triple Tone and see what happens.

The Layers panel may seem very complicated, but it really isn’t: it contains three different groups identified by the color of the filter they represent: from the bottom, no filter, Blue and Orange. Each group is exactly like the one we’ve seen in the Single Tone tutorial. Since we’ve chosen a tint, there are three layers per version. Also, this is the maximum number of layers that VitaminBW will create. For now, let’s ignore the layers structure inside the groups: we simply consider the versions as independent objects.

As a default, the Blue and Orange groups are invisible and you see the result of the unfiltered group only. If you make the groups visible you will see the versions they contain. Each group is set at 100% opacity, so depending on what you make visible you will see one version at a time.

Notice that the two topmost groups have a layer mask which controls their transparency. The big red cross means that the mask is deactivated, so it doesn’t influence the visibility of the layer. Since the group masks are black, activating either makes the group transparent: remember, in masks black hides and white reveals.

Here’s a suggested two-step workflow to create the final picture.

1. Examine each version separately to decide which are the best parts of each you want to use. You can of course decide to use one version only, blend two or use all three.
2. Use group opacity and layer masks to blend the finished version together.

Let’s apply the workflow on this particular image.

Step one! We start from the unfiltered image at the bottom and compare it with the Blue version. This has better contrast in the water and most of all a fantastic definition of the foliage. These are candidate areas we want to keep from this version, unless the Orange version has something better to offer.

Let’s check.

We activate the Orange version: the Blue wins in the water and the foliage, but Orange is better in the sky and the rushes. Is it also better than the unfiltered image?

Let’s check.

We hide the Blue version and compare Orange and Unfiltered. The Orange is slightly better.

Final verdict: start with the unfiltered version, add foliage and water from the blue, add sky and rushes from the Orange.

This is the end of step one.

Step two: we start from the unfiltered version and activate the Blue group. We want to add the foliage and water from this one, so we shift-click on the mask to activate it: the mask is black and makes the group transparent. We select a large soft brush and white as foreground color, and start painting on the mask (…). Now we turn to the Orange group: we make it visible and activate the mask, so that it becomes transparent. We want to add the sky and the rushes, so again we paint in white on it. (…).

Let’s see what we have obtained. This is the unfiltered version… the contribution from the Blue version in the water and the foliage… and finally, the sky and rushes from the Orange version. Finished.

It’s worth remembering that we haven’t fully exploited Vitamin’s flexibility yet: we have neglected the layers structure inside the groups. We still have the chance, if we want, to tweak the content of each group exactly as explained in the tutorial on Single Tone.

The final result is both an improvement and an interpretation. We would like to show how versatile the process is when it comes to interpretation.

I’ve already prepared a version of this beauty shot so that I can easily show the result. This is the unfiltered version, this is the Blue version and this is the Orange version. I find the exotic character of the Blue version amazing, but maybe it is too much to use 100% of it. The eyes and part of the skin are very good in the Orange version instead.

My strategy was to blend the Blue version into the original at 50%, painting in black on the layer mask to keep the lips from the unfiltered version, because they would become too dark otherwise. Then I revealed the eyes from the Orange version, and used a 50% Gray fill on the forehead to give it more light. The whole group was then set at 60% opacity. The blend of such different versions, all very good in themselves can literally change the character of the shot.

This is the last image in this tutorial and also the most colorful we’ve seen so far. The standard Triple Tone process yields three versions: this is the unfiltered version, this is the Blue and this is the Orange. All three have very strong points and weak points. After some inspection I decided to use the Blue version in Darken blend mode: it brings in some amazing detail in some critical areas, but it makes the picture too dark. The Orange version does the opposite, and although a lower opacity was enough I decided to use a delicate mask to give it an even better finish.
Here’s the final result, which can be compared to the unfiltered version: it looks more nocturnal, as it should be, but also very luminous and yet detailed where needed. This is of course only one out of the infinite versions you can produce, so you may have a different idea and it would be very easy to change the character of the photograph because nothing is destructive in this process.

This is why we claim that Triple Tone boosts your creativity: it provides three different very interesting versions, often unexpected, of a single image, ready to be blended into each other accordingly to your taste and vision.

Marco “The Voice” Olivotto recording


Marco is a Master in Color Correction since when he decided to spread the word about color correction techniques in Photoshop, still relatively unknown in Italy. Marco also teaches colour correction techniques in important workshops and conferences. He is a Teacher-in-a-Box instructor and writes for the magazine Fotografia Reflex which hosts a monthly space about color correction. Marco is also the author of our best tutorials. The great Dan Margulis, who invented color correction in Photoshop, and was the first mentor of Marco publicly called him “a renaissance man” because of his eclecticism.

Visit his website >

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