How to Apply a Sepia Tone to a Photo in Photoshop

Apply sepia color to your photos for an antique appearance

Mother and child
Carlos Davila/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

A sepia tone is a reddish brown monochrome tint. When applied to a photo, it gives the picture a warm, antique feeling.  Sepia tone images have an antique feeling because photographs used to be developed using sepia, which is derived from the ink of cuttlefish, in the photo emulsion used to develop the image.

Now with digital photography, there's no need for emulsions and photo development to get rich sepia tone photos. Photoshop makes changing your existing photos easy. 

Adding a Sepia Tone in Photoshop 2015

Here is a step-by-step for Photoshopping a photo to get a sepia tone.

  1. Open the image in Photoshop.
  2. If the image is in color, go to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate and skip to step 4.
  3. If the image is in grayscale go to Image > Mode > RGB Color.
  4. Go to Image > Adjustments > Variations.
  5. Move the FineCoarse slider down one notch less than the middle.
  6. Click on More Yellow once.
  7. Click on More Red once.
  8. Click OK.

Use the Save button in the Variations dialog to save the sepia tone settings. The next time you want to use it, just load the saved settings.

Use Desaturate and experiment with Variations to apply other color tints to your photos.

Adding Sepia Tone with Camera Raw Filter in Photoshop CS6 and CC

Another method for creating sepia tone in a photo is to use the Camera Raw filter. This method detailed here can be followed in CS6 and Photoshop Creative Cloud (CC) versions.

Begin by opening your photo in Photoshop.

  1. In the Layers panel, click the menu in the upper right corner.
  2. Click Convert to Smart Object in the menu.
  3. In the top menu, click Filter > Camera Raw Filter. 
  4. In the Camera Raw Filter window, click the HSL/Grayscale button in the right panel's menu, which is as a series of icons. Hover over each until the name appears in a dialog box; the HSL/Grayscale button is the fourth one from the left.
  5. Check the Convert to Grayscale box in the HSL/Grayscale panel.
    1. Option: Now that your photo is black and white, you can fine tune it by adjusting the color sliders in the HSL/Grayscale menu. This won't add color to the image, but the black-and-white version you're working with will be adjusted where these colors appeared in the original image, so experiment to adjust the shading that appeals to you.
  6. Click the Split Toning button, which is located to the right of the HSL/Grayscale button we clicked in the previous step.
  7. In the Split Toning menu, under Shadows, adjust the Hue to a setting between 40 and 50 for a sepia tone hue (you can adjust this later to find the sepia hue you prefer). You won't notice a change in the image yet, not until you adjust the saturation level in the next step.
  1. Adjust the Saturation slider to bring in the sepia hue you chose. A setting around 40 for saturation is a good starting point, and you can adjust from there to your preference.
  2. Adjust the Balance slider to the left to bring the sepia tones into the lighter areas of your photo. For example, try adjusting the Balance to -40 and fine tune from there.
  3. Click OK in the lower right of the Camera Raw Filter window.

Your sepia tone is added to your photo as a filter layer in the Layers panel. 

These are quick step-by-step how-tos for Photoshopping sepia tones in a photo, but as with most techniques in the graphics industry there are many other ways of applying a sepia tone to a photo.