Photoshop Techniques for Tintypes


A tintype is an old-fashioned method of producing a photograph directly on a sheet of metal, without the use of a negative. Tintypes were very popular because they were inexpensive and did not require long sitting times for portraits. Photoshop techniques for tintypes attempt to capture the look of these antique photographs by manipulating the color and contrast in a digital image, adding edges to the art, and sometimes even mimicking scratches and folds.

A Brief Explanation of Tintype

  • The tintype process was patented in 1856 by Hamilton Smith. A metal sheet, usually made from iron, was coated with a photo-sensitive emulsion and exposed. This produced a photograph directly on the metal and could be made fairly quickly. No negatives were used in the process, and surprisingly, no tin was ever used, either.

Losing the Color

  • The first step in making a new photograph image look like an old-fashioned tintype is to lose all of the color. There are numerous ways of changing a full-color photograph into a good black-and-white photograph in Photoshop, but converting it into a grayscale image will not allow the digital photographer to apply any of Photoshop's built-in filters. Instead, by going through the "Image" menu, selecting "Adjustments" and then "Hue/Saturation," the artist can make the image appear to lose its color without changing the digital photograph into a grayscale image.

Aging the Image

  • The second step is to make the image look faded and brown. Original tintypes were black-and-white, but most have faded to a rather muddy brown over the years. To simulate this aging, digital photographers can use Photoshop techniques to colorize the image so it appears to be old. Moving the sliders on the Hue/Saturation menu and clicking the box that says "Colorize," a digital photographer can control the color in the image and how bright or muted it is. Typically, aged tintype images appear to have lost some of their contrast, so Photoshop images can also be reduced in contrast to make them appear to be aged.


  • Another typical effect that tintypes had was vignetting. Vignetting around the edges of a tintype photograph is darker than the rest of the image, and vignetted areas can also appear to be out of focus with the rest of the image. Much of this was because of the optics of the lenses on the old cameras. Digital photographers recreating a tintype will select the central portion of their image, usually with an oval shape, and adjust the levels of the image outside of the oval so it becomes darker.

Adding Wear Effects

  • Digital photographers who are really keen on adding "realism" to their Photoshop tintype images can add scratches and dust to their images. Dust can be easily added with the pencil or paintbrush tool and dabbing small white dots randomly on the image. Similarly, scratches can be added by drawing a crooked line across the image or corner of the image. For ambitious artists, torn-off corners or simulated folds can be created by using Photoshop's layer options and drawing tools.

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  • Photo Credit old photo image by Aleksey Bakaleev from
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