In this study, we characterized a newly developed imaging system, "dual illumination mode photoacoustic tomography (PAT) system". The PAT system can simultaneously or separately illuminate biological tissues from a forward and backward direction toward an array transducer. The shape of the custom-made transducer is rectangular, which allows direct illumination of tissue surfaces in front of the array transducer through a holding plate from the backward direction. The transducer frequency was designed at 1 MHz by considering the trade-off relationship between ultrasound attenuation and image resolution. A Ti:Sa laser optically pumped with a Q-switched Nd:YAG laser, having a tunable wavelength of 700 to 900 nm, was chosen for deep light penetration in tissues. The laser light was sufficiently expanded and homogenized to keep the level of laser-pulse fluence on the sample surface under the ANSI safety limit. System performance was tested with phantoms. The results of our study showed that the system visualized all the absorbers embedded in a 50-mm-thick tissue-mimicking phantom with a lateral resolution of 2∼3 mm.