How to convert a color PDF to grayscale

Sometimes it can be useful to convert a color PDF to grayscale. This page describes various tools and procedures to do this using

  • Adobe Acrobat Pro & Acrobat plug-ins
  • Stand-alone tools
  • Mac OS X

If you just want to print a PDF in black and white, check the print options – usually there is an option to print grayscale.

Adobe Acrobat Professional

Converting a color PDF to grayscale is very easy with recent versions of Adobe Acrobat Professional.

Adobe Acrobat X Pro

  1. Choose Preflight in the Print Production section of the Tools. If Print Production is not visible in the Tools panel, you may have to click that little list/triangle button to add it to the list of visible tools.
    The preflight option in the Acrobat X Tools panel
  2. Select Convert to grayscale in the PDF fixups list in the Preflight panel.
    Converting an RGB or CMYK color PDF file to grayscale or black-and-white
  3. Click the Analyze and fix button.
  4. Save the converted file.

Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro

  1. Choose Advanced > Print Production > Preflight.
  2. Select the Convert to grayscale fixup.
  3. Click the Analyze and fix button.
  4. Save the converted file.

A Preflight Droplet can be used if you need to convert files on a regular basis.

Adobe Acrobat 8 Pro

The procedure below does not do a proper conversion to grayscale as colors get converted to equal portions of CMYK. For prepress purposes this may not be what you are looking for but visually it is OK.

  1. Choose Advanced > Print Production > Preflight.
  2. Click the triangle to open the list of PDF Fixups.
  3. Select the Convert to grayscale fixup.
  4. Click the Execute button.
  5. Save the converted file.

If the converted file is going to be professionally printed, make sure to check the quality before sending the file to the printer. There are numerous complaints online that Acrobat 8 recompresses converted images rather badly.

Adobe Acrobat Plugins

There are some Acrobat plug-ins that can do a conversion of color to grayscale. I have used PitStop in the past but preferred Quite-a-box-of-tricks which seemed to be both faster and more reliable (Early versions of PitStop sometimes left some objects untouched).

Stand-alone tools

A-PDF to Black/White is a stand-alone Windows application to convert the images in PDF files to grayscale. I’ve never used it and cannot comment on the quality of the conversion.

Apple Mac OS X

OS X uses PDF as its internal file format for displaying data. This means the operating system’s Quartz engine has some cool functions built in to work with PDF data. Conversion to grayscale happens to be one of them.

  1. Open the PDF in the Preview application that comes with OS X.
  2. Choose Save As and select the Gray Tone Quarz filter option under the Format type.
    PDF conversion to grayscale using OSX
  3. Save the converted file.

You need to thoroughly check the converted file before using it in print production. When I tried this trick, all the links in my PDF got a thin black frame around them! There may be other side effects as Quarz only supports a subset of the full PDF standard. I am simply mentioning this trick because it doesn’t require any additional software.

9 August 2013

4 Responses to “How to convert a color PDF to grayscale”

  1. Mick says:

    Useful article, thank you!

  2. ashish awasthi says:

    Thnku very much…very useful…

  3. George Johnson says:

    These are good methods, but you can also just use http://www.greyscalepdf.com to do it automatically from anywhere for free

  4. Penj says:

    Cool! You helped me a lot! Thanks!


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