How to convert a color PDF to grayscale

Sometimes it can be useful to convert a color PDF to grayscale. If a PDF file contains many color images and file size is essential but color isn’t, the conversion saves space. If a PDF will be printed in B/W then converting it allows you to visually check what the end result will look like. This page describes various tools and procedures to convert to grayscale 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 as there is usually an option in the driver to print grayscale.

Please note that there is a difference between artwork that only consists of colors that have equal channel percentages (e.g. 50% red, green and blue) and one that effectively uses 50% black. While both may visually appear to be grayscale, only the latter is true grayscale.

Adobe Acrobat Professional

Acrobat Pro is definitely the best tool to do this type of conversion, especially for prepress use. Below are guidelines for converting a color PDF to grayscale with various versions of Adobe Acrobat Professional.

Adobe Acrobat Pro DC 2015

  1. Choose Print Production in the Tools menu. 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.
  2. Select Convert to grayscale in the Convert colors list in the Preflight panel.
  3. Click the Analyze and fix button.
  4. Save the converted file.

acrobat-pro-dc-convert-to-grayscale

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.
  2. Select Convert to grayscale in the PDF fixups list in the Preflight panel.
  3. Click the Analyze and fix button.
  4. Save the converted file.

Converting an RGB or CMYK color PDF file to grayscale or black-and-white

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 both PitStop and Quite-a-box-of-tricks in the past. Both worked fine.

Stand-alone tools

Add a comment below if you know any good tools for doing grayscale conversion. I haven’t tried any in the last few years.
There is a website that allows you to upload a file and get it converted to grayscale.  I never tested it.

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 Quartz filter option under the Format type.
  3. Save the converted file.

PDF conversion to grayscale using OSX

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 Quartz only supports a subset of the full PDF standard. I am simply mentioning this trick because it doesn’t require any additional software.

29 December 2016

5 responses to “How to convert a color PDF to grayscale”

  1. Dunc says:

    In Acrobat Pro DC, you can also do it with:
    Tools > Print Production > Convert Colors > Conversion Profile > Gray Gamma 2.2
    Than do a Save As.
    This is quicker to do and seems to give smaller file-sizes than Preflight.
    http://www.greyscalepdf.com works well and gives smaller file-sizes still, but qulaity of photos is greatly reduced.

  2. Penj says:

    Cool! You helped me a lot! Thanks!

  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. ashish awasthi says:

    Thnku very much…very useful…

  5. Mick says:

    Useful article, thank you!

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