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This article is from September 28, 2007, and is no longer current.

Grayscale PDF From a Color Layout


Q: Our office periodically needs to create a grayscale PDF for one of our clients, even though their jobs are done in CMYK plus spot plates. There’s no place to choose ‘grayscale’ in the Export to PDF dialog box. We tried printing to the Adobe PDF printer instead, since the Print dialog box does offer Composite Gray as an Output choice, but some of the graphics didn’t convert – they stayed in color. We really don’t want to have to re-create these files in grayscale, as some are over 200 pages long!

A: InDesign can convert colors to grayscale during the process you describe only if it can get to them. It does fine with any color created in InDesign itself (CMYK, RGB or Lab; process or spot), as well as placed color TIFFs and PSD files, even if the PSD has a spot color channel. However, InDesign won’t change placed color EPS and PDF images into grayscale.

The good news is, through a simple hack, you can force InDesign to convert those recalcitrant images too. Nick Hodge first wrote about this trick for InDesign 2.0 and it still works in both CS, CS2, and CS3.

He discovered that when any image is run through InDesign’s transparency flattener, the program has a chance to adjust its colors to conform to the type of Color Output (in this case, Composite Gray) you set in the Print dialog box.

If you select one of your stubborn color images and set it to have a 99.9 percent opacity from the Transparency palette (Window > Transparency… in CS3, it’s Window > Effects), it’s enough to trigger the Transparency Flattener when you output to a flattened format. That allows InDesign to get in there and convert it to grayscale while it’s at it, without changing the look of the image at all, since the .01 percent that is transparent is not detectable.

Apply that transparency setting to any placed PDF or EPS images first. Then, when you print to the Adobe PDF printer, make sure that changing the Color Output to Composite Gray is the last thing you change in the dialog box before you click the Print button. We’ve found that sometimes, the selection reverts to the Composite CMYK choice if you go elsewhere in the dialog box, or click the Printer (or Setup, in Windows) button afterwards, before clicking the final Print button.

This post excerpted from Adobe InDesign CS/CS2 Breakthroughs, by David Blatner and Anne-Marie Concepción, published by Peachpit Press.

David Blatner is the co-founder of the Creative Publishing Network, InDesign Magazine, CreativePro Magazine, and the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign. His InDesign videos at LinkedIn Learning ( are among the most watched InDesign training in the world.
You can find more about David at

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  • Bilgin says:

    So there’s no way to automate this if the person asking this question already has an indesign file 200 pages long with a large number of eps and pdf files?

  • BlueKDesign says:

    I have two other suggestions:
    1. Set the Color Management printer profile in the print dialog to a grayscale icc profile like Gray Gamma 1.8 or sGray.
    2. In Acrobat Pro use Tools | Print Production | Convert Colors? Set everthing to Convert and choose a grayscale profile for the Destination Space. Be sure to change EVERY spot color from Preserve to Convert. Select the page range & click OK to start the conversion process.

  • josh says:

    There’s a WAY easier way to get a black and white PDF from a color InDesign file… Just export normally as a PDF and then in Acrobat Pro go to Advanced–>Print Production–> Convert Colors. Within that dialog you can select the document colors you’d like to convert (CMYK, RGB, etc…) and change the action underneath to CONVERT. Then under Destination Space, select a profile (such as Gray Gamma 2.2). Save and DONE.

    • Wendy says:

      Converting the colors in Acrobat results in a very flat image with little contrast. I would use it as a proof PDF, that’s all. I’d never use it to print.

  • I’m going to have to agree with you, Josh and BlueK: Acrobat 8’s Convert Colors feature is far easier! There are other PDF utilities that can do the conversion, too, such as Quite a Box of Tricks. Thanks for chiming in about this “post processing” trick.

  • JohnB says:

    Acrobat 7 Pro can also convert colors, by the way. Couple that with batch processing, and changing these 200-page-long documents just got easier.

    Another option is re-printing to PDF in Acrobat. Go to “Advanced” print options and change the color to “Composite Gray” (or so).

  • Brenda says:

    Thanks, worked great!!!!!! Much quicker than replacing images w/ greyscale ones.

  • Jon Bessant says:

    Two other new ways now in Acrobat 8 to convert …

    1. use the preflight fix-ups which can be combined with other preflight and fixing routines. This option has many, many more options for conversion of all types of objects as well

    2. use the touch-up object tool for individual image colour conversion (right/control click / properties / convert color) – very cute!


  • Virendra Bhalla says:

    Converting to Grayscale in Acrobat (Print Production > convert colors…..)works as Josh and BlueK mentioned. But it is not advisable if you are printing thus converted Grayscale ad on a CMYK page or form as the Grayscale is made up of CMYK values. Go to Advance > Output Preview in Acrobat to see the CMYK values of the Grayscale document.


  • One way I have always done it was to export as a black and white eps then convert the eps to a pdf. You still have the vector format and crisp images.

  • rox says:

    Somewhat unrelated question but this is the closest I’ve found to what I’m looking for. How do you print gray as a screen for print on press

  • Javid says:

    Firstly thanks to Josh and BlueK…I am outputting for a greyscale newspaper ad and was concerned that as Virendra said, it would be made up of CMYK. I am using CS3 and found that if you follow the instructions as explained by Josh and BlueK…

    “Just export normally as a PDF and then in Acrobat Pro go to Advanced?>Print Production?> Convert Colors. Within that dialog you can select the document colors you?d like to convert (CMYK, RGB, etc?) and change the action underneath to CONVERT. Then under Destination Space, select a profile (such as Gray Gamma 2.2)…”
    …And under Conversion Options select embed Profile as OutputIntent
    you will get a perfect greyscale (1 black plate).

  • Barbara says:

    THANK YOU!!! I was struggling with ads for a journal and these tips have saved me so much time and aggravation.

  • Karen says:

    This worked best for us in removing any color from PDF’s…In Acrobat 8>Advanced>Preflight>digital printing. Click on digital printing (B/W). This converts all color to greyscale.

  • Jason Cutler says:

    It appears that the oft-forgotten Apple ColorSync Utility, which came bundled with your friendly-neighborhood-copy-of-OS-X, has been forgotten again. This software can convert PDFs to grayscale as well, for those of you who don’t own Acrobat or find it too complicated.

  • Helene says:

    Oh InDesign Secrets, I love you!
    Thank you for this perfect-solution-to-yet-another-last-minute -request. I always find so much useful practical info here. You’re the best!

  • Anna says:

    Thank you! This is EXACTLY what I was looking for. I will set this page as a favorite from now on.

  • Ryan, Thing Shop computer guy says:

    Okay, I could make the whole catalog b/w with any of the methods above. Unfortunately, that’s not what the powers-that-be are after. They want to reduce ink costs by cutting back on the color ink, but keep the full color images that really need to be in color (like the cover, and the fabric color samples page).

    I came here looking for a quick way to convert individual images to b/w, instead of the obvious method of making a new b/w version of each one in Photoshop and re-adding it to the layout. That would take a very long time.

    Could you guys point me in the right direction on this (and explain it as you would to a child :)?

  • J.Esteban says:

    Ryan, have a try with this… Color2Gray converts images to B/W and works great… Best of all, it’s free.

  • Eugene Tyson says:

    Can’t this to work with an illustrator EPS? Using InD CS3, I have set the illustrator eps to 99.9% and outputed to Composite Gray PDF using the Print Dialog box. And my colour EPS keeps coming up as colour in my grayscale pdf.

    I know there are other ways to get a grayscale pdf, I just want this way to work.

    Any ideas?

  • Eugene Tyson says:

    Obvioulsy all done in InD, with the opacities.

  • Eugene Tyson says:

    Nevermind, I did it, just created a new Flattner Preset and set the slider to 0. Probably too low, but I see the problem. It needs to rasterise the vector to remove the colour.

  • Eugene, you should not have to rasterize the vector art for it to work. However, as Claudia and others pointed out above, it’s just easier to use Acrobat’s Convert Colors, if you can. That’s what I do these days.

  • Eugene Tyson says:

    Nope, still getting a colour logo when printing to pdf gray scale.

    I know about the acrobat way, I was just trying it out.

    This eps logo has a gradient mesh in it. But even removing that didn’t help.

    Just won’t print gray, keeps reverting.

    I guess I just have to keep with the tried and trusted method.


  • Eugene Tyson says:

    Well, I figured it out. All my fault.

    The InDesign file had a master page, with the master items on a different layer.

    The master items were unlocked, then the master page was applied again, effectively giving me two logos in the same place.

    I selected the logo, but it was on the layer below, not on the master page, which was on the top most layer.

    It’s so easy to blame the software when it’s just plain stupid human error.

    Pushing on.

  • will says:

    The 99.9% hack works, but it also changes the output image slightly, enough to cause minor jaggies in straight lines. I had a small document with 5 solid color images, so I just converted the CMYK images to process in Illustrator. Now grayscale output is fine, and the vector crispyness is preserved.

  • Lucid says:

    OK. They only way to convert Indesign files that actually works wiothout using CMYK to generate black is to EXPORT the file as an EPS. In th options menu select greyscale. Then convert the EPS to PDF using Acrobat Pro.

    Sure you can export as PDF in Indesign then convert coolour through the print production menu in Abcrobat Pro. IT MAY LOOK GREYSCALE but check the print preview. You’ll notice CMY values along with the K values. You can still make black with the other colours but true black should only have one reading. In order to goto prepress with only one ink the EPS conversion is the only way that I know works 100%.

    Don’t believe me? Test it. FYI – Your prepress company may not let you know that you are printing black with more colours than necessary.

    This forum is great! I spent all day figuring this out and I have been designing for over 10 years. Funny how this never came up before. I figure they people at the shop were just converting the file without my knowledge to save time.

    That being said I give a BIG MASSIVE SHOUT out to Kendall A. Gosage for the TIP that got me to where I needed it.

  • AjEG says:

    I have used the Acrobat Pro method of Print Production > Convert Colors. Does anyone have an opinion about what profile would be best for sending to a newspaper? I presume Dot Gain 20%, but am not sure. Thanks.

  • Neo says:

    Looks like an inactive for about a year but I came across this post when I was searching for a solution myself.

    Sorry WinX folks but on the mac, there is a far more convenient way to get a grayscale file (including pdf, jpeg, tiff, eps, or whatever..). The solution comes from good old Preview.

    Just open your document in Preview. Hit ‘Save As…’. Under Format type you’ll see Quartz Filter. Select “Gray Tone” from the list and hit Save. And Boom!! you have a grayscale copy of your document.

    Heck you can even have a pure “Black and White” or even a “Sepia Tone” document just for kicks!!! There are a bunch of other options that might be useful to you…

    Hope this helps someone.

  • Gretchen says:

    I work for a retail company with over 70 stores. About twice a month we put out a 7 page flyer with a unique 8th page made custom for each store (so over 77 unique files plus a few unique covers).

    We’re switching from Quark to InDesign and there is some resistance among the folks who are accustomed to Quark. In Quark you can just export a PDF as grayscale. As I’m reading above, I’m seeing additional steps to make a PDF grayscale (such as opening each of our 70 files in Acrobat to make the conversion). Please don’t tell me Quark is better than InDesign at something!

    I’m heading the intro training for InDesign so I want to make this as seamless as possible . . . is there any possible one-step way to make a grayscale PDF from InDesign CS4? Any additional steps will be multiplied by over 70 for our purposes . . . GULP!

  • Randi Hjemlestad says:

    I´ve tried just about anything that you suggest, but I
    have a text that should be 100% black that becomes 94%!
    What am I doing wrong?

    (The text is set to 100% black in ID CS4)

  • Edu Carvalho says:

    Hi folks,
    Randi, have you checked how black is meant to be printed out? Edit –
    Preferences – Appearence of Black. If you have a 4 color document and
    want it only BW you must set “Printing/Exporting – Output all Blacks
    as Rich Black” and not “Accurately”. As far as I noticed it only
    affects color documents that goes as only black. We got the same issue
    here and that how we sorted it out. Hope it works as well for you.

    Gretchen, you would have an only BW pdf if you print it out instead of
    exporting as PDF. We use Avantra as “PPD”, but there are plenty of
    other printers out there you may use. All you need to do is set it to
    print as Composite Gray under Output menu in the Print screen.

    It´s my turn to ask now. Does anyone happen to know a way to apply a
    “newspaper” color setup in InDesign? We print several papers out every
    night and we receive pdf from our customers, some of them are awfully
    colored sometimes in RGB. As we put pages together using InDesign we
    want to use a setup for every one.

    Thank you in advance guys!

  • Gretchen says:

    In Quark, we set up a page using gray images and black type, and then saved the PDF as grayscale.

    When I looked for a “PDF as Grayscale” option in InDesign I couldn’t find one and was confused. I spoke to our prepress person and she gave me some helpful information. In InDesign, since we’re only using gray art and black type, when we export the PDF – even as “CMYK” – it will only print black because that’s the only ink we’ve used. (I guess I was afraid that saving as CMYK would split my blacks into CMYK amounts, or add some zero amount of CMYK that would complicate things, but that’s not the case.)

  • Stef says:

    I’ve been converting a color pdf (output from indesign at 300 dpi) with Acrobat Pro 6 (…) into grayscale but I noticed the document gets much lighter and the images are much more compressed (ie. pixellated) than before. Am I doing something wrong?
    I’ve been trying to give the printer a b/w pdf file but I gave up and gave him a CYMK black and white pdf file.
    I’m sure he’ll know what to do with it, but in the past printers have complained about having to do the conversion.
    Any other option?

    Thank you.

  • Daniel says:

    I’m so glad that you posted this! It really helped! It was so easy to follow your instructions for Acrobat Pro BlueKDesign!

  • Razvan says:

    Thank You for this article. I look after him from a long time

  • Flashduette says:

    When using Advanced?>Print Production?> Convert Colors, the quality of the color eps files converted to grayscale is not good at all.
    I you compare your original grayscale pdf with mixed tiff and eps to the one created from the print production menu, you will notice that not only the grayscale eps are darker but the tiff files that were perfect in the first pdf are now also darker and not very good.
    I think the tip is much better as the eps files are perfectly converted and you have to make only one pdf file. It does not take that much time to set the transparency of the eps files to 99.9% and the advantage is that if you want to print in color in the future, you will not have to change anything.
    All you have to do is create a script that will convert the transparency to 99.9% for all your eps files.

  • liz banbury says:

    I also need to export as pdf an Indesign ‘Book’ to the printers, but they must have the Printer output options ‘Colour Composite Grey’ and ‘Text as Black’ selected. My document is B&W anyway, but based on CMYK.

    I have to use the Export as PDF function as they also require the fonts to be embedded.

    It seems that neither the ‘Adobe PDF Presets’ and ‘Export to PDF’ Function do not incorporate the above Printer Output options.

    It seems like you should be able to do both, and I’m using CS5 as well.

    Are there any other options to be able to do both in one pdf document at the same time and preferably from a book, and not an open document?

    Any help would be really appreciated!

  • Muhannad Salha says:

    It’s easy friend
    if you don’t have any photos (only photos )
    you can just delete the colors from swatches.
    If you have photos then you have to give an order for printing and select gray printing, then you have to select pdf file form your printer name.
    I wish that will work.

  • Debbie D. says:

    Thank you so much – I never remember how to do this. What a pain. We print our newsletter in greyscale, but publish it in full color on-line. This was so helpful. Such an easy trick. Thanks Josh – Advanced/Print Production/Convert colors takes a minute and lets you save your new file with a different name. Bookmarking this for the next time I forget.

  • When I initially commented I clicked the -Notify me when new feedback are added- checkbox and now each time a remark is added I get 4 emails with the same comment. Is there any manner you can remove me from that service? Thanks!

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  • Winnie says:

    Thank you to Commenter #3 Josh.
    I tried your steps and it worked wonderfully and easy.

  • Pete says:

    I have used CS4 to create a large book doc. All pics are greyscale. All type is black only. Yet still the exported PDF is shown as CMYK. I do wish to keep the overall final file size to a minimum.

    Although when blown up to max on the screen the type looks 100% black, on the digital proof the typematter is broken down slightly . Looking at the proof under a glass it appears that the black ink weight is about 97%. This has the effect of breaking up the type and making it look grey, particularly where the tiny rows of white dots coincide with the edges of the characters. Will the rich black option in preferences solve this?
    There doesn’t seem to be a way of checking this visually on screen.

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