How to grayscale / greyscale a PDF

First published on June 16, 2006

I used to work for a school newsletter (actually, more like “donate unheard of amounts of unpaid time”) and you know advertisers… they’re always so last-minute! Last-minute ads are usually OK, unless they require modification, such as grayscaling! How in the world do you grayscale a PDF? I thought it’d be one of the most basic features to include in a terribly expensive program such as Adobe Acrobat, but no, it is nowhere to be found (September 10th update: read on… it actually does exist!). Technically, you can right click each item in Acrobat and “edit” it, but that’s a real pain in the ass, and sometimes it messes up item placement. You could also save the PDF as an image file, grayscale it, then re-PDF it, but that compromises quality and file size, among other things.

Anyway, I asked around to all the graphics artists that I knew, and did all the Google and Google Groups searching that I could. The graphics people said that real artists do their grayscaling before creating a PDF. Well, I was dealing with a time-crunch here! As for Google, I found nothing (maybe my searching skills suck)!

September 10th update:

Looks like there IS a feature built into Adobe Acrobat Professional (I just tested this on version 7.0)! There is no need to buy an extra, expensive piece of software as noted when I first made this post!

Select Tools… Print Production… Convert Colors…

Then, select one of the profiles that do grayscaling (such as one of the dot gains)

You can grayscale a PDF with a function already in Acrobat!

Based on a quick comparison, this already-built-in feature gives slightly worse quality than the Quite a Box of Tricks plugin that I mentioned below… but hey… free is better than not free.

In the end, one of my CGA-Canada cronies (thank you, kind sir aka Mentos Man) discovered this program called Quite a Box Of Tricks. It’s a plugin for Acrobat and works wonders. And by wonders, I mean it’s the only solution I’ve ever found and it is fast and easy. The downside, unfortunately, is that it costs a freakin’ 125 British pounds!

Quite a Box of Tricks: the only grayscale PDF tool I have ever known

So, if you’re reading this and want to create a free tool that will grayscale a PDF, please let me know so that I can update this post. Otherwise, Quite a Box of Tricks is all we’ve got!


7 Responses to “How to grayscale / greyscale a PDF”

  1. Tally says:


    I wish to convert a few pdf files from color to greyscale – how do I do it?
    where is the convert color that’s was written in the 10th sep update

    (I used Do-Pdf V6 to convert word file to pdf)

    Thanks Tally

  2. Peter says:

    Hi Tally,

    What I found is that you must use the pricey Adobe Acrobat Professional. If there are cheaper or free options, I’d love to hear about it :)

  3. JohnSmith says:

    Download Bullzip for free. It’s a PDF printer so you can print to it from any program. It allows you to print in monochrome. Free and easy.

  4. Bob Cueblo says:

    Check out You don’t even have to download anything you can convert your PDFs for free right on the website.

    I just used it and it worked awesome.

  5. scruss says:

    Or you could use Ghostscript:

    gs -sDEVICE=pdfwrite -sColorConversionStrategy=Gray -dProcessColorModel=/DeviceGray -dNOPAUSE -dBATCH -dSAFER -q -sOutputFile=grey.pdf — colour.pdf

    (modified from here: )

  6. Steph says:

    Just in case anyone visits this in the future: A wonderful human created a free website to do this conversion!

  7. Steph says:

    Oops… someone got to the recommendation before me…
    Anyway, Bravo to lovely humans!

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