Four Ways to Convert to Grayscale Illustrator

Grayscale Thumbnail

Sometimes you need to convert an Illustrator file to grayscale. This could be for a print ad, logo option, or even just to try something different. In Illustrator CS3 you have several options to easily change and edit any artwork to grayscale. There are a couple of simple options and a couple of options that give you more control of how the artwork will look.


This tutorial was created with Illustrator CS3.


Below is the original artwork with the four grayscale Illustrator options for comparison.


Convert to Grayscale Illustrator

This is probably the quickest but least versatile option. Select your artwork and go Edit > Edit Colors > Convert to Grayscale.

Convert to Grayscale

Adjust Color Balance

With this option, you have more control over the Black. Select your artwork and go Edit >Edit Colors > Adjust Color Balance. Select Grayscale from the Color Mode drop-down menu and check the Preview and Convert boxes. Now you can adjust the Black percentage with the slider.

Adjust Color Balance


If you still want more control over the grayscale Illustrator vector, try the Adjust Color Balance option. Select your artwork and go Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor Artwork or click to color wheel icon in the control panel. Either way, it will bring up the Live Color dialog. At the very bottom of the dialog are sliders. To the right of the sliders are two buttons. Press the button that looks like a play button. Choose Global Adjust from the drop-down list and move the Saturation slider all the way to the left (-100). Play around with the Brightness, Temperature, and LuminosityΒ  sliders to get different results.


Recolor Artwork

If none of the previous options had enough control, you can try the Recolor Artwork option. First, you will need to load the default Print swatches if they are not open. Open the Swatch Libraries Menu on the bottom left of the Swatch panel and go Default Swatches > Print. Once these swatches are open, drag the folder of grayscale swatches into your Swatch panel. Again, you only need to do this if you don’t have the default print swatches open.

Print Swatches

Now you can select the artwork and go Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor Artwork or click the color wheel icon in the control panel. Once in the Live Color dialog, select the Grayscale set of swatches in the right Color Group column. Now the artwork is grayscale, but the Live Color dialog lets you edit the black swatches assigned to the original colors.

Click the play button next to the sliders at the bottom of the Live Color dialog and select CYMK. Select the original color that you wish to edit from the Current Colors column and use the K (black) slider at the bottom to edit the black percentage . If you hover over the grayscale swatches in the New column next to the Current Colors on the left, you will see an arrow for a drop-down menu. I like Preserve Tints, but try the others for different results.

Recolor Artwork

Ultimately, I liked the Adjust Color Balance option results, but I have used every option for different artwork. Which way works best for you? Hope this grayscale Illustrator tutorial has been helpful. Try it out!

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72 thoughts on “Four Ways to Convert to Grayscale Illustrator

  1. I am extremely inspired along with your writing abilities and also with the structure on your weblog. Is that this a paid topic or did you modify it yourself? Anyway keep up the excellent high quality writing, it’s uncommon to peer a great weblog like this one today.

  2. hi,

    I wanted to convert gray scale to black and white. Any shade of black to be converted to 100% black and white should remain white.

  3. I have placed a pic into AI, but the color edit choices are greyed out and and I cannot choose covert to grey scale. Can you help me figure out what I’m doing wrong?

    Thanks, M

  4. Your tutorial is excellent. I liked the party animal image and all the screen shots to illustrate your step by step method. This saved me a lot of time! Very Grateful!

  5. Excellent tips!

    Some of those methods do not work with bitmaps, though (“Recolor Artwork” option is not available) and in my Illustrator work vectors and bitmaps are always used together. So here is a simple 5th method inspired by this post and comments…

    * Draw a rectangle over your bitmap image
    * Fill it with 50% gray
    * With rectangle selected, use Transparency panel to choose the “Color” blending method.

    Group them together for convenience.

    Make the rectangle another color for another way of tinting…or only tinting a part of the photo.

  6. There is also a fifth way you can use that is not distructive the entire artwork:

    Use the transparent palet and select the color mode “Luminosity”

    I found it super interesting and useful when you deal with “disabled black and white states” for buttons or other things like this.

  7. great stuff, i’ve been trying to figure this out for a while and used photoshop but the rasterized file looked terrible, thank you so much for this tut- it was so easy to follow, beautiful lay out of the blog too-

  8. Is there a way to do a batch to convert hundreds of files to grayscale? These are files that do not need special attention since they are chemical formulas.

    • I believe there is using the Actions palette. I’ve converted a bunch of files from .ai to .eps before but using the same principle I believe you could convert from color to grayscale.

  9. Once the image is grayscale, is there also a way to convert the document to grayscale, like in Photoshop? Or is that not necessary for vector images when printing one color jobs?

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