Convert InDesign PDF to Grayscale

January 19, 2010 / Updated: January 19, 2010 / Lena Shore


Do you know how to save an Indesign file as a Grayscale PDF? So far all I can figure out is to build the file in grayscale from the start. Including converting all the graphics to Gray before importing into Indesign. In Quark you can just click on save as grayscale in the PDF preferences. No such animal with Indesign. Even the graphics people at my printer could not show me how to do it. I have several full color ads that we want to make b&w now and I am having to rebuild them from scratch.


There are a few ways to do this.

Convert it using Acrobat

  1. Open your color PDF in your full version of Acrobat (not Reader)
  2. Go to Advanced / Print Production / Convert Colors
  3. Under the “Conversion Attributes” make sure the settings are:
    • Convert Command: Convert to Profile
    • Conversion Profile: Gray Gamma 1.8 or Gray Gamma 2.2
    • Rendering Intent: Use Document Intent

Print it from InDesign

  1. Install the Adobe PDF Printer
  2. Set the transparency to 99.9% on any EPS or placed PDF objects. If you don’t it won’t render them correctly due to the flattener.
  3. Print using the Adobe PDF Printer and set the Color Output to “Composite Gray”. Make sure you do this last in your settings before telling it to print. It has a nasty way of losing the setting if you click around.

Export from Acrobat

  1. Open the color PDF you created from InDesign in a full version of Acrobat.
  2. “Save As” from the File menu. Choose PostScript format and then operate Options and choose Grayscale.
  3. Use Distiller to convert that PostScript into a PDF.
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Lena Shore

Lena is a full-time freelancer and nerd that specializes in web development, graphic design, and illustration. She enjoys building things, learning new things, pursuing creative endeavors, and giving free advice.


  1. Tyler on July 16, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    Thanks for the advice, would you happen to know how to adjust the gamma output when printing a pdf in InDesign?

    • Lena on July 16, 2010 at 6:53 pm

      When you are exporting a PDF, there are some output options you can adjust the ink density. But, there is nothing formal I’m aware of for controlling the gamma. If I needed to adjust the gamma, I would probably open the PDF into Photoshop and adjust the gamma there where I would have more control. Hope that helps a little. I know it wasn’t the answer you were looking for. (:

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