InDesign Secrets: Exporting a grayscale PDF

Published by | Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

InDesign users have long desired a way to get a grayscale PDF out of InDesign, one with no color at all. And in InDesign CS6, Adobe finally lets you do this, right out of the box.

The finished greyscale PDF.

In this week’s InDesign Secrets video, David Blatner shows you how this works—and how to achieve the same effect even if you have a CS5 or earlier version of the program.


1. Choose File > Export PDF. Save the results to your desktop and choose any PDF file format you prefer, such as PDFX1A. Click Export and the file will automatically open in Acrobat.

Figure 1

2. Open the Tools panel (in Acrobat X) and then the Print Production pane. Choose Convert Colors to open that dialog box.

If you’re using Acrobat 9, you can find Convert Colors under the Advanced pane in the Print Production menu.

Figure 2

This dialog is a little overwhelming, but the main thing you need to do is tell Acrobat to convert to a profile and then choose the profile inside the Conversion Profile popup menu.

3. Scroll to the options at the bottom of the Conversion Profile menu and choose Dot Gain, which is close to your probable printing conditions. Choose 25% and turn on the Preserve Black check box. (Note: Without Preserve Black checked, black text and objects in your document may not end up totally black after the conversion.) Click OK.

Now you have a completely grayscale PDF! You can verify the results in the Output Preview panel.

Figure 3

4. Now let’s try InDesign CS6. Choose File > Export, name the file, and click Save.

5. Go to the Output pane of the Export Adobe PDF dialog box that pops up and choose a grayscale option from the Destination field.

But wait! There are no grayscale options. First you need to (1) change the Standard to None and (2) change the Color Conversion to Convert to Destination.

FIgure 4

6. Now you can choose the Dot Gain 25% profile you used in CS5. Click Export and your new grayscale PDF will open in Acrobat.

Figure 5

With digital color printers and web publishing, grayscale PDFs aren’t as necessary as they used to be. But now you know how to get one when you do need it. members can join Anne-Marie Concepción in the next InDesign Secrets video, Three ways to cheat text outside of its frame. Or you can check back in two weeks to see the next free video, Three great object styles for any designer. Stay tuned.

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3 Responses to “InDesign Secrets: Exporting a grayscale PDF”

  1. G.J. says:

    Hmm so this was the first article I could find when I was trying to convert a PDF to black and white so I could verify it looked OK before having it printed. I didn’t have InDesign, so I spent some time trying to find an alternative way.

    I ended up finding , a free website you can use to do the same thing. Hopefully someone else finds this useful.

  2. Natalie N says:

    This info was so helpful! I’m working in CS5 and needed to export a grayscale PDF with only two of the pages in color. Acrobat 9 worked like a charm! (All I had to do differently was select the range of pages I want in grayscale.) Thanks for helping me out with an urgent job! :)

  3. Phil says:


    All I have listed within the ‘Destination’ drop-down is ‘CMYK’ and ‘RGB’, where are all the ‘Dot Gain XX%’ please?

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