April 21, 2016

Convert a Color Image to Black & White in Adobe Photoshop

Baseball illustration, original and black and white

There are a number of ways to convert a color image to black and white using Adobe Photoshop, but some methods are better than others. With my digital retouching and restoration, I always scan old photographs and documents in color (even if the original is black and white), then convert them later in Adobe Photoshop. The reason I do this is because there is more “pixel information” in a color image, and it gives me more options in regards to repairing the damage. Sometimes, the simple act of converting the image to black and white helps get rid of scratches, dust or other imperfections. In this post, I will share 2 effective methods to convert your color images to grayscale.

Converting your image to black & white with only 1 channel selected

Channels palette in Adobe Photoshop

The Red channel selected in the Channels palette. Click on the Red, Green or Blue channels to see how the appearance of different elements in your image changes.

This method works very well with some images, and not so well with others – it all depends on how much red, green or blue is in your image. First, make sure your image is in RGB (Red, Green, Blue) by going to Image > Mode > RGB Color. Once your image is in RGB, you will need to go to the Channels palette. If it is not visible, go to Window > Channels. Within the Channels palette, click the eye next to each color – either Red, Green or Blue. As you click from one color to the next, notice the changes in your image. I have found that Red and Green are the only ones to use, as Blue tends to over-saturate areas of the image. Once you choose the preferred color channel for your image, go to Image > Mode > Grayscale. After you make the color conversion, you may need to add contrast to the image. For almost all images I work on, Image > Adjustments > Auto Contrast works perfectly. Occasionally, however, Auto Contrast does not work so well, and adds too much contrast. In those situations, I adjust it manually by going to Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast.

Using the Black & White adjustment

Black & white adjustment window in Adobe Photoshop

The Black and White adjustment window, where you can adjust settings while seeing how they affect the look of your image. You can preview the Presets in the drop-down menu, or adjust the sliders for more control.

For the Black & White adjustment, you can either create a new Adjustment layer or just adjust the current layer (I generally adjust the current layer without creating a new one). To create a new Black and White Adjustment layer, click on the black and white circle at the bottom of the layers palette, and select Black & White. If you don’t see the Layers palette, go to Window and click on Layers.

To adjust the current layer without creating a new one, simply go to Image > Adjustments > Black & White. Within the Black and White window (as seen at left), you will see a number of presets in the drop-down menu at the top, as well as sliders next to colors below that. In order to get a feel for the different settings and how they affect the look of your image, experiment with different Presets while paying attention to how it changes your image (make sure the Preview box is checked).

If you enjoyed this post, and would like to read more about black and white conversion in Adobe Photoshop, check out the following: 

Photoshop black and white conversion tips: the best ways to make mono images

7 Black and White Photoshop Conversion Techniques

I hope you have found this tutorial helpful. Please feel free to add any questions or comments below. Subscribe to our newsletter to be notified of new posts with helpful image editing tips & tricks.