Convert Images to Grayscale Mode in Photoshop Elements 12 - dummies

Convert Images to Grayscale Mode in Photoshop Elements 12

By Barbara Obermeier, Ted Padova

Grayscale images have black-and-white pixels and any one of an additional 254 levels of gray. By converting an RGB image to grayscale in Photoshop Elements 12, you can make it look like a black-and-white photo.

You can convert an image to grayscale in one of three ways, but remember that one of these methods isn’t as good as the others. Avoid converting to grayscale by choosing Image→Mode→Grayscale. When Photoshop Elements performs this conversion, it removes all the color from the pixels, so you lose some precious data during the conversion and can’t regain the color after conversion.

If you were to convert an image to grayscale, save the file, and delete the original from your hard drive or memory card, the color image would be lost forever. You could save a secondary file, but this method can add a little confusion and require some more space on your hard drive.

There are better ways to create a grayscale image.

Desaturate a layer

You don’t have to give up your color data when you convert to grayscale. As an alternative to using the menu command for converting images to grayscale, follow these steps:

  1. Open an RGB image in Elements.

  2. Duplicate a layer.

    The default Panels Bin contains the Layers panel. In this panel, click the icon in the upper-right corner. From the pop-up menu, choose Duplicate Layer. In this example, the layer was duplicated, adjusted, and duplicated again to create a third layer.

    You can also duplicate a layer by dragging the layer name to the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel.

  3. Choose Enhance→Adjust Color→Adjust Hue/Saturation to open the Hue/Saturation dialog box, shown in the figure.

    Alternatively, you can press Ctrl+U (Cmd+U on the Mac).

  4. Drag the Saturation slider to the far left to desaturate the image on the selected layer. Then click OK.


    All color disappears, but the brightness values of all the pixels remain unaffected.

  5. Turn off the color layer by clicking the eye icon in the Layers panel.

    In the Layers panel, you see three layers, as shown in the figure. You don’t need to turn off the color layer to print the file in grayscale, but turning it off can help you remember which layer you used the last time you printed or exported the file.


Following the preceding steps provides you with a file that contains both RGB and grayscale information. If you want to print the color layer, you can turn off the grayscale layer. If you need to exchange files with graphic designers, you can send the layered file, and then the design professional can use both the color image and the grayscale image.

The other advantage of converting RGB color to grayscale by using the Hue/Saturation dialog box is that you don’t disturb any changes in the brightness values of the pixels. Moving the Saturation slider to desaturate the image affects only the color. The luminance and lightness values remain the same.

Choose the Convert to Black and White command

A menu command exists for converting color images to black and white. Choose Enhance→Convert to Black and White in either Expert or Quick mode to get to the Convert to Black and White dialog box, as shown in the figure.


This dialog box contains these controls for adjusting brightness and contrast in images that you convert to grayscale:

  • Select a Style list: Select from some preset options and as you make adjustments, keep your eye on the dynamic preview in the After thumbnail area.

  • Adjustment Intensity area: Move the sliders until you get results you like.

Click OK to close the Convert to Black and White dialog box when you’re done.

If you want to keep your original RGB image in the same file as the grayscale version, duplicate the background by choosing Duplicate Layer from the Layers panel’s More menu. Click the background and choose Enhance→Convert to Black and White. The conversion is applied only to the background, leaving the copied layer in your original color mode.