Removing Color from Digital Photos

Removing Color from Digital Photos

Stephanie Speisman wants to know about removing color from digital photos. Here’s her question.

Good morning. I would like to know and I believe that there are many others who would like to know how to turn a photo into a black and white image that I can then use to copy the hues and values with my colored pencils.

I have used various methods such as graphite transfer paper, rubbing the picture on the back with graphite, a light box, etc.

For me, the fun part is using the colored pencils and I would rather not have to draw the image. I guess you could also say it’s like making the photo into a coloring book page.

I know it can be done with Photoshop, Photo Elements, and a number of apps that are so so, but each time I do it it seems to be hit or miss.  I’d love to see a tutorial on the steps to take so that I can produce it each time with ease and without frustration.

Thank you!

Stephanie Speisman

What a thorough and in-depth question! Thank you, Stephanie.

Removing Color from Digital Photos

Unfortunately, there are so many different photo editing programs available, that I can’t cover them all in one post.

In addition, I’ve used only four programs for work like this, so can give you personal, hands-on tutorials only on those.

Today, I’ll show you how to convert color digital photos to grayscale using GIMP and Preview.

Removing Color from Digital Photos

I created my examples on a free open source photo editor called GIMP, which is available for download. Preview is the default photo editor for Macintosh.


Here’s my sample image in full, glorious color.

Removing Color from Digital Photos

There are a couple of ways to remove the color in GIMP.

First is choosing DESATURATE in the COLORS drop down menu, then selecting DESATURATE. That’s what I did in this illustration.

Here is the fully desaturated (converted to grayscale) image.

For a different look, select COLORS>DESATURATE>COLOR TO GRAY, as shown here.

This is what the grayscale image looks like with this selection.

Removing Color from Digital Photos

Either image can be used as Stephanie is thinking of using them, and they can be printed as is, or adjusted for brightness and contrast.

Which one is best? I don’t know. I’d probably choose the one on the right below because it’s lighter and shows more of the fine details.


I use a MacBook Pro with High Sierra as the operating system. A nifty little photo editor comes with that machine, so I tried creating a black-and-white version of the same image. Just to see if I could.

It turns out I could and it was quite easy.

First, I selected ADJUST COLOR in the TOOLS drop down menu, as shown here.

Removing Color from Digital Photos

Next, I found the Saturation option at the top of the middle section. I’ve marked it with the red line.

The default setting is with the slider in the middle of the horizontal bar. Slide it all the way to the left, and all color is removed from the image.

This is the result.

Chances are good that your electronic device has a built-in photo editor that will let you remove color from digital photos. In my case, that default program was easier to figure out than GIMP. At least for this process.

Getting It Right Every Time

Stephanie also said she wanted a program that she could learn and get the right results every time. I’m not sure there is such a program, since photos vary so much.

But either one of these programs can easily convert color photos to black-and-white. Adjustments to brightness and contrast are also possible with both, and with most other photo editors.

What’s the best advice?

Take the time to experiment with whatever photo editor you have available. Remember my Preview sample? That little app is free with my computer and it’s just as capable as GIMP.


  1. Kim

    There was a Google developed and supported program called “Picasa”. Sadly, it’s has been discontinued and no longer supported.
    I do have the program on an older laptop and it still works great for a wide variety of editing purposes. I liked that it was so user friendly and easy to use and pretty much used a “one-click” feature for red eye removal to converting a photos into abstract art. Flipping a colored image to black and white was a breeze with one click and I really enjoyed taking my completed colored pencil sketches, scanning them, and then turning them into a black and white image which I then printed off on acid free 60lb card stock using a laser printer and hand tinting the print with colored pencil to get different results. It was also a great way to check your tonal values from the original color drawing and in some cases, the image worked better as a black and white reproduction. It was a great little free program and it’s unfortunate that it is no longer available.

  2. Mary Friesen

    Hi Carrie,
    I read your article on the question of converting colour drawings to black and white. I would like to recommend another completely free app that has some great capabilities without being too complicated (less complicated than GIMP, but not quite as sophisticated). It’s called Paint.Net. Check it out sometime.

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