How To Get Out Of Grayscale In Photoshop (FAST!)

When your photo is stuck in black and white, there’s a good chance that Photoshop is stuck in the grayscale color mode. Although this color mode can be useful to identify exposure values, it’s not very helpful when you’re editing images. Luckily you can quickly get out of grayscale mode with the following steps.

To get out of the grayscale color mode in Photoshop, go up to Image > Mode > RGB color to switch to the standard RGB color mode. This allows you to work with your full range of colors again without making any permanent changes to your current project.

This is the fastest way to escape grayscale, but you may also want to consider going to the CMYK color space instead. I’ll break down why that is later in this tutorial, along with additional troubleshooting tips in the event that your photo is in RGB color, but still appears black and white.

Let’s get started!

How To Get Out Of Grayscale In Photoshop

Option 1: Convert Your Document From Grayscale To RGB or CMYK

The first way to get out of Grayscale Mode in Photoshop is to convert your document from Grayscale to RGB or CMYK. The Photoshop RGB Color Mode uses three color channels (Red, Green, Blue) to display all the colors in your project.

RGB color is the most common mode used and is the default mode for Photoshop. However, if this was changed to Grayscale, you can easily return to the RGB mode by clicking Image > Mode > RGB Color. 

Another common color mode used with images in Photoshop is the CMYK mode. This mode deals with the four-color CMYK printing process, therefore giving you more accurate colors, relative to printing. This process is when Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black inks are mixed together to produce over 16,000 color combinations. If you’re going to print an image, it’s advised that you convert it to the CMYK color space before printing. 

In this case, you can convert your image to the CMYK mode by clicking Image > Mode > CMYK Color

Option 2: Set Your New Document To RGB or CMYK

Another way to escape the clutches of Grayscale is to create your new document in the RGB or CMYK Color Mode. This is only useful, however, if you do not have an existing project that is facing this problem.

Since this method only works for new projects, be sure to use the previous method for any existing project stuck in Grayscale!

Click File > New and in the popup window, look at the Color Mode section. If it’s set to Grayscale, click it, and from the dropdown menu, select RGB or CMYK to create your new document in either of those color modes. 

What Is Grayscale Mode In Photoshop?

Grayscale Mode uses various shades of gray in an image. The number of shades of gray in each image depends on the type of photo. In an 8-bit image, there can be as many as 256-shades of gray. 16-bit and 32-bit images have far more shades of gray than 8-bit images simply because there is more information as the bit rate increases.

Each pixel of a grayscale image has a brightness value that ranges from 0 (black) to 255 (white). When your image is in Grayscale Mode, you can only use grey colors. Even when you select a color, only its gray equivalent (aka the luminance value) will be available for use on the image instead of the color.

Other Reasons Your Photo May Be Black & White

If you’ve double-checked your project’s color mode and it’s not in Grayscale, there could be a few other reasons why your photo appears in black and white.

1. You Have An Adjustment Layer Desaturating Your Photo

One of the beauties of Photoshop is the ability to do non-destructive editing. One of the ways you can do that is by using an Adjustment Layer such as a Vibrance Adjustment Layer or a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer

When using Adjustment Layers like these, it’s easy to sometimes tweak the settings so that your image looks black & white. If you want to return your images to full color, but aren’t sure what may be causing it, then check your adjustment layer and tweak the settings to return them to color. 

The easiest way to do this is to toggle the eyeball icon for each adjustment layer within the Layers Panel. If your problem is solved after an adjustment layer is hidden, then you’ve found your problem!

In the example below, you can see my issue was the saturation slider, sitting at -100.

2. You May Have A Color Channel Layer Selected

Photoshop has what’s known as a Color Channel Panel. It allows you to see the color information that makes up your photo. The composite channel that’s at the top of the Color Channel Panel is the RGB channel. It’s what’s automatically selected and shows you what your image looks like with every channel turned on. 

However, if you only have one channel selected, say Red, Green, or Blue, then your image will appear as black & white. 

So if your photo is black and white, and you’re not sure why, check the Channels Panel and select the RGB channel.

3. Your Layer Mask Is Selected & Affecting Your Color Picker

A layer mask lets you hide or reveal parts of a layer non-destructively using black or white. The color black allows you to hide the layer, while white allows you to reveal it. 

When the layer mask is selected, the only colors that are available in your color picker are black, white, and gray. If you’ve created a layer mask, be sure to check if it’s selected if you’re only able to select black and white from your color picker. 

If the layer mask is selected (indicated by the white box surrounding it in the layers panel), then click the layer thumbnail, and you’ll be able to use your color picker normally again. 

Only shades of white, grey, and black can be chosen while a layer mask is selected.

Now you know how to get out of Grayscale on Photoshop. To recap, you can change the color mode from Grayscale to RGB Color Mode or CMYK Color Mode. Both will work, however, CMYK is recommended if you need to prep for printing your project. Otherwise, you can also create a new document in either of those color modes as well. 

Lastly, if you find your image is still black and white even when you’re in RGB or CMYK mode, then check your adjustment layers or color channel selection. This little thing can cause a lot of frustration, but luckily it’s easy to fix!

Happy Editing!

Article By

Brendan Williams

Hey, I'm Brendan! I'm a professional photographer and photo retoucher who has spent the majority of his career shooting or retouching outdoor lifestyle and social media campaigns for brands like G-Adventures, xoxo Bella, P&G, Fitbit, Chevy, Tourism California, and more. These days I primarily focus my efforts on this site, creating guides and tutorials that I wish I had earlier in my career. Each week I publish new tutorials on Photography, Photoshop, Lightroom, and Canva to help you unlock new skills and bring your creativity to new levels! Everything you learn here is backed by real experience, so you can finally skip the fluff and focus only on what matters.

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