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My Grayscale Images and Colors Changed Suddenly

Jim wrote:

I played with the Feather effect on one of our documents. When I applied a feather to one graphic, the feathered graphic AND the rest of the graphics on the page got lighter. In another file, applying a dropshadow caused the graphic to become lighter. What could be going on?

This is a common cry from InDesign users… “all the images suddenly changed! What happened?” You identified the cause perfectly: You added a transparency effect. When you add any kind of transparency effect — including placing an image that has tranparency in it, or using any of the features in the Effects panel — the whole spread may change because InDesign forces the display through the transparency blend space.

Each document has a blend space, which you can control in the Edit > Transparency Blend Space submenu. You should set this to your final output. If your document is destined for the screen or an inkjet printer (or perhaps even a laser printer output), then RGB is likely the best choice. If you’re printing to a press, then choose CMYK.

If you’re printing your document to press, this probably won’t make a big difference, but it can make a big difference if you’re printing to a color printer. For example, if your final output is on an inkjet printer, you may notice your colors getting dull when you print. By changing the transparency blend space to RGB, the colors should look more saturated.
As you pointed out, grayscale images seem to change the most. I think that’s because InDesign is trying to decide whether the grays should be imaged to screen as black ink or as “gray light.”

You might wonder why InDesign doesn’t always display everything through the blend space. You can sort of force it to by turning on View > Overprint Preview. When that’s on, you shouldn’t notice a change when you apply a transparency effect.

David Blatner

David Blatner

David Blatner is the co-founder of the Creative Publishing Network, InDesign Magazine, and the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign. His InDesign videos at are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at
David Blatner

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63 Comments on “My Grayscale Images and Colors Changed Suddenly

  1. You are the biggest lifesaver, usually never comment on thing, but this has been such a pain for me and I am so relieved right now!!!! Thank you!!!!!!

  2. I realize that this post is WAY out-of-date, but I’m seeing a major case of colors changing pretty drastically when I apply transparence in InDesign CS6, and I was wondering: You say “If you’re printing your document to press, this probably won’t make a big difference”–does this mean the colors will print properly when I send them to press?

      • Thank you, much appreciated!

        I’m not really using the screen to judge colors (I’ve got an old-timey handy-dandy color book that I use), but when I saw the colors change onscreen, I was afraid it was going to affect output. It’s reassuring to know that it won’t.

  3. Hi!
    I’ve got the same problem and when I export my pdf files it stays that way. The text on only one of my pages is getting brighter only if I change the transparency of an image.
    I can’t send this to my client that way…. is there any solution for this?

  4. I have a variation of this issue. I have a file with a dark blue background (CMYK) and I put text on top with the same CMYK, just at 50% tint (not transparency), which makes it close to gray.

    When I print, no matter what I do, there’s a red hue o the gray text.

    I’ve exported with the transparency flattener on (I have overprint lower in the document). I’ve exported with it off. I’ve printed from InDesign. I’ve printed to multiple printers. I’ve even re-built the color structure in another document to see if the InDesign file was corrupted. I’ve converted the colors to RGB. And the blend space to CMYK and RGB (and tested it both ways).

    No dice. It’s still pink. And not all pink – it’s a strange wave that seems to be more apparent on the left side than the right side. It’s pretty on the screen, but it all goes sideways when I try to print.

    Any ideas? It’s infuriating and I can’t figure it out.

  5. Thank you for trying to help us with this.
    I’m still using CS3. Never had any problems until TONIGHT, (on deadline, ‘course!). Every time I try to apply an effect (“multiply”, or a drop shadow, for instance), ALL then images on that spread “grey out”. I’m working with greyscale images (a must if you are having something xeroxed). I’ve re-started the program, re-booted my computer, to no avail (iMac). Toggling between “overprint preview” does nothing, as does switching to “preview” mode. It doesn’t matter which “transparency blend space” I select (RGB or CMYK).

  6. I am having the same problem. I have a grayscale gradient (50% black to white) as my background and all of my images lighten up. This is for magazine printing to my Transparency Blend is set to CMYK. When I change it to RGB they are TOO dark! The Overprint Preview doesn’t change a thing. My images are just like I want them in Photoshop but now too light in InDesign CS6 and looks the same when I export to pdf. What do I do?

  7. In response to Mimi H. on Facebook, I wrote this… and figured I should save it here, too:

    OK, here’s the deeper explanation: InDesign is right and Photoshop is wrong. Or perhaps I should say it’s MORE right than Photoshop. When you import a grayscale image into InDesign, it’s displayed as though it were RGB — that is, the same grayscale values on all channels. Another way to think of this is that InDesign is showing you what it would look like if you converted the grayscale image to CMYK in Photoshop and ended up with a 4-color CMYK version of your grayscale image. So it’s nice and rich color. This is not accurate.

    HOWEVER, as soon as you turn on View > Overprint Preview, or you have any transparency on the spread, InDesign switches to a different visual mode — a more accurate mode. This shows what it would look like if the grayscale were printed only on the black plate of a CMYK print. (This is assuming Edit > Transparency Blend Mode is set to CMYK.)

    This is the equivalent to creating a CMYK image in Photoshop and having the grayscale image be only on the black channel. If you try this, you’ll see that it also appears equally washed out in PS.

    (One method to do this is open the grayscale image in photoshop, convert to Multichannel mode, add 3 blank channels, move the grayscale channel down to the bottom of the channels panel, and then convert to CMYK mode.)

    However, ultimately, it’s important to note that InDesign just does not do color management on grayscale images very well. So take it all with a grain of salt.

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