Why Are Your Illustrator Colors Gray? [5 Easy Fixes]

If you’ve ever opened a JPEG or PNG file in Illustrator and seen the colors look dull or gray, don’t worry—it isn’t your fault. There are some easy fixes to this annoying issue, so let’s go over them and get you back to work creating beautiful designs right away.

If Illustrator colors are gray, you can try a few things to change that. The first thing you might want to do is open up your Adjustment Panel and adjust the color. Another thing you might want to do is open up a new file and make sure that the Colors tab is checked.

It can be frustrating when Illustrator opens up your colorful photos with muddy, washed-out colors like the example above. But before we start troubleshooting for this problem, let’s first talk about what could be causing it in the first place—this way you can know what to do when it happens again in the future without having to consult a guide every time.

Illustrator is Trying to Help You

Illustrator’s color picker is a very powerful tool and can easily become a crutch for us designers. It provides us with precise control over our colors, but if you’re using it too much, you might find that your colors are starting to look dull.

It’s important to remember that Illustrator’s color picker is not an exact science. It doesn’t always work as you would expect—it can be off by one or two shades, or sometimes even a lot more than that. This means that the color swatches in the color picker will look different from each other; they will not necessarily match the colors in your photo or artwork.

If this happens to you, don’t worry! It doesn’t mean that Illustrator is doing anything wrong with your image and there isn’t anything wrong with your art! By knowing these fixes, you can ensure your colors are as vibrant as you want!

1. Convert RGB to CMYK in Illustrator

The color mode you are working in is the first factor to consider when addressing this issue. RGB and CMYK are different modes. RGB, which stands for red, green, blue (the primary colors of light), is a working mode that uses colored light to display onscreen color (on monitors).

CMYK, short for cyan, magenta, yellow and black (the primary colors of pigment), is used to print color. The two modes use different calculations to describe color so a direct conversion between them will result in some changes to the appearance of certain colors.

When creating graphics for screen media such as online or video content it’s important that you work in RGB because it’s the standard working space used by devices like monitors and TVs and by screen-based software such as Photoshop and Illustrator. When creating graphics for print media such as newsletters or flyers it’s usually best to work in CMYK because this is the standard working space used by printers which combine these four primary ink colors using varying quantities on paper or other materials to create all the other visible colors we see.

2. Change The Color In The Swatches Panel

If you have the Swatches panel open, you can change the color of your artwork by just clicking a new swatch. Both of these methods are great if you want to test out different colors for your artwork.

To change the color in the Swatches panel: Click on an existing swatch and type a new value into the Color panel.

To change an object’s color using a swatch: Just drag and drop any swatch onto an object with a fill/stroke applied to it.

You can also add new colors to your Swatches panel by selecting your object, opening up the Color Panel, and clicking on the New Swatch icon found at the bottom of the Panel. This allows you access to different ways that you can define a new color (RGB, CMYK, HSB etc.) and will add it to your Swatches library so it’s available next time!

3. Your Design May Be In Grayscale Mode

When you use the “New Document” dialog box, it defaults to the mode that’s set in Preferences under General. But your design may have been created in Grayscale mode, which can give everything a very flat and one-dimensional look.

You may have even received a file from a client that is in grayscale mode. To check or change the document color mode, go to File and select Document Color Mode and make sure it’s set to RGB or CMYK Color.

Grayscale modes are typically used to create black & white images but if you need color then you will want to switch out of this mode for your full-color design needs.

4. Use The Print Preview Option To See If Your Colors Are Printing Gray

If you’re using Illustrator and your printed colors look gray or faded, you might want to take a look at the Print Preview option.

The Print Preview will show if the colors are printing gray but not in the actual file itself. This is important because it means that there are no problems with your color setup, it’s just something to do with your printer.

The Print Preview shows how the colors will look when printed so that you can identify any potential problems before sending the job to print.

5. Prove That Your Printer Is Not At Fault

Depending on how your printer responds to this request and any adjustments you make can show whether or not it is just a printing issue causing the black and white graphics or if you have more investigation to do in illustrator.

  • First, make sure your printer is working properly and that nothing is amiss on the printing end. Try a test print in color with some other document to see if there’s another issue at hand here.
  • If your other prints are coming out just fine, let’s move on to figuring out what might be wrong in the Illustrator end of things.


Hopefully, by now you know how to solve this problem. The real issue is probably just the color mode of your document. It can be frustrating to deal with these kinds of issues when all you want to do is get some work done.

If you need to complete a project quickly, apps like Placeit.net can help you get your current project done in a pinch, however, you will have to investigate the Illustrator grayscale issue eventually. Hopefully, this post will help you do that and get back to your normal routine as soon as possible!