In an larger LaTeX document there are often only some pages with color content (mainly figures) and the remaining ones are only black and white. Because printing costs for color pages are much higher than for black and white it would be good to be able to extract all pages with color and print them separately. The first step for this is to be able to detect if a page contains color or not. This could be in a form of an text list of page number suitable to be read by a PDF page extraction script (using e.g. pdftk).

A simple solution sufficient for many people would be to detect all pages which contain a figure and assume that only these have color. However, a general solution would be nice. Only color elements which are printed should be taken into account, while e.g. the color frames around link by hyperref should not. It is OK that the solution would disable these for the detection.

  • 5
    You have probably already found this, anyway: How do I know if PDF pages are color or black-and-white?
    – gcedo
    Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 20:32
  • 3
    I would still say it's easiest to analyse the PDF, like suggested in the referred question. I don't know whether there are free tools to color-separate a PDF, but pdftoppm and then ImageMagic to check the colors should be easy to do. Trying to hook into \color you'll face enormous problems. To name two: (a) you need to identify colors which are really gray. (b) what happens with pages where colored text has been broken to by a page break? They won't contain a color change (to black at most). And then you haven't even covered images. Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 21:00
  • 4
    @StephanLehmke: Good points. I like Image Magick most, so I had a look. Its identify tools seems to be suitable. It converts PDF pages to raster images and seems to select the required color space itself (e.g. Gray or RGB). My first try: for N in `seq 1 $PAGES`; do echo -n "$N: "; identify -format "%[colorspace]" $FILE.pdf[$((N-1))]; done. Prints either Gray or RGB for each page depending if there are colors on it. Ignores hyperref color borders and possible other PDF annotations. Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 21:29
  • 3
    @StephanLehmke: I now wrote a small script for this and posted for the original SO question: How do I know if PDF pages are color or black-and-white? Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 22:13
  • 3
    Could you self-answer this question? I keep getting it in "Unanswered" :-) Commented Apr 29, 2012 at 5:01

5 Answers 5


Newer versions of Ghostscript (version 9.05 and later) include a "device" called inkcov. It calculates the ink coverage of each page (not for each image) in Cyan (C), Magenta (M), Yellow (Y) and Black (K) values, where 0.00000 means 0%, and 1.00000 means 100%.

Example commandline:

gs -o - -sDEVICE=inkcov /path/to/your.pdf

Example output:

Page 1
0.00000  0.00000  0.00000  0.02230 CMYK OK
Page 2
0.02360  0.02360  0.02360  0.02360 CMYK OK
Page 3
0.02525  0.02525  0.02525  0.00000 CMYK OK
Page 4
0.00000  0.00000  0.00000  0.01982 CMYK OK

You can see here that the pages 1+4 are using no color, while pages 2+3 do. This case is particularly 'nasty' for people who want to save on color ink: because all the respective C, M, Y (and K) values are exactly the same for each of the pages 2+3, they possibly could appear to the human eye not as color pages, but as ("rich") grayscale anyway (if each single pixel is mixed with these color values).

Ghostscript can also convert color into grayscale. Example commandline:

gs                                \
  -o grayscale.pdf                \
  -sDEVICE=pdfwrite               \
  -sColorConversionStrategy=Gray  \
  -sProcessColorModel=/DeviceGray \

Checking for the ink coverage distribution again (note how the addition of -q to the parameters slightly changes the output format):

gs -q  -o - -sDEVICE=inkcov grayscale.pdf
 0.00000  0.00000  0.00000  0.02230 CMYK OK
 0.00000  0.00000  0.00000  0.02360 CMYK OK
 0.00000  0.00000  0.00000  0.02525 CMYK OK
 0.00000  0.00000  0.00000  0.01982 CMYK OK
  • 4
    Why did you say that in the first example page 1 uses color? Was it a mistake?
    – giordano
    Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 17:10
  • 4
    Here's a quick command for folks who want to count the number of non-color pages in a PDF: gs -o - -sDEVICE=inkcov path/to/pdf.pdf | grep -e "0.00000 0.00000 0.00000 [01]." | wc And +1 to giordano.
    – igordcard
    Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 15:19
  • @giordano: Thanks for the hint in your comment -- didn't see it before. Of course you are right. I can't tell you anymore what happened. Maybe I pasted the wrong PDF file's output into the editing window. I'll correct the answer accordingly... Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 15:55
  • I only returned to this answer because SE notified me that it today has earned me the 'Populist' batch :-) Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 16:02
  • Page 2 may be as well in gray-scale, so this doesn't mean the page contains color. So if C=M=Y then you know that the page is not black.
    – Piotr
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 14:23

For the general case it seem to be indeed better to use an external tool to test for all pages which contain colors. This is the topic of the mentioned SO question How do I know if PDF pages are color or black-and-white?. I now wrote an answer to it which includes small script for this.

However, it is much easier to get a list of all pages containing figures. Here I use the zref-abspage package to get an absolute page counter. The normal \write command can be used which will expand its content when the surrounding content is really placed on a page. Therefore the page counters will have the correct value. Then the end-macro of figure can simply be patched to hold this code.


\usepackage{zref-abspage}% absolute page counter
    % Write absolute page number and page label to file
    % Do not use \immediate!
    \write\figpages{\number\value{abspage}: \thepage}%

\newcount\mycount% for example loop

    \caption{Some caption}


\loop% keep MWE small by using a loop

    \caption{Some caption}


\advance\mycount by 1


    \caption{Some caption}


This generates a .fpg file (for figure pages) which looks like:

2: ii
4: 2
5: 3
7: 5
8: 6
10: 8
11: 9
13: 11
14: 12
16: 14
18: 16
19: 17
21: 19
22: 20
24: 22
25: 23
27: 25
28: 26
30: 28
31: 29
33: 31
38: 36

The format can be changed if required.


There's a rather useful python script at http://homepages.inf.ed.ac.uk/imurray2/code/hacks/pdfcolorsplit which uses pdftk to split into colour and b&w files, though it doesn't deal with the boxes around hyperrefs. If you have access to the LaTeX source, why not turn off the colour in hyperref anyway - I do it like this:


IIRC if you just set [colorlinks=false] they're not clickable.

  • In fact, setting colorlinks=false only means that links are framed instead of colored. (Oh! and Welcome to TeX.SX!) Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 15:41
  • 1
    Although I can't tell from the script itself: does this separate channels or pages? Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 15:47
  • > 'colorlinks=false' only means that links are framed instead of colored. OK - I had forgotten the reason why I did this. And thanks for the welcome. It splits pages, depending on the options, you can assemble 1 PDF of colour pages, and another of B+W, and it can handle double sided. It's not my script, but it's been very useful for theses round here - colour pages cost ~6x as much to have printed. I've an idea to do something based on that for printing only the pages (of e.g. a scanned document) with more than some threshold of non-white - where white is also thresholded.
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 17:55

I extend Chris H's answer:

I extented the pdfcolorsplit.py script with an option -r to reassemble all split parts again into a final pdf, by converting all b/w parts to grayscale before reassembling:

use like (-p option worked the best) :

./pdfcolorsplit.py -p -v -s -r Report.pdf

The code is here:

#!/usr/bin/env python
# Python 2 and 3 compatible.

# Python program to take a pdf file, and split it into color and black
# and white part(s). Requires pdftk and one of gs and pdftoppm.
# Iain Murray, February 2010.
# Inspired by dvicoloursplit.py, Jeremy Sanders 2001, although written
# from scratch.
# 2011-09-19 fixed bug with odd numbers of pages reported by Richard Shaw
# 2012-06-11 tweaked to run in Python 3 as well as 2.

##  This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify
##  it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by
##  the Free Software Foundation; either version 2 of the License, or
##  (at your option) any later version.

##  This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful,
##  but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of
##  GNU General Public License for more details.

import os, os.path, sys, string, re, tempfile, shutil, getopt
import heapq

def a2b(x):
    """Turn ascii into bytes for Python 3, in way that works with Python 2"""
        return bytes(x)
        return bytes(x, 'ascii')

def iscolorppm(filename):
    """Does the PPM file contain any non-grayscale colors?"""
    file = open(filename, 'rb')
    # Ugly: I read the whole file into RAM, and copy it needlessly a lot
    data = file.read()

    # PPM is a *very* liberal file format. It allows comments anywhere in the
    # header, even in the middle of tokens.
    comments_re = re.compile(a2b('^([^ \t\n]*)#[^\n]*\n'))
    split_re = re.compile(a2b('^([ \t\n]|#[^\n]*\n)+([^ \t\n#])'))
    tok_re = re.compile(a2b('^([^ \t\n]*)([ \t\n].*)'), re.DOTALL)
    toks = []
    while len(toks) < 4:
        while split_re.match(data):
            data = split_re.sub(r'\2', data)
        while comments_re.match(data):
            data = comments_re.sub(r'\1', data)
        (tok, data) = tok_re.match(data).groups()
    magic = toks[0]
    (width, height, max_color) = map(int, toks[1:])
    data = data[1:]

    if magic == b'P3':
        binary = False
    elif magic == b'P6':
        binary = True
        print("%s is not a valid PPM file" % filename)

    # Massage data so adjacent triples should have the same value in b/w images
    data_len = width*height*3
    if binary:
        if int(max_color) > 255:
            # Untested. Each intensity is in two bytes.
            data_len *= 2
            data = data[1:data_len:2] + data[:data_len:2]
        data = [int(x) for x in data.split()]

    if len(data) < data_len:
        print('PPM file is truncated?')

    triples = zip(data[0:data_len:3], data[1:data_len:3], data[2:data_len:3])
    black_and_white = all((a==b and a==c for (a,b,c) in triples))
    return not black_and_white

def pdfcolorsplit(file, doublesided, merge, use_pdftoppm, reassemble, verbose):
    # Work out which pages are color
    if verbose:
        print('Analyzing %s...' % file)
    tmpdir = tempfile.mkdtemp(prefix = 'pdfcs_')
    if use_pdftoppm:
        root = os.path.join(tmpdir, 'page')
        os.system('pdftoppm -r 20 "%s" "%s"' % (file, root))
        gs_opts = '-sDEVICE=ppmraw -dBATCH -dNOPAUSE -dSAFE -r20'
        if not verbose:
            gs_opts += ' -q'
        os.system('gs ' + gs_opts + ' -sOutputFile="%s" "%s"' \
                % (os.path.join(tmpdir, 'tmp%06d.ppm'), file))
    PPMs = os.listdir(tmpdir)
    iscolor = [iscolorppm(os.path.join(tmpdir, x)) for x in PPMs]
    num_pages = len(iscolor)
    if doublesided:
        # Treat as color those b/w pages that share a sheet with a color page
        iscolorpair = [x or y for (x,y) in zip(iscolor[::2], iscolor[1::2])]
        iscolor[:2*len(iscolorpair):2] = iscolorpair
        iscolor[1::2] = iscolorpair

    # Construct page range strings
    flips = [x for x in range(2,num_pages+1) if iscolor[x-1] != iscolor[x-2]]
    if not flips:
        if verbose:
            print('No splitting needs to be done, skipping %s' % file)
    edges = [1] + flips + [num_pages+1]
    ranges = ['%d-%d' % (x,y-1) for (x,y) in zip(edges[:-1], edges[1:])]

    print(iscolor, ranges)

    # Finally output split files
    if verbose:
        print('Outputing splits as new pdf files...')
    base_name = file
    if base_name.lower().endswith('.pdf'):
        base_name = base_name[:-4]
    suffixes = ['_bwsplit', '_colorsplit']
    # jobs is a seq of (range, filename) pairs, e.g. ('1-3', 'colorbits.pdf')
    # convert jobs
    if merge:
        jobs = ((' '.join(ranges[0::2]), base_name + suffixes[iscolor[0]]),\
                (' '.join(ranges[1::2]), base_name + suffixes[not iscolor[0]]))
        jobs = [(r, '%s_%03d%s' % (base_name,n+1,suffixes[(n+iscolor[0])%2])) \
                for (n,r) in enumerate(ranges)]

    for (pages, name) in jobs:
        if verbose:
            print('pdftk "%s" cat %s output "%s.pdf"' % (file, pages, name))
        os.system('pdftk "%s" cat %s output "%s.pdf"' % (file, pages, name))

    # reassemble all continuous files into final output by converting b/w parts to grayscale
    if reassemble:
      graySuffix = "_gray"
      jobsconvert = [ j for j in jobs[ int(iscolor[0])::2] ]
      # convert all b/w to gray
      for (pages,name) in jobsconvert:
        cmd="gs  -sOutputFile=%s%s.pdf  -sDEVICE=pdfwrite  -dAutoRotatePages=/None -sColorConversionStrategy=Gray  -dProcessColorModel=/DeviceGray  -dCompatibilityLevel=1.4  -dNOPAUSE  -dBATCH %s.pdf" % (name,graySuffix,name)
        if verbose:

      ## interleave converted b/w and colors and make pdftk cat command
      cJobs = jobs[0::2] if iscolor[0] else jobs[1::2]
      bwJobs = [ (pages,name+graySuffix) for pages,name in jobsconvert]

      def interleave(l1, l2):
        iter1 = iter(l1)
        iter2 = iter(l2)
        while True:
                if iter1 != None:
                    yield next(iter1)
            except StopIteration:
                iter1 = None
                if iter2 != None:
                    yield next(iter2)
            except StopIteration:
                iter2 = None
            if iter1 == None and iter2 == None:
                raise StopIteration()

      jobsCatAll = interleave(cJobs,bwJobs) if iscolor[0] else interleave(bwJobs,cJobs)

      cmd = "pdftk " + " ".join([j[1]+".pdf" for j in jobsCatAll]) + " cat output %s%s.pdf " % (base_name,"_all")
      if verbose:

def usage():
    progname = os.path.basename(sys.argv[0])
    print('Usage: %s [OPTIONS] <PDF-file(s)>' % progname)
    print('Splits PDF files into color and black and white sections.')
    print('   -m option merges color and b/w parts to give two files.')
    print('      The default is to output numbered contiguous pieces')
    print('      that could easily be reassembled.')
    print('   -s option chooses simplex rather than duplex output')
    print('   -v verbose.')
    print('   -p Use pdftoppm rather than gs to detect color. Faster,')
    print('      but can get confused by hyperlinks that do not print.')
    print('   -r Reassemble all continuous files by converting all b/w ')
    print('      parts to grayscale (requires gs).')

def main():
        opt_pairs, filenames = getopt.gnu_getopt(sys.argv[1:], "hvpmsr", ["help"])
    except getopt.GetoptError as err:
    if opt_pairs:
        opts = list(zip(*opt_pairs))[0]
        opts = []
    if ('-h' in opts) or ('--help' in opts) or (not filenames):
    verbose = '-v' in opts
    use_pdftoppm = '-p' in opts
    merge = '-m' in opts
    doublesided = not ('-s' in opts)

    reassemble = '-r' in opts

    if merge and reassemble:
      raise ValueError("Merge and reassemble options not compatible!")

    for file in filenames:
        pdfcolorsplit(file, doublesided, merge, use_pdftoppm, reassemble, verbose)

if __name__ == "__main__":
  • This python script worked perfectly well. I tried other solutions, but this was the only one working for me. The other solutions are using imagemagick's command line tool identify, but this did not work with my pdf and tagged every page as being color (probably because they were colorcoded).
    – jespestana
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 6:46

Here is a MATLAB script which uses Kurt Pfeifle's answer to split a PDF into two files, one colour and one grayscale. The original file is preserved. It does not handle double-sided printing.

It is not bullet-proof and might need some debugging, but hopefully it will work out of the box.

You will need:

  • Ghostscript (version 9.05 and later)
  • MATLAB function ghostscript() and user_input() from here
  • pdftk

Here is the script (you will need to change lines 4,5 and possibly 6):

clear all; close all; clc;

%Change these:
pathToFile = '/Users/nikos/Desktop/';
fName = 'thesis.pdf';
%you might need to change the path to pdftk (if in windows for example)
pdftkPath = '/usr/local/bin/pdftk';

disp('Reminder: you might want to set \hypersetup{colorlinks=false} in latex');
disp('Do you want to manually set as grayscale any pages that have (C == M == Y)?');
a = input('Otherwise they will be treated as colour! (y/n) ','s');

if (a~= 'y' && a~='Y')
    manualMode = false;
    manualMode = true;

[status, ret] = ghostscript(['-o - -sDEVICE=inkcov ',pathToFile,fName]);

inds = strfind(ret,'0.');
pages = length(inds)/4;

if (round(pages) ~= pages)
    disp('Something went wrong');
    disp('Check the variable ret');
    disp('I am looking the the string ''0.'' which should only occur when listing CMYK values');

a = input(['Is your pdf ', num2str(pages), ' pages long (y/n) ?'],'s');

if (a ~= 'y' && a ~= 'Y')

disp([num2str(pages), ' pages processed.']);
c = 1:4:length(inds);
m = 2:4:length(inds);
y = 3:4:length(inds);
k = 4:4:length(inds);

colorPages = '';
bwPages = '';
cpCounter = 0;
bwCounter = 0;
for i = 1:pages
    C = str2num(ret(inds(c(i)):inds(c(i))+6));
    M = str2num(ret(inds(m(i)):inds(m(i))+6));
    Y = str2num(ret(inds(y(i)):inds(y(i))+6));
    K = str2num(ret(inds(k(i)):inds(k(i))+6));

    if (C == 0 && M == 0 && Y == 0)
        bwPages = [bwPages, ' ',num2str(i)];
        bwCounter = bwCounter+1;
    elseif (C == M && C == Y && manualMode)
        a = input(['Is page ', num2str(i), ' colour (C == M == Y) (y/n) ?'],'s');
        if (a ~= 'y' && a ~= 'Y')
            bwPages = [bwPages, ' ',num2str(i)];
            bwCounter = bwCounter+1;            
            colorPages = [colorPages, ' ', num2str(i)];
            cpCounter = cpCounter+1;
        colorPages = [colorPages, ' ', num2str(i)];
        cpCounter = cpCounter+1;

cName = [pathToFile, 'color_',fName];
bName = [pathToFile, 'bw_',fName];
disp([cName, ' (',num2str(cpCounter), ' pages)']);
disp([bName, ' (',num2str(bwCounter), ' pages)']);

system([pdftkPath, ' ', pathToFile, fName, ' cat ', colorPages,' output ', cName]);
system([pdftkPath, ' ', pathToFile, fName, ' cat ', bwPages,' output ', bName]);

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