I have a gray-scale image. I need to convert gray-scale tones to transparency data in alpha channel using Adobe Photoshop. Say if the area is black, then no transparency. The white areas will be converted to full transparent pixels in alpha channel.

How to do it?


This is sample file, which I made by Fireworks. This sample is a result which I would like to achieve in Photoshop.


If you open this PNG in Photoshop, you will see what I mean.

  • From what you said, you don't want an Alpha Channel, you need a Layer Mask. Please see my updated answer. – Django Reinhardt May 20 '11 at 12:51
  • 1
    Actually I need alpha, but please give me some more time to verify your answer and get back to you. What I want is exist in Adobe Fireworks... but not Photoshop. – Pablo May 21 '11 at 14:22
  • Well I gave you the Alpha Channel, but you decided it wasn't what you wanted. I'd suggest giving the Layer Mask option a go, as this has the effects you say you desire. – Django Reinhardt May 25 '11 at 13:16

Create a totally black layer (raster or vector). Then...

Layer > Add Layer Mask

Will add a totally white mask to your layer. This will be the alpha channel. When you watch channels (by clicking the Channels tab next to Layers) you will see this alpha channel as

Layer 0 Mask

Now you can copy-paste the grayscale image (or any channel) to this and there you have it. Use CTRL + I to invert it.

  • How did my answer not give you the exact same result?? – Django Reinhardt May 30 '11 at 2:00
  • This answer is outdated. Can someone correct to the new version of photoshop? – AzulShiva Jun 7 '17 at 7:53
  • @AzulShiva You can, just propose an edit. – vbence Jun 7 '17 at 14:30

Ok, this is very easy.

  1. Go to the CHANNELS tab.
  2. You should see "Gray" next to the thumbnail of the image you want (if you don't see "Gray", then your image is not grayscale).
  3. Ctrlclick (or click, if you're on a Mac) on the thumbnail image next to "Gray". This will select all the white areas of the image.
  4. While the white areas remain selected, go back to the LAYERS tab and select the layer with your image on it.
  5. Now go to the top menu and select: Layer > Layer Mask > Hide Selection. If "Layer Mask" is not selectable, then make sure your image layer isn't set to background (if it is, double click on it, and then click "OK" in the window that opens. It should now be set to "Layer 0").

All white areas will now be transparent in Photoshop.

Here's an image done with the above technique:

image edited with the above technique

  • I've got the negative version. However, the image is not transparent. What I was expecting is to see background image transparently on white areas when I bring this grayscale image on top of other. This is not happening. Also I was expecting on the grayscale image itself to see the default photohop background transparency grid. – Pablo May 17 '11 at 16:17
  • I see. I think you phrased your question wrong, then. You don't want an Alpha Channel, you want a Layer Mask. I'll update my answer for you. – Django Reinhardt May 17 '11 at 19:54
  • note that, if you save this file with layer mask as a standard tiff without layers, the transparency will be lost, and the transparent portions described by the mask will be white. (With tiff, the alpha is a channel). So the method you use depends on the desired result file. – horatio May 17 '11 at 20:49
  • horatio, that simply isn't true at all. Simply ensure that "Save transparency" is enabled in the "TIFF Options" window when you save, and the transparency from the Layer Mask will be saved, even when you choose "Discard layers". Don't believe me? Try it for yourself. – Django Reinhardt May 17 '11 at 21:02

the program GIMP (its free to use and download and similar to photoshop) has a very simple way of doing exactly what you are asking for without a lot of picking and masking. I know this because I learned photo editing and painting on GIMP before I went to photoshop and was shocked that photoshop didn't have this fast and easy way of taking all the white, grey out and keeping a smooth look to the the black without a lot of steps.

When you are in GIMP the process is as follows:

1 Open your document (i.e. black and white photo) 2. Right click on the photo in layer menu select "add Alpha channel" 3. Go to the Color Menu at top and select "Color to Alpha" a window appears showing the color and hit okay. That's it. Your done. Takes like one minute.

You can save it as a photoshop file or anything else Also The color picked is defaulted to white on black and whites but you can color pick any color you want. It doesn't leave a bunch of ragged edges.

  • Many thanks. I was struggling to get PhotoShop to cooperate with the other answers, but GIMP did a decent job this time (was on the verge of writing a script to do it - waste of time for one image!). – PeterT Dec 5 '15 at 11:27

In Paint.NET

  1. Download and install "BoltBait's Plugin Pack" from here
  2. Effects menu -> Object -> Switch Gray to Alpha...
  3. When asked, "Switch gray to alpha by deleting", select white.

Here is an easier workflow in newer versions of Photoshop:

  1. Go to the channels tab, and select the channel that represents what you want to turn into alpha
  2. Click the "make selection" button at the bottom of the channels palette: a close-up of the "make selection" button
  3. Go back to your layers tab, and click the "make layer mask" button: a close-up of the "make layer mask" button

And now you have a layer mask!


Here's the CORRECT answer for you:

The suggestions above about creating an Alpha channel and then using it to create a layer mask are correct, however they're missing the crucial final ingredient. The result you get from the above does have transparency, however the pixels are still greyscale so a shadow effect against a coloured background will look weird.

You need to add a COLOUR OVERLAY to your layer and set it to BLACK. Thereby all the pixels still retain their transparency but are now black. This means you can have a transparent PNG with a shadow - no multiply effect required.

Hope this finally helps!

  • It seems almost like you’re saying “X2 would be a better question, and the above answers to Question X are not complete answers to Question X2.”  That’s not a valid reason for you to throw shade [har har] on the other answers.  The OP never said anything about wanting to create a shadow effect, and didn’t report any such problem with the older answers. – Scott Feb 26 '19 at 23:17

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