This article is part of our Image Processing 101 blog series.
In the last post, we discussed a few common color models, specifically RGB, HSV, and YUV. A color model is an abstract mathematical model that describes how colors can be represented as a set of numbers. In this post, we will look at how to convert them to grayscale. Grayscale is a range of gray shades from white to black, as used in a monochrome display or printout. Grayscale images are most commonly used in image processing because smaller data enables developers to do more complex operations in a shorter time.

Color to Grayscale Conversion
1.1 RGB to Grayscale
There are a number of commonly used methods to convert an RGB image to a grayscale image such as average method and weighted method.
Average Method
The Average method takes the average value of R, G, and B as the grayscale value.
Grayscale = (R + G + B ) / 3.
Theoretically, the formula is 100% correct. But when writing code, you may encounter uint8 overflow error — the sum of R, G, and B is greater than 255. To avoid the exception, R, G, and B should be calculated respectively.
Grayscale = R / 3 + G / 3 + B / 3.
The average method is simple but doesn’t work as well as expected. The reason being that human eyeballs react differently to RGB. Eyes are most sensitive to green light, less sensitive to red light, and the least sensitive to blue light. Therefore, the three colors should have different weights in the distribution. That brings us to the weighted method.
The Weighted Method
The weighted method, also called luminosity method, weighs red, green and blue according to their wavelengths. The improved formula is as follows:
Grayscale = 0.299R + 0.587G + 0.114B
1.2 YUV to Grayscale
YUV is a color encoding system used for analog television. The YUV color model represents the human perception of color more closely than the standard RGB model used in computer graphics hardware and is more sizeefficient.
RGB to YUV Conversion
Y = 0.299R + 0.587G + 0.114B
U’= (BY)*0.565
V’= (RY)*0.713
The Grayscale Value
The formula for converting RGB to Y is the same as the formula for converting RGB to grayscale. Therefore:
Grayscale = Y
1.3 HSV to Grayscale
HSV (hue, saturation, value) and HSL (hue, saturation, lightness or luminance) are transformations of a Cartesian RGB color space.
To convert HSV to grayscale, we first need to convert HSV to RGB and then convert the RGB triple to a grayscale value.
HSV to RGB conversion
When 0 ≤ H < 360, 0 ≤ S ≤ 1 and 0 ≤ V ≤ 1:
C = V × S
X = C × (1 – (H / 60°) mod 2 – 1)
m = V – C
(R,G,B) = ((R‘+m)×255, (G‘+m)×255, (B‘+m)×255)
The Grayscale Value
Grayscale = 0.299R + 0.587G + 0.114B

Binarization: Grayscale to black/white Conversion
Binarization converts a grayscale image to a black/white image. This transformation is useful in detecting blobs and further reduces the computational complexity. The critical task is to find a suitable threshold. There are two main methods:
 Local thresholding — calculates the threshold pixel by pixel
 Global thresholding — calculates the threshold once for all pixels
The images below show an example of before and after binarization.
2.1 Local Thresholding Method
With local thresholding method, a threshold is calculated at each pixel, which depends on some local statistics such as mean, range, and the variance of the pixel neighborhood. The image is divided into several subblocks and the distribution of grayvalue in each block was analyzed.
2.2 Global Thresholding Method
The global thresholding method take advantage of the image histogram. The image histogram is a type of statistical graph with grayscale value on the xaxis and the number of pixels for each grayscale on the yaxis.
Image histogram can be used to automatically determine the value of the threshold to be used for converting a grayscale image to a binary image. The basic idea is to find a point between the peak of the foreground pixel values and the peak of the background pixel values. If the intensity level of a pixel is smaller than the threshold, the pixel is set to black (grayscale = 0), otherwise, it is set to white (grayscale = 255). The threshold serves as a dividing line.
To learn more about imaging fundamentals, read the first article in the Image Processing 101 Series: What is an Image, Color Models.
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