I'm wondering what would be the process of enabling/disabling the grayscale mode in the Accessibility panel in System Preferences?

I would like to run a simple script, either by clicking on an app in the Dock or by a Terminal command, and have it switch from grayscale to regular mode.

Any ideas?


Note: The example AppleScript code was updated to handle the current latest macOS (Mojave) and add additional code improvements. On earlier versions of OS X/macOS you may have to remove of group 1 from the two lines of example AppleScript code that have it, for the code to work.

If you want to create an AppleScript application to put in the Dock you can use the following code in OS X Yosemite (and latter, I believe).

if running of application "System Preferences" then
        tell application "System Preferences" to quit
    on error
        do shell script "killall 'System Preferences'"
    end try
end if

repeat while running of application "System Preferences" is true
    delay 0.01
end repeat

tell application "System Preferences" to reveal anchor "Seeing_Display" of ¬
    pane id "com.apple.preference.universalaccess"

tell application "System Events" to tell process "System Preferences"
    repeat until exists checkbox "Use grayscale" of group 1 of ¬
        window "Accessibility"
        delay 0.01
    end repeat
    click the checkbox "Use grayscale" of group 1 of window "Accessibility"
end tell

tell application "System Preferences" to quit

In Script Editor, save it as Toggle Grayscale changing the File Format: to: Application

You can give the App a different icon via copy and paste into the icon of the App's Get Info sheet and then drag and drop the App bundle onto the Dock.

You'll have to give permission under Accessibility on the Privacy tab of Security & Privacy in System Preferences in order to run it successfully.

If you'd like to use a bash script using the code provided by IconDaemon, the following code will toggle between using color and grayscale based on how it's currently set.


setGrayscale () {

    defaults write com.apple.universalaccess grayscale -bool $1
    defaults write com.apple.CoreGraphics DisplayUseForcedGray -bool $1
    launchctl unload /System/Library/LaunchAgents/com.apple.universalaccessd.plist
    launchctl load /System/Library/LaunchAgents/com.apple.universalaccessd.plist

    case "$1" in
            echo "  Changing Display to use color. This will take a moment..."
            echo "  Changing Display to use grayscale. This will take a moment..."


_bool="$(defaults read com.apple.universalaccess grayscale 2>/dev/null)"

case "$_bool" in
        setGrayscale "YES"
        setGrayscale "NO"
        setGrayscale "YES"

enter image description here

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    It worked after I added delay 1 before the click checkbox. Thanks! – ArleyM Feb 21 '17 at 16:21
  • user3439894 I get this error: System Events got an error: Can’t get window "Accessibility" of process "System Preferences". (-1728) Trying to troubleshoot where I went wrong... thanks! – Cory Snider Apr 3 '19 at 16:21
  • @Cory Snider, I've updated the example AppleScript code to handle the current latest macOS (Mojave) and add additional code improvements. On earlier versions of OS X/macOS you may have to remove of group 1 from the two lines of example AppleScript code that have it, for the code to work. – user3439894 Apr 3 '19 at 17:02

This requires developer tools to compile an objective C program. The program is based on this Stackoverflow answer.

Create a file called grayscale.c with the following contents:

// clang -g -O2 -std=c11 -Wall -framework ApplicationServices
// https://stackoverflow.com/questions/14163788/how-does-on-screen-color-inversion-work-in-os-x
#include <stdio.h>
#include <ApplicationServices/ApplicationServices.h>

CG_EXTERN bool CGDisplayUsesForceToGray(void);
CG_EXTERN void CGDisplayForceToGray(bool forceToGray);

main(int argc, char** argv)
    bool isGrayscale = CGDisplayUsesForceToGray();
    printf("isGrayscale = %d\n", isGrayscale);
    printf("Grayscale is now: %d\n", CGDisplayUsesForceToGray());

    return 0;

Then run the following command to compile it:

clang -g -O2 -std=c11 -Wall -framework ApplicationServices ./grayscale.c -o toggle-grayscale

Now run ./toggle-grayscale This instantly makes the screen grayscale or not across all applications, but doesn't update the setting in System Preferences.

Tested on MacOS High Sierra 10.13.6, clang version Apple LLVM version 10.0.0 (clang-1000.10.44.4).

| improve this answer | |
  • I agree it's not ideal. I couldn't get the apple script solution working 100% reliably and it leads to an annoying popup when the script executes. Using launchctl would require disabling security protections (a far worse practice IMO), and is slow. Of course it goes without saying that using an undocumented objective C API may not be the ideal way to go about this, but this solution has advantages the others lack and is easier to script for people familiar with UNIX command line interfaces. – RecursivelyIronic Nov 13 '18 at 19:39
  • 3
    This is amazing. I took your executable and made it a service via Automator, and then assigned a keyboard shortcut to that service, essentially mapping Cmd+Option+Ctrl+9 to toggle grayscale – redolent Feb 18 '19 at 10:58
  • 1
    This is interesting. When used with color inversion, this simple approach to grayscale provides nicer output than one of native macOS Accessibility grayscale color filter (which I believe does not work with color inversion at all lately). Found one drawback, though: when using multiple displays, grayscale behavior gets toggled off once I switch to a window on another display (still looking into that issue). – Anton Strogonoff May 22 at 22:17

The .plist files which are modified by the Accessibility panel are found in ~/Library/Preferences and they are com.apple.CoreGraphics and com.apple.universalaccess.

No changes are made to any files in ~/Library/Preferences/ByHost

Execute the commands:

defaults write com.apple.universalaccess grayscale -bool yes

defaults write com.apple.CoreGraphics DisplayUseForcedGray -bool yes

Then force the color change to greyscale by unloading and reloading the universalaccessd process:

launchctl unload /System/Library/LaunchAgents/com.apple.universalaccessd.plist

launchctl load /System/Library/LaunchAgents/com.apple.universalaccessd.plist

To switch back to color execute the same commands with the defaults parameters set to no.

Unlike the Accessibility panel, which changes the color instantaneously, this method can take a few seconds to make the transition.

| improve this answer | |
  • Testing on a 2.8 GHz Intel Core i7 and wrapped in a bash script, it took 10 seconds after the script executed for the grayscale to show. So I'd have to say "a few seconds" is misleading, but +1 anyway. – user3439894 Jun 2 '16 at 22:02
  • Perhaps there's a different launchctl command that makes it execute quicker? On my 3.4GHz Intel Core i7 it took no longer than 5-6 seconds, tops. I just timed it. – IconDaemon Jun 2 '16 at 22:07
  • I was providing the terminal commands the OP and others could use to create a shell script on their own. I prefer to use perl to create a script with these commands and wrap it in Platypus. Give a person a fish - they'll eat for one day. Teach them how to fish, and they'll never be hungry. – IconDaemon Jun 2 '16 at 23:20
  • 1
    On macOS 10.13.3 Beta, the launchctl commands produce this error message: Operation not permitted while System Integrity Protection is engaged. You can disable System Integrity Protection (see here), but doing so makes you more vulnerability to malware. – Patrick Brinich-Langlois Jan 29 '18 at 3:05

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