In the present study, Juglans regia shells were used to prepare activated carbon by acid treatment method. J. regia shell-based activated carbon was used for the adsorption of two synthetic dyes namely, a basic dye malachite green and an acid dye amido black 10B. The prepared adsorbent was crushed and sieved to three different mesh sizes 100, 600 and 1,000 μm. The adsorbent was characterized by scanning electron microscopy, surface acidity and zero-point charge. Batch experiments were carried out by varying the parameters like initial aqueous phase pH, adsorbent dosage and initial dye concentration. The equilibrium data were tested with Langmuir, Freundlich, Redlich–Peterson and Sips isotherm at three different temperatures 293, 300 and 313 K and it was found that the Freundlich isotherm best fitted the adsorption of both the dyes. Kinetic data were tested with pseudo first-order model and pseudo second-order model. The mechanism for the adsorption of both the dyes onto the adsorbent was studied by fitting the kinetic data with intraparticle diffusion model and Boyd plot. External mass transfer was found to be the rate-determining step. Based on the ionic nature of the adsorbates, the extent of film diffusion and intraparticle diffusion varied; both being system specific. Thermodynamic parameters were also calculated. Finally, the process parameters of each adsorption system were compared to develop the understanding of the best suitable system.