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14 Examples of Color Depth

Color depth is the amount of data in bits that is used to represent a pixel of color by a technology such as a camera, photo editor or screen. For example, a 4k television has around 8.3 million pixels and typically uses 24-bits to represent the color of each pixel. Generally speaking, the more bits that are used, the more colors that can be displayed by a technology. The following are common types of color depth both current and historical.
Number of ColorsColor DepthNotes
21-bitBlack and white with no grey.
42-bitUsually black + white + light grey + dark grey.
83-bitFirst primitive color displays.
164-bitKnown as EGA historically used by PC, Macintosh, Commodore 64 and Atari.
325-bitUsed by Commodore Amiga between 1985 and 1990.
2568-bitKnown as VGA or Super VGA very common between 1988 and 2000.
4,09612-bitUsed by old high-end systems such as Silicon Graphics and NeXTstation
32,76815-bit+1Known as High Color. Used 16-bits with one bit for transparency. Historically used by Macintosh.
65,53616-bitSixteen bit color without transparency.
262,14418-bitUsed by cheaper models of LCDs that use dithering to approximate 24-bit color.
16,777,21624-bitKnown as True Color. Usually 8-bits each for red, green and blue using a RGB color space. Used by virtually all current high-end screens including monitors, TVs and mobile devices.
1.07 Billion30-bitKnown as Deep Color. Widely supported by standards with increasing adoption by manufacturers.
4.29 Billion32-bitCurrently not common.
281.5 Trillion48-bitUsed internally by cameras and photo processing tools to handle raw data that reaches this level of accuracy.

Does It Matter?

Humans can distinguish between as few as 10 million colors such that 24-bit true color at over 16 million colors is commonly perceived as completely colorful. However, these 16 million colors don't map exactly to the colors that humans can see such that increasing color depth beyond true color is noticeable.
Most current technologies are based on RGB that only uses three primary colors: red, green and blue. This doesn't map to all real world colors. For example, the spectral color violet is simulated with purple such that true violet can't be displayed with RGB. Manufacturers have experimented with adding up to three new primaries: cyan, magenta and yellow that greatly increase the number of colors that can be theoretically displayed. This may justify greater color depths than 24-bit. For example, six primary colors at 8-bits each would represent a 48-bit color depth supporting 281.5 trillion colors. It is likely humans could perceive the difference when this is applied to the millions of pixels in a display with media that was recorded in the same color space.
Overview: Color Depth
The amount of data in bits that is used to represent a pixel of color by a technology.
Related Concepts

Color Theory

This is the complete list of articles we have written about color theory.
Analogous Color
Color Combinations
Color Depth
Color Harmony
Color is Real
Color Perception
Color Purity
Color Saturation
Color Scheme
Color Space
Color Symbolism
Color Temperature
Complementary Colors
Corporate Colors
Heat Map
Impossible Colors
Monochromatic Color
Primary Colors
Rainbow Colors
Spectral Color
Tints And Shades
Visible Spectrum
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Judd, D. B., and G. Wyszecki. "Color in Business, Science and Industry. Wiley & Sons, New-York." (1975).

Color Theory

An overview of color theory.

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A vocabulary for describing colors.

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A list of the spectral colors.

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A palette of all the colors of the visible spectrum.

List of Hues

A palette of pure hues of color.

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A list of useful complementary colors as a palette.

Blue Opposite

The opposites of blue colors.

Brown Opposite

The opposites of brown color.


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