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Color Bit Depth

Color bit depth refers to the number of colors contained within an image or that can be displayed on a computer monitor. The minimum color depth is two colors, which is a 1-bit color depth. This means that every dot or pixel that makes up the image is represented by 1-bit of data. The color palette for the 1-bit image determines which two colors are displayed, out of the millions of possibilities. Color bit depth increases exponentially. A 2-bit color depth contains four colors (2 x 2), a 3-bit color depth is made up of 8 colors (2 x 2 x 2), and so on. This continues until a 24-bit color depth is reached, which equals 16,777,216 colors. It is possible to keep going with this, and there are some computer systems which offer a color bit depth greater than 24-bit, but they are not common. Some color bit depths are listed below.


  • 1-bit color depth = 2 colors
  • 2-bit color depth = 4 colors
  • 3-bit color depth = 8 colors
  • 4-bit color depth = 16 colors
  • 5-bit color depth = 32 colors
  • 6-bit color depth = 64 colors
  • 7-bit color depth = 128 colors
  • 8-bit color depth = 256 colors
  • 16-bit color depth = 65,536 colors
  • 24-bit color depth = 16,777,216 colors

Another way to express 24-bit color is that each of the three additive primary colors (red, green, and blue), can each display up to 256 different intensity values, which combine with each other to form 16,777,216 colors; the result of multiplying 256 x 256 x 256. All of these colors give the display a photographic quality, but this can also cause some problems. Not all monitors are able to display full 24-bit color. Many monitors handle only 16-bit color (65,536 colors), or 8-bit color (256 colors). Also, 24-bit images contain so much data that their file size is large and they take a long time to load. When a 24-bit image is viewed on a system that can only display 8 or 16-bit color, then some of the colors cannot be displayed properly because they do not exist in the 8 or 16-bit color palette. The system will then simulate the colors that are not contained in its palette with a process known as dithering.

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