List of color palettes

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This article is a list of the color palettes for notable computer graphics, terminals and video game console hardware.

Only a sample and the palette's name are given here. More specific articles are linked from the name of each palette, for the test charts, samples, simulated images, and further technical details (including references).

In the past, manufacturers have developed many different display systems in a competitive, non-collaborative basis (with a few exceptions, as the VESA consortium), creating many proprietary, non-standard different instances of display hardware. Often, as with early personal and home computers, a given machine employed its unique display subsystem, with its also unique color palette. Also, software developers had made use of the color abilities of distinct display systems in many different ways. The result is that there is no single common standard nomenclature or classification taxonomy which can encompass every computer color palette.

In order to organize the material, color palettes have been grouped following arbitrary but rational criteria. First, generic monochrome and full RGB repertories common to various computer display systems. Second, usual color repertories used for display systems that employ indexed color techniques. And finally, specific manufacturers' color palettes implemented in many representative early personal computers and videogame consoles of various brands.

The list for personal computer palettes is split into two categories: 8-bit and 16-bit machines. This is not intended as a true strict categorization of such machines, because mixed architectures also exist (16-bit processors with an 8-bit data bus or 32-bit processors with a 16-bit data bus, among others). The distinction is based more on broad 8-bit and 16-bit computer ages or generations (around 1975–1985 and 1985–1995, respectively) and their associated state of the art in color display capabilities.

Here is the common color test chart and sample image used to render every palette in this series of articles:

RGB 24bits palette sample image.jpg RGB 24bits palette color test chart.png

See further details in the summary paragraph of the corresponding article.

List of monochrome and RGB palettes

Main page: List of monochrome and RGB palettes

For the purpose of this article, the term monochrome palette means a set of intensities for a monochrome display, and the term RGB palette is defined as the complete set of combinations a given RGB display can offer by mixing all the possible intensities of the red, green, and blue primaries available in its hardware.

These are generic complete repertories of colors to produce black and white and RGB color pictures by the display hardware, not necessarily the total number of such colors that can be simultaneously displayed in a given text or graphic mode of any machine. RGB is the most common method to produce colors for displays; so these complete RGB color repertories have every possible combination of R-G-B triplets within any given maximum number of levels per component.

For specific hardware and different methods to produce colors than RGB, see the List of computer hardware palettes and the List of video game consoles sections.

For various software arrangements and sorts of colors, including other possible full RGB arrangements within 8-bit depth displays, see the List of software palettes section.

Monochrome palettes

These palettes[1] only have some shades of gray.

Bits Monochrome (1-bit)
black and white
2-bit grayscale
22 = 4 levels of gray
4-bit grayscale
24 = 16 levels of gray
8-bit grayscale
28 = 256 levels of gray
No dithering Bilevel 1bit palette sample image.png Grayscale 2bit palette sample image.png Grayscale 4bit palette sample image.png Grayscale 8bits palette sample image.png
Floyd–Steinberg dithering Bilevel 1bit palette sample image - gimp dithered.png Grayscale 2bit palette sample image - gimp dithered.png Grayscale 4bit palette sample image - gimp dithered.png

Dichrome palettes

Main page: RG color space

Each permuted pair of red, green, and blue (16-bit color palette, with 65,536 colors). For example, "additive red green" has zero blue and "subtractive red green" has full blue.

Colors 16-bit Red Green 16-bit Red Blue 16-bit Green Blue
Additive RG 16bits palette sample image.png RB 16bits palette sample image.png GB 16bits palette sample image.png
Subtractive RG-sub 16bits palette sample image.png RB-sub 16bits palette sample image.png GB-sub 16bits palette sample image.png

Regular RGB palettes

These full RGB palettes employ the same number of bits to store the relative intensity for the red, green and blue components of every image's pixel color. Thus, they have the same number of levels per channel and the total number of possible colors is always the cube of a power of two. It should be understood that 'when developed' many of these formats were directly related to the size of some host computers 'natural word length' in bytes—the amount of memory in bits held by a single memory address such that the CPU can grab or put it in one operation.

Bits 3-bit RGB
21×3 = 8 colors
6-bit RGB
22×3 = 64 colors
9-bit RGB
23×3 = 512 colors
12-bit RGB
24×3 = 4,096 colors
15-bit RGB
25×3 = 32,768 colors
18-bit RGB
26×3 = 262,144 colors
24-bit RGB
28×3 = 16,777,216 colors
no dithering RGB 3bits palette sample image.png RGB 6bits palette sample image.png RGB 9bits palette sample image.png RGB 12bits palette sample image.png RGB 15bits palette sample image.png RGB 18bits palette sample image.png RGB 24bits palette sample image.jpg
Floyd-Steinberg dithering RGB 24bits palette sample image - 3-bit RGB.png
Color cube 3-bit RGB Cube.gif 6-bit RGB Cube.gif 9-bit RGB Cube.gif 12-bit RGB Cube.gif 15-bit RGB Cube.gif 18-bit RGB Cube.gif

Non-regular RGB palettes

These are also RGB palettes, in the sense defined above (except for the 4-bit RGBI, which has an intensity bit that affects all channels at once), but either they do not have the same number of levels for each primary channel, or the numbers are not powers of two, so are not represented as separate bit fields. All of these have been used in popular personal computers.

RGBI 4bits palette sample image.png AmstradCPC palette sample image.png MSX2 Screen8 palette sample image.png RGB 16bits palette sample image.png
4-bit RGBI
23×2 = 16 colors
3-level RGB
33 = 27 colors
3-3-2 bit RGB
8×8×4 = 256 colors
16-bit RGB
32×64×32 = 65,536 colors (HighColor)

List of software palettes

Main page: List of software palettes

Systems that use a 4-bit or 8-bit pixel depth can display up to 16 or 256 colors simultaneously. Many personal computers in the later 1980s and early 1990s displayed at most 256 different colors, freely selected by software (either by the user or by a program) from their wider hardware's color palette.

Usual selections of colors in limited subsets (generally 16 or 256) of the full palette includes some RGB level arrangements commonly used with the 8 bpp palettes as master palettes or universal palettes (i.e., palettes for multipurpose uses).

These are some representative software palettes, but any selection can be made in such types of systems.

System specific palettes

These are selections of colors officially employed as system palettes in some popular operating systems for personal computers that feature 8-bit displays.

OS Windows Macintosh RISC OS
16 colors Windows 16colors palette sample image.png Mac 16colors palette sample image.png RiscOS 16colors palette sample image.png
20 colors Windows 20colors palette sample image.png

RGB arrangements

These are selections of colors based on evenly ordered RGB levels, mainly used as master palettes to display any kind of image within the limitations of the 8-bit pixel depth.

6 level RGB
63 = 216 colors
6-8-5 levels RGB
6×8×5 = 240 colors
6-7-6 levels RGB
6×7×6 = 252 colors
8-8-4 levels RGB
8×8×4 = 256 colors
RGB 6levels palette sample image.png RGB 6-8-5levels palette sample image.png RGB 6-7-6-levels palette sample image.png RGB 8-8-4-levels palette sample image.png

Other common uses of software palettes

Adaptive palettes
Picked colors
Grayscale palettes
Levels of gray
Color gradient palettes
Levels of any hue
False color palettes
Continuous-tone colors
Adaptative 8bits palette sample image.png Grayscale 8bits palette sample image.png Color gradient map (blue) palette sample image.png False colors palette sample image.png

List of computer hardware palettes

In early personal computers and terminals that offered color displays, some color palettes were chosen algorithmically to provide the most diverse set of colors for a given palette size, and others were chosen to assure the availability of certain colors. In many early home computers, especially when the palette choices were determined at the hardware level by resistor combinations, the palette was determined by the manufacturer.

Many early models output composite video colors. When seen on TV devices, the perception of the colors may not correspond with the value levels for the color values employed (most noticeable with NTSC TV color system).

For current RGB display systems for PC's (Super VGA, etc.), see the 16-bit RGB and 24-bit RGB for HighColor (thousands) and TrueColor (millions of colors) modes.

For video game consoles, see the List of video game consoles section.

For every model, their main different graphical color modes are listed based exclusively in the way they handle colors on screen, not all their different screen modes.

The list is ordered roughly historically by video hardware, not grouped by branch. They are listed according to the original model of every system, which implies that enhanced versions, clones and compatibles also support the original palette.

Terminals and 8-bit machines

Main page: List of 8-bit computer hardware graphics
Level 1 teletext test.png Teletext (1976)
2×3 cell graphic block characters on a 40×25 character page. 2 colors per block, chosen from 8 primary colors (1 bit each of red, green, and blue). The first row is reserved for a page header and attributes are set with control codes which each occupy one character position giving a maximum resolution of 78×72.
Screen color test AppleII HighRes.png Apple II (1977)
"Low" (text block) 16-color, "high resolution" (140x192 bitmap) 6-color and "double high" 16-color (NTSC artifact based; actually 280×192 monochrome) graphic modes.
Screen color test CommodoreVIC20 Multicolor.png VIC-20 (1980)
200 definable characters of 8×16 pixels each, 8 or 10 color palette modes with 2 colors per character cell.
Screen color test CGA 4colors Mode4 Palette2 HighIntensity.png CGA for IBM-PC (1981)
16-color text mode (unofficially adjustable to give a 160×100 16-color bitmap mode), 4 color medium and monochrome high resolution graphic modes; medium resolution modes select from six preset palettes (four official, two undocumented; actually three main palettes in low and high intensity form) for the three "foreground" colors, with a free choice amongst the 8 low intensity colors for the fourth, "background" color. All modes work within the same 16-color master palette (1 bit each of red, green, blue, and intensity/brightness) as text mode.
Screen color test Commodore64 Multicolor.png Commodore 64 (1982)
Low-resolution "Multicolor" (4 colors per sprite or character cell) and medium resolution (2 color per sprite/cell) graphic modes, choosing from 16-color master palette.
Screen color test ZXSpectrum.png ZX Spectrum (1982)
Bitmapped display with 15 colors (primary hues of RGB with two intensity levels for each except black), assigned on the basis of two "attributes" per 8×8 pixel character cell. Cells also share one intensity level between both "paper" and "ink" colors.
Mattel Aquarius palette sample image.png Mattel Aquarius (1983)
Similar character block and "pixel" arrangement to Teletext, but resolution is a true 80×72 (2×3 pixels on 40×24 grid) and master palette is expanded to 16 colors (1 bit each of red, green, blue, brightness).
Screen color test MSX Screen2.png MSX systems (1983)
"Screen 2" and "Screen 3" 15-color graphic modes.
Screen color test Thomson MO5.png Thomson MO5 (1984)
Fixed 16-color palette (1 bit each of red, green, blue, and brightness, with bright white replaced by orange), with 2 colors per block on an 8×1 pixel attribute grid.
Screen color test CommodorePlus4 Multicolor.png Commodore Plus/4 (1984)
Multicolor and High resolution 16-color graphic modes, from 121-color master palette (black and 15 hues by 8 luminosity levels).
Screen color test AmstradCPC 16colors.png Amstrad CPC (1984)
Low 16-, medium 4- and high resolution 2-color graphic modes (160, 320 and 640 × 200 pixels), from 27-color master palette (3 levels for each of red, green and blue).
Screen color test MSX2 Screen8.png MSX2 systems (1985)
"Screen 8" 256-color graphic modes (3 bits each of red and green, 2 bits for blue).
RGB 18bits palette sample image.png Fujitsu FM-77 AV 40 (1986)
Low 262,144-color and high resolution 8-color graphic modes, from 262,144-color palette (6 bits for each of red, green, and blue).
Screen color test MSX2plus Screen12.png MSX2+ systems (1988)
"Screen 10&11" 12,499-color YJK+YAE and "Screen 12" 19,268-color YJK graphic modes

16-bit machines

Main page: List of 16-bit computer color palettes
Screen color test EGA 16colors.png EGA for IBM PC/AT (1984)
Medium and high resolution 16-color graphic modes, out of 64 (2 bits for each of red, green, and blue).
Screen color test MSX2 Screen5.png Atari ST (1985)
Low 16-, medium 4-color and high resolution monochrome modes, out of 512 (3 bits for each of red, green, and blue) or 4096 (4 bits each) on STe.
Screen color test Amiga 32colors.png Commodore Amiga OCS (1985)
2-, 4-, 8-, 16- and 32-color standard graphic modes, EHB 64-color and HAM 4096-color enhanced modes; 2 to 64 color modes pick from a 4096-color master palette (4 bits for each of red, green, and blue), with 64 color mode constructed from 32 normally chosen colors plus a second set of 32 fixed at half the intensity of the first. HAM mode restricted by only being able to change one color channel (red, green or blue) per pixel.
Screen color test AppleIIgs 16x16colors.png Apple IIgs (1986)
Super High Res 4-, 8-, 16- and 256-color graphic modes, from 4096 (4 bits of each of red, green, and blue), with some palette choice restrictions in 80-column modes.
Screen color test VGA 256colors.png MCGA and VGA for IBM PC/AT (1987)
Medium 256- and high resolution 16-color graphic modes, from 262,144 (6 bits of each of red, green, and blue).
RGB 16bits palette sample image.png Sharp X68000 (1987)
Medium 65,536-color and high resolution 16-color graphic modes, from 65,536.

Video game console palettes

Main page: List of video game console palettes

Color palettes of some of the most popular video game consoles. The criteria are the same as those of the List of computer hardware palettes section.

Atari2600 NTSC simulation.png Atari 2600 (1977)
4 out of 128 colors (16 hues by 8 luminosity levels) on every scanline
NES palette sample image.png Famicom/NES (1983)
25 out of 55 usable colors (12 hues by 4 luminosity levels, + 7 greys); 1 background color, four 3-color (plus transparent) tile palettes and four 3-color (plus transparent) sprite palettes.
Screen color test SEGAMasterSystem.png Sega Master System (1985)
32 colors out of 64 (2 bits for each of red, green, and blue)
RGB 24bits palette sample image 9bpp PCE.png NEC PC-Engine/TurboGrafx-16 (1987)
482 colors out of 512
RGB 24bits palette sample image 9bpp MD.png Sega Mega Drive/Genesis (1988)
61 colors out of 512 (or approximately 1500 including shadow/highlight modes)
Screen color test Gameboy.png Nintendo Game Boy (1989)
4 grayscales, rendered as shades of green on the original model's screen (and later, true grayscales, on the Game Boy Pocket).
Screen color test Amiga 32colors.png Sega Game Gear (1990)
32 colors out of 4,096
SNES 256 color palette sample image.png Super Famicom/SNES (1990)
256 out of 32,768 colors (5 bits for each of red, green, and blue)
Screen color test GameboyColor 32colors.png Nintendo Game Boy Color (1998)
Type 1 (original Game Boy) cartridges with free choice of various 10-color palettes (built into console and chosen at system start; no example shown), and Type 3 (GBC enhanced or exclusive) cartridges with own 56-color palettes. Arranged as a single background layer with 4 colors and 2 sprite layers of 3 colors plus transparent (Type 1), or eight 4-color background palettes with eight 3-color sprite layers (Type 3), chosen from a 32,768-color master palette.
Screen color test GameboyAdvance 32Kcolors.png Nintendo Game Boy Advance/SP/Micro (2001)
Type 1 (original Game Boy), Type 3 (Game Boy Color) 56-color and Type 4 (GBA) 32,768-color cartridges (limited to 512 simultaneous colors on-screen in some display modes)

See also