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).
Along years, manufacturers had 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 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 been 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 has 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 manufacturer's 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, due to mixed architectures also exists (16-bit processors with 8-bit data bus or 32-bit processors with 16-bit data bus, among others). The distinction is more related with 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 unique palette in this series of articles:
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.
| 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
| 3-bit RGB|
23 = 8 colors
| 6-bit RGB|
43 = 64 colors
| 9-bit RGB|
83 = 512 colors
| 12-bit RGB|
163 = 4096 colors
| 15-bit RGB|
323 = 32,768 colors (HighColor)
| 18-bit RGB|
643 = 262,144 colors
| 24-bit RGB|
2563 = 16,777,216 colors (TrueColor)
| 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)
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 commomly used with the 8 bpp palettes as master palettes or universal palettes (i.e., palettes for multipursose uses).
These are some representative software palettes, but any selection can be made in such types of systems.
| Microsoft Windows default 16-color palette|
| Microsoft Windows default 20-color palette|
| RiscOS default 16-color palette|
| 6 level RGB|
63 = 216 colors
| 6-7-6 levels RGB|
6×7×6 = 252 colors
| 6-8-5 levels RGB|
6×8×5 = 240 colors
| 8-8-4 levels RGB|
8×8×4 = 256 colors
| Grayscale palettes|
up to 256 levels of gray
| Color gradient palettes|
up to 256 levels of any arbitrary hue
| Adaptive palettes|
up to 256 picked colors
| False color palettes|
up to 256 continuous-tone colors
The color palettes of some of the most popular early personal computers and terminals. They may be based on RGB palettes, but also common are specific hardware-implemented 4, 16 or more colors palettes: not bit nor level combinations of RGB primaries, but fixed ROM/circuitry colors selected by the manufacturer.
Many of early models output composite video YPbPr colors. When seen on TV devices, the perception of the colors may be not corresponding with the value levels for the YPbPr values employed (most noticeable with NTSC TV color system).
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 historical by video hardware, not grouped by branch. They are listed the original model of every system, which implies that enhanced versions, clones and compatibles also supports the original's one palette.
| Teletext (1976)|
Graphic block characters, 8-color
| Apple II (1977)|
Low 16- and high resolution 4-color graphic modes
| Commodore VIC-20 (1981)|
200 definable characters of 8×16 bits each, 8- or 10-color modes
| CGA for IBM-PC (1981)|
16-colors text mode, 4-color and monochrome graphic modes
| Commodore 64 (1982)|
Multicolor and High resolution 16-color graphic modes
| ZX Spectrum (1982)|
16-colors by attributes
| MSX systems (1983)|
"Screen 2" and "Screen 3" 15-color graphic modes
| Commodore Plus/4 (1984)|
Multicolor and High resolution 16-color graphic modes
| Amstrad CPC (1984)|
Low 16-, medium 4- and high resolution 2-color graphic modes
| MSX2 systems (1985)|
"Screen 5" 16- and "Screen 8" 256-color graphic modes
| MSX2+ systems (1988)|
"Screen 10&11" 12,499- YJK+YAE and "Screen 12" 19,268-color YJK graphic modes
| EGA for IBM-AT (1984)|
Medium and high resolution 16-color graphic modes
| Atari ST (1985)|
Low 16-, medium 4-color and high resolution monochrome modes
| Commodore Amiga OCS (1985)|
2-, 4-, 8-, 16- and 32-color standard graphic modes, EHB 64- and HAM 4096-color enhanced modes
| Apple IIgs (1986)|
Super High Res 4-, 8-, 16- and 256-color graphic modes
| MCGA and VGA for IBM-AT (1987)|
Medium 256- and high resolution 16-color graphic modes
| Atari 2600|
? out of 128 colors
24 out of 56 colors
256 out of 32,768 colors
| Nintendo Gameboy|
4 shades of green
| Nintendo Gameboy Color|
Type 1 cartridges tricky 10-color startup palettes and Type 3 32-color cartridges
| Nintendo Gameboy Advance/SP/Micro|
Type 3 32-color and Type 4 32,768-color cartridges
| SEGA Master System|
32-color out of 64
| SEGA Game Gear|
32-color out of 4,096
|(No simulation available)|| SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis|
62-color out of 512
|(No simulation available)|| NEC PC-Engine/TurboGrafx 16|
482-color out of 512
Gaming as serious business: snicker about playing games at work, but the low cost, appropriate features, and availability of gameboy resources might change your mind about using it as a nongaming, handheld terminal. (Hands-on-Project).
Feb 01, 2002; IT STARTED WITH A "NO THANK YOU." I had asked for the technical specification for the Nintendo Gameboy game-link interface so...
Gaming as serious business: snicker about playing games at work, but the low cost, appropriate features, and availability of gameboy resources might change your mind about using it as a nongaming, handheld terminal. (hands-on project).
Feb 07, 2002; IT STARTED WITH A "NO THANK YOU." I had asked for the technical specification for the Nintendo Gameboy game-link interface so...