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Web-safe colors

Submitted at 2015-03-23 15:17:28

At one time many computer displays were only capable of displaying 256 colors. These may be dictated by the hardware or changeable by a "color table". When a color is found (e.g., in an image) that is not one available, a different one has to be used. This can be done by either using the closest color, which greatly speeds up the load time, or by using dithering, which results in more accurate results, but takes longer to load due to the complex calculations.

There were various attempts to make a "standard" color palette. A set of colors was needed that could be shown without dithering on 256-color displays; the number 216 was chosen partly because computer operating systems customarily reserved sixteen to twenty colors for their own use; it was also selected because it allows exactly six equally-spaced shades of red, green, and blue (6 × 6 × 6 = 216), each from 00 to FF (including both limits).

The list of colors is often presented as if it has special properties that render them immune to dithering. In fact, on 256-color displays applications can set a palette of any selection of colors that they choose, dithering the rest. These colors were chosen specifically because they matched the palettes selected by the then leading browser applications. There were not radically different palettes in use in different popular browsers.

"Web-safe" colors had a flaw in that, on systems such as X11 where the palette is shared between applications, smaller color cubes (5×5×5 or 4×4×4) were often allocated by browsers—thus, the "web safe" colors would actually dither on such systems. Better results were obtained by providing an image with a larger range of colors and allowing the browser to quantize the color space if needed, rather than suffer the quality loss of a double quantization.

As of 2011, personal computers typically have 24-bit (TrueColor) and the use of "web-safe" colors has fallen into practical disuse.

The "web-safe" colors do not all have standard names, but each can be specified by an RGB triplet: each component (red, green, and blue) takes one of the six values from the following table (out of the 256 possible values available for each component in full 24-bit color).

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