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Web Safe Colors - What are they and why should they be used?

written by: •edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 5/24/2009

If you have never heard the term "web safe colors", or if you have but do not understand why they are important, this article will be of particular value to you. Knowing what the web safe colors are, and knowing why you should use them, will help you greatly when developing and creating web pages.

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    Who created Web Safe Colors and Why?

    The concept of Web Safe Colors was invented by the creators of Netscape. Netscape was one of the earliest, most successful web browsers. Before and during the early versions of Internet Explorer, Netscape was far and away the most popular and widely used browser.

    When Netscape was released, it came with a fixed color palette of 216 colors. This was done because many machines on the internet were only capable of rendering 256 colors. 216 was chosen because many computers reserved 16 to 20 colors for their own use, and 216 allowed 6 shades of red, 6 shades of green, and 6 shades of blue (6 x 6 x 6 = 216).

    Any colors outside of those 216 colors would then be approximated using a combination of the 216 colors in the palette. This process is called "dithering." The design goal was that if people stuck to the 216 "web safe colors", their web pages would never be dithered by anyone using Netscape.

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    What exactly are the Web Safe Colors?

    Examples of the web safe color palette can be found here (with hexadecimal codes) and here (with RGB codes). The colors themselves range from white (#FFFFFF) to black (#000000) and include every basic color in between.

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    Why should you use Web Safe Colors?

    There are two main advantages to using web safe colors:

    1. Just as the original designers intended, using web safe colors means your web pages are most likely to look the way you intend them to look for virtually any view of your pages.
    2. The web safe color palette tends to be the palette with the greatest number of distinct colors with each color actually distinguishable by the human eye.
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    Are Web Safe Colors still in popular use?

    Despite the fact that the technical need has basically disappeared, most web developers still tend to stick with the web safe colors. Most personal computers have either 16-bit or 24-bit color now, making it possible for them to render millions upon millions of colors. The use of web safe colors is still quite popular among developers due to habit, culture, and the advantages listed above.