Network: Web design

While most designers work on high-end machines that can display millions of colours, many people surfing the Web are using computers with only the 256-colour palette.

Colour is the gremlin in the works for the World Wide Web. The problem is that not all computers are created equal, especially when it comes to colour. On your high-end professional machine, you design a brilliant Web site with bold colours, drop shadows, anti-aliased text, and 3-D buttons. Then on the machine across the hall it looks like a grainy colour photo that's been left out in the sun too long.

If you have been working in Web or multimedia design, you have probably come across the 216 "safe" colours. These are the only colours that are guaranteed to display correctly on Macintosh and Windows computers. Why? Well, it has to do with how different computers display colours.

The painter George Seurat developed the technique of "Pointillisme." He placed small dots of paint from his palette on to the canvas close together to create the illusion of a continuous image. Computer screens work a lot like that, placing dots of colour on the screen.

The more colours at your disposal on the palette, the easier it is to fool your eye. Seurat only had a few dozen colours in his palette, while many computers have a set of 256 specific colours in their palettes. Some computers will have thousands or millions of colours in their palletes. It all depends on the quality of the monitor, the video card and the amount of computer memory.

If you create an image on a machine that has thousands of colours in its palette and then display it on a machine with only 256 colours in its palette, any colours in the image not in the palette of 256 will either be replaced by a closely matching colour or dithered by trying to mix colours on the screen visually. This rarely gives a very satisfying result and ends up just looking grainy.

The problem is compounded by the fact that Macs will have one palette of 256 specific colours and Windows machines have another palette of 256 specific colours. The 216 safe colours represent the common colours between these two palettes.

It's actually not that hard to remember all 216 safe colours, not by name of course, but either on the RGB or hexadecimal scales. Both scales use a list of three separate values. The first value tells the computer how much red to mix in the colour, the second is green, and the third is blue. To be browser safe, for RGB you can use 0, 51, 102, 153, 204 or for hexadecimal 255 or 00, 33, 66, 99, CC, and FF in any combination in the three slots. So 153 0 102 is the same as 990066 and produces a reddish purple.

Why limit yourself to just these 216 colours? While most designers work on high-end machines that can display millions of colours, many people surfing the Web are using computers with only the 256 colour palette. Any colours not in their palette have to be matched or dithered and will more than likely destroy your design. To stay consistent, some designers adhere to the safe list like it was the 11th commandment, never allowing impure colours into their designs.

In practice, though, 216 colours is not a lot of colours. Photographs, anti-aliasing and 3-D effects all look pretty sad with only these colours. And just try to match a company's signature colour! That's why a lot of designers figure "why bother?", and use whatever colours they want regardless of how it will appear on "low-end" computers.

This is my advice: try to compromise. Stick to the browser-safe colours when you can, but don't become a fanatic. There's no need for you to pander to the lowest common denominator, but consider everyone's viewing pleasure. Here are a few simple things you can do to compromise:

If you are setting the background, text, or link colour for a page, use a safe colour.

If you are creating a graphic with a large area of solid colour, use the safe colours.

If you are creating a graphic with gradients or anti-aliasing, make the predominant colour a safe one, ensuring that at least the largest area of colour will stay undithered.

Reduce the number of colours to as few as possible in your image. This will not only help alleviate dithering, but will make for smaller and thus faster loading graphics.

Use the safe colours unless there is a good design reason not to.

There are no hard statistics that report how many Web surfers have 256 colours, but they are likely to be enough of your audience to be worth a little extra effort and thought.

If you have any suggestions, gripes or other comments about this article, please contact Jason Cranford Teague at mshadow@dircon.co.uk

News
Pro-Russia rebels guard a train containing the bodies of victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 crash in Torez, Ukraine
i100
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
News
people
News
The Commonwealth flag flies outside Westminster Abbey in central London
news
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
theatre
News
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
Arts and Entertainment
tvWebsite will allow you to watch all 522 shows on-demand
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Rock to play DC character in superhero film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Damon Albarn is starting work on a new West End musical
artsStar's 'leftfield experimental opera' is turning mainstream
Life and Style
Paul and his father
artsPaul Carter wants to play his own father in the film of his memoirs
Sport
Ben Stokes trudges off after his latest batting failure for England as Ishant Sharma celebrates one of his seven wickets
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
Members of the public are invited to submit their 'sexcapades' to Russell T Davies' new series Tofu
tv
News
Sky's Colin Brazier rummages through an MH17 victim's belongings live on air
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game
arts + ents'The Imitation Game' stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    History Teacher

    £110 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are seeking a teacher o...

    IT Teacher

    £110 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are seeking a suitably ...

    Legal Cashier - Oxford

    Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Legal Cashier - Oxford We have an excellent ...

    Legal Cashier - Oxford

    Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Legal Cashier - Oxford We have an excellent ...

    Day In a Page

    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
    Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

    Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

    They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
    The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

    20 best days out for the summer holidays

    From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
    Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

    All the wood’s a stage

    Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
    Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

    Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

    Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
    Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

    Self-preservation society

    Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
    Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

    Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

    We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor