Create decent-looking Images with only 16 Colors

requires Ulead GIF Animator or Image-Ready


The 16-color (4-bit) Palette

This also applies to 256 colors - which often result in horrific images.

The palette can be changed manually but it is a bear.    

Getting a nice, flowing 4-bit image requires the use of a palette that matches the needs of the image.  That image cannot require more than 16 colors !!!  So you are limited to:

For example, an image with large gold letters XP that look very realistic, will have several shades of gold and nothing else except the white background.  The default palette contains primary colors and will look horrible.  But you can use GIF Animator or Adobe Image Ready (comes with Photoshop 7) to optimize the image with 16 colors.  GIF Animator does a better job and allows you to save the palette as a PAL file.  Save the palette and the image as a GIF, reopen in Photoshop, edit the palette so that the first color is Black (0,0,0), and save it as a 4-bit bmp file.  The resulting image look awesome !!  

Skin Tones with 16 Colors - It is a well-known fact that skin tones require numerous colors.  We have all seen the horrendous effect that 256-color bitmaps have on faces.  But this is only because the palette used is the standard Windows system palette.  So long as the rest of the image has only 2 or 3 colors - that leaves you 13 colors for skin tones !!!  Here is an example - I opened the image in GIF Animator, optimized it with a 16-color palette, saved the image as a PSD file and saved the palette, opened it in Photoshop, applied the palette (color table), edited the first color toblack (0,0,0), and saved it as a 4-bit bmp file :

Not bad for only 16 colors !!!  This is how you can have a 16-color image that flows nicely.  

Likewise, if you need a gradient, you can have one, so long as the two colors are not extreme opposites.  For example, blue to dark blue will look OK, whereas light blue to dark blue will not (it takes too many colors to represent that type of gradient).

IMPORTANT:  Photoshop will only save an image with 4-bit color, when the first color is Black (RGB=0,0,0).  So before saving the image you must goto Image/Mode/Color Table, click the first image, and edit the color to 0,0,0  -  otherwise when you save it as a bmp, the only option will be 8-bit color and 4-bit will be grayed out !!!  This change usually has no visible effect on the image, since most 16-color palettes have at least a very dark color in the first position !!

The Steps   

  1. create or open a file and save it as full 24-bit color
  2. open the file in GIF Animator or Image Ready and optimize it to a 16-color table - save the palette (GIF Animator only) and save the file as a PSD (GIF Animator) or GIF (Image Ready)
  3. open it in Photoshop and select Image/Mode . . . Color table and then load the 16-color (4-bit) palette
  4. click on the first color and edit the RGB to be 0,0,0 (black)
  5. save it as a bmp and select 4-bit color and RLE compression.  You can test this by reopening and viewing the palette (color table).)

For most of you - it is easiest to use the palette included in the bitmap image that you save from mykrnl.exe.  Stick to cartoon-style or clip-art style images, or download some nice ones - there are tons of websites for this.