Why you should not dither your images to the WEB-216 Palette

In every Web-Design book you can find something about the Web-216 Palette: every basic color is divided linear to 6 shades, so you get 6x6x6 = 216 colors.

This page claims something contrary to lots of books about webdesign: Please dont dither your images to the web-palette in your Pages.

So, why is this bad?

Because it helps nobody. Every graphical browser can dither images itself if necessary, so why bother with it yourself?

What about some examples?

Please view the following images in a true-color browser, otherwise the differences are really purely random...

The first image are some randomly blended colors.

  • To the left is the original image.
  • to the lower left is the same image, displayed on an 8-bit display with the Browser-builtin dithering.
  • to the lower right is the image, dithered to the Web-Palette with Gimp.
Notice, that the difference between the hand-made dithering and the browser-dithering is not visible. If you dither this image yourself (with Gimp) this has the result, that even Browsers on true-color displays will show a dithered image.

If you dither this image to the optimal palette (left) you can see, that there are flaws in Gimps built-in dithering.

To the right is the same image shown on an 8-bit display. Here the two ditherings interfere and the result is worse.

So what did we learn? The best thing is to use the Original. On 8 bit Displays there is no visible difference between the Web216-palette and the original. On true-color displays the Web216-Version would annoy the visitor, because there is an unneeded dithering across the image.

By the way: The original has 1/5 th of the size of the web216-Version

Weeell - this is an artificial example...

So, lets have a look at a photo (this is actually my father...)

From left to right:

Again we can see, that using the Web216-Palette has no advantage over using the original. The 8 bit user won't notice if you use the original, the true-color user will notice, if you use the Web216-Version.

Here the Jpg-version is still the smallest version

What about areas of the same color?

Lets have a look at a typical headline

Original Gif with 19 Colors, good antialiasing.

Optimal Palette with 16 colors

The original, showed on an 8-bit Display

The Web216 Version

Optimal 16-color palette on a 8 bit display.

As we already know: The original version on an 8-bit Display looks exactly the same, as the Web216 Version.

I admit, it is hard to spot, but you can see, that the antialiasing is better in the original/16 color version. So here we have an advantage over using the web-palette too. And we do not have to hazzle with converting too much...

Here the original image is 600 bytes bigger than the web216-version.


It is not useful to use the Web-Palette to publish images. If a browser runs on an 8 bit display it can dither the images to any palette it wants - most probably this actually is the web216 palette.

But there is a use for the web-palette. If you search a base-color for a title or a big unicolor area select a color from the 216-color cube. Then an 8-bit browser can show this mostly "as is" and does not have to dither the plain area. But dont care for the web-palette when antialiasing an image.

In the last example you can see a Logo with two base-colors: one from the Web216 palette and one slightly different. In the second image you can see how Netscape shows this on an 8 bit display. Guess, which is the color from the color-cube!
That is the only use for the Web-Palette.