Retro Pixel Art 16-Bit Game Graphics Tables

If you want to give your pixel art graphics that authentic 16-bit retro look, the colour palette is extremely important. Unfortunately PCs and Macs, that we create artwork on now, have had access to a full 24-bit colour palette for many years now, which can make it tricky to emulate the restrictive palettes of the 16-bit era.

The tables below make choosing an authentic colour scheme much easier. Included are colour conversion tables for the main restrictive colour palettes used in late 80’s through to early 90’s games systems, including home computers, game consoles and arcade machines. To emulate the appropriate colour palette, just make sure you stick to the values in the right column for your Red, Green and Blue values when choosing your artwork colours in Photoshop, or whichever program you’re using.

There are also specs for home gaming systems as well as arcade machines boards from the period, so you can reference the hardware you want your artwork or game to emulate. This includes palette sizes, maximum colours on screen at once and screen resolutions, as well as a handy 16:9 screen resolution if you want to keep the same pixel size but fill a widescreen display.

It’s also worth noting that some hardware allows special attributes, such as intensity bits and shadow/highlight processing which increases the theoretical number of colours on screen. These are not taken into consideration below to keep things simple.

Colour Tables

9-Bit Colour / Max Cols: 512
(Atari ST, Sega Megadrive/Genesis, PC Engine)

Retro Value24-Bit Conversion
00
136
273
3109
4146
5182
6219
7255

12-Bit Colour / Max Cols: 4,096
(Amiga, Sega System 16)

Retro Value24-Bit Conversion
00
117
234
351
468
585
6102
7119
8136
9153
10170
11187
12204
13221
14238
15255

15-Bit Colour / Max Cols: 32,768
(SNES, Neo Geo)

Retro Value24-Bit Conversion
00
18
216
325
433
541
649
758
866
974
1082
1190
1299
13107
14115
15123
16132
17140
18148
19156
20165
21173
22181
23189
24197
25206
26214
27222
28230
29239
30247
31255

18-Bit Colour / Max Cols: 262,144
PC VGA

Retro Value24-Bit Conversion
00
14
28
312
416
520
624
728
832
936
1040
1145
1249
1353
1457
1561
1665
1769
1873
1977
2081
2185
2289
2393
2497
25101
26105
27109
28113
29117
30121
31125
32130
33134
34138
35142
36146
37150
38154
39158
40162
41166
42170
43174
44178
45182
46186
47190
48194
49198
50202
51206
52210
53215
54219
55223
56227
57231
58235
59239
60243
61247
62251
63255

Resolution Tables

Home Games Machines

MachinePaletteMax Cols on ScreenResolution16:9 Resolution
Atari ST9-Bit16320 X 200356 X 200
Commodore Amiga (Non AGA)12-Bit32320 X 200356 X 200
PC VGA18-Bit256320 X 200356 X 200
Sega Megadrive9-Bit64320 X 224399 X 224
PC Engine/TurboGrafx-169-Bit482256 X 224399 X 224
SNES15-Bit256256 X 224399 X 224
Neo Geo15-Bit4,096320 X 224399 X 224

Arcade Machines

MachinePaletteMax Cols on ScreenResolution16:9 ResolutionExample Games
Sega System 1615-Bit4096320 X 224399 X 224Shinobi,
Golden Axe,
Altered Beast
Capcom CPS12-Bit3072384 X 224399 X 224Street Fighter II,
Final Fight,
Ghouls 'n Ghosts,
Strider,
Forgotten Worlds
Namco System 124-Bit4966228 X 224399 X 224Splatterhouse,
Galaga '88,
Pac-Mania,
Dragon Spirit