How to Change Color Depth in Photoshop

When editing images for print, it’s important to understand and use the proper color depth to get the greatest range of tonal values. But what if your image is set to the wrong depth? Can you change it in Photoshop?

As a general rule, color depth, or bit depth, should be set to the 16-bit mode when making prints. Bit preferences can be checked and set in Photoshop under Mode in the Image menu.

Color depth is essential when it comes to producing smooth, high-quality photos. Keep reading for a quick guide on changing color depth in Photoshop, and why it’s important.

What is Color Depth?

If you’re new to working with images in Photoshop, you may not understand exactly what color depth is.

Color depth, also known as bit depth, is essentially how much information each color channel can store in each pixel.

RGB mode images are made up of three color channels (Red, Green and Blue). Therefore, a bit image that has 65,536 possible values for each channel, would have over 281 trillion possible color values. Because the information is stored in each pixel, that means that the file size increases with the color depth.

The most popular color depths are:

  • 8-bit
  • 16-bit
  • 32-bit

There are other ranges as well, such as 12-bit and 14-bit, but these aren’t used in Photoshop, so we won’t get into them here.

What is the Bit Depth Number of Colors?

Color depth refers to the amount of tonal variation found in an image. Tones are created in RGB in a gradient from black to white. For example, an image with a color depth of 1 would only have two values: black and white.

In an 8-bit image, there are 256 colors. 16-bit images have 65,536 colors, and 32-bit images have 16,777,215 colors.

As a general rule, the more colors (higher bit) that an image has, the smoother the transitions between tones and the less banding that is present. Therefore, it is recommended that any images that will be printed are set to at least a 16-bit color depth.

Where to Find Color Depth of an Image?

Locating the color depth of an image is a generally easy task. To start, open up your file in Photoshop.

Next, select the Image tab from the menu bar at the top of the screen and find Mode. This is where you will find all of the color information about your file.

First, make sure the mode is set to RGB Color. Now, towards the bottom of the menu, you should see the three Bit/Channel options. The one with the checkmark next to it is your current color depth.

How to Change Bit Depth Preferences in Photoshop

If you noticed that your file is set to 8 bits and you are getting it ready for print, you’ll want to change it to a 16-bit depth image.

To do this, choose Image from the menu bar, navigate to Mode, and select 16 Bits/Channel. You’ll then want to save the file to retain any changes.

It is typically recommended that you use the Save As option to save a copy of the new bit depth file so that you can keep a copy of the original file just in case any changes need to be made.

Can Color Depth Be Changed in CMYK Mode?

Color depth simply refers to the highest number of colors an image can hold. RGB Color, Grayscale, CMYK Color, Lab Color, and Multichannel modes can all be edited using 16 Bits/Channel in Photoshop.

Keep in mind that the image size does increase with the higher bit depth due to the amount of information stored in the pixels. Since CMYK mode has 4 color channels instead of 3, you can expect a larger file size than you would with an RGB mode image.

What Is the Best Color Depth for Printing?

Typically, the more data each color channel can hold, the better. However, not all printers are able to process high bit depths.

For the most part, 16-bit images allow for the most tonal range without exceeding printer capabilities. But, it’s always a good idea to check with your printer to find out their requirements to you don’t run into any issues with your print order.

Final Thoughts

You should now be able to confidently change the bit depth of your images in Photoshop.

How you choose to edit your photos ultimately comes down to your system and what you hope to accomplish. However, understanding color depth can help you maximize quality and choose the right tonal range for each one of your projects.