For photographers of a certain age, the decision of whether to work in 8-bit or 16-bit is as easy as the decision between playing Nintendo and Super Nintendo in 1991. More colors led to more realistic graphics and better gameplay. The 16-bit Super Nintendo was king. The same principle holds true when working on your images in Photoshop.
You might think the difference is obvious. After all, 16 is twice as much as 8, so it should be twice as good, right? Well, as Unmesh Dinda of PiXimperfect points out, that’s not exactly correct. Using 16-bit will, obviously, allow Photoshop to render more color variations than 8-bit. However, it’s not twice as many, as the numbers might imply. Instead, you’ll be working with exponentially more color variations.
The result, as Dinda demonstrates, is that when you are working on an image with multiple curve layers and many vibrant colors, 8-bit processing may cause color banding and artifacts in your image. Using 16-bit color, on the other hand, will render the colors more smoothly and give the image a much cleaner appearance. Dinda notes that there may be some instances where working in 8-bit is necessary, but by and large, 16-bit is preferable.
Once you’re done working in 16-bit, you can later reduce the image to 8-bit for use on social media, other online platforms, printing, or other media that doesn’t support 16-bit.
Do you usually work in 8-bit or 16-bit? Why do you prefer one setting over the other? Drop a comment below, and let us know.