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Exploring today's technology for tomorrow's possibilities
What is Colour Gamut

What is Colour Gamut?

Jamie Finch
When looking for a computer monitor or TV, we tend to look for features such as monitor size and fidelity. For most of us, such information is all we need to know with modern devices, but others need more information. One option that most people will not look out for when buying monitors is the colour gamut, a word many people reading this may never have heard before.
A colour gamut would only usually concern people in specific industries where the colours must be precise. By ensuring they choose the right gamut, they can get the best possible results in their work.
Regardless, if you're still asking, "what is a colour gamut?", this article has the answers.

What is colour gamut?

TVs and monitors have come a long way over the years. At first, people had to settle for black and white images on small screens, although this was considered high-tech at the time. However, as the technology developed, screens became larger, showing more detailed images. Gamuts also widened, allowing devices to represent more colours.
The definition of a gamut is the range of colours a device can represent. The wider the gamut, the more colours the device will represent, and modern appliances can typically display more than 16 million colours. Considering humans can see around 1 million colours, 16 million should be plenty!
Of course, 16 million colours are more than enough for most people, with few noticing any difference regardless of the gamut. However, people in certain industries or with certain hobbies can tell the difference and will need to be choosy when selecting a colour gamut.
For example, graphic designers need access to the appropriate range of colours to help bring their creations alive. Photographers also need to be choosy with gamuts to help ensure their images are accurately portrayed.
While most of us are unlikely ever to notice, there are occasions when a device cannot represent a particular colour. Such instances are examples of being "out of gamut". Being out of gamut could be awkward for some people, while it can also affect the quality of work.

The most common colour standards

As TVs and other devices become more advanced, players in the industry developed colour space standards. You can define a colour space as a subset of a colour model, which differs from a colour gamut, the range of colours a device can display.
These standards help ensure consistency and quality by setting benchmarks against which you can compare images. The general idea is that people will all see the same colours regardless of their device.
Over the years, the industry has developed numerous standards, each focusing on particular needs and influenced by the technology available at the time. You will likely find some of these standards in devices you have at home, while others are rarer.
Here's a brief look at some of the most common colour standards and colour spaces used today.
  • RGB
RGB isn't a colour standard but a colour space that is often used in colour standards. RGB stands for red, green and blue, colours you can use together to create other colours in the spectrum. It differs from CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black), which uses a different approach to create the colours you need.
  • CMYK
Again, not a colour standard but a colour space. CMYK was developed mainly for printers because it helps ensure accurate colours on printed materials. This colour space requires cyan, magenta, yellow and black ink cartridges in printers.
  • NTSC
The National Television Standards Committee created its own standard, hoping it would become the standard for TVs. The committee largely achieved their goals, and many consider NTSC the standard manufacturers should use in TVs today. This standard was originally produced in the ‘50s but is still common even after digitisation, and you will likely find several examples of NTSC in your home.
  • DCI-P3
Developed by the Society of Motion Pictures and Engineers (SMPTE) in California, DCI-P3 standard focuses on video captured digitally. SMPTE released the Digital Cinema System Specification in 2005, which would later become the Digital Cinema Initiatives – Protocol 3 (DCI – P3). SMPTE developed this standard for the cinema industry and is compatible with digital cinema projectors. In addition, DCI-P3 offers a wider colour gamut than most other standards do.
  • sRGB
HP and Microsoft developed the sRGB standard together, releasing it in 1996. As you might expect, the two companies developed the sRGB standard for use in monitors, printers, and similar devices. Reasons for the popularity of sRGB include few discrepancies and little lag time, and you will find the standard in a wide range of devices from TVs to cameras.
  • Adobe RGB
Adobe is one of the biggest names in the world of digital imagery, so it should come as no surprise that they developed their own colour standard. Adobe developed the standard in 1998, so you can use RGB primary colours on CMYK colour printers. The company initially developed Adobe RGB as an answer to sRGB, but it was ahead of its time when it was released. However, the standard has become more popular recently as technology catches up.
  • EBU
Created by the European Broadcasting Union, EBU focused on graphics design, video editing and photography. In the past, people were restricted to using this gamut in graphic design, video editing and similar, but it has become more widespread as technology develops. Many readers will recognize the EBU standard from the EBU colour bars often displayed on TV screens.
  • Rec. 709 (ITU-R BT. 709)
The Swiss Comité Consultatif International Pour La Radio (CCIR) developed the Rec. 709 standard in 1993, with the first known as Rec. 709-1. However, the radiocommunication sector (ITU-R) has since superseded CCIR, and the newest version, Rec. 709-6, was released in 2015. The IRU-R developed Rec. 709 intending for it to become the HDTV standard globally.
  • Rec. 2020
Whereas Rec. 709 was developed as an HDTV standard, ITU-R released Rec. 2020 as a UHDTV standard. As you might expect, Rec. 2020 offers a wider colour space than Rec. 709 and helps take advantage of UHD's superior capabilities.
  • xvYCC
The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) published xvYCC (extended-gamut YCC) in January 2006 after the standard had been proposed by Sony. The colour space has 1.8 times more colours than sRGB and was developed to help keep up with HDTV.
  • HSL
HSL (hue, saturation, lightness) was developed in the 1970s as an alternative to the RGB colour model alongside HSV (hue, saturation, values). Computer graphics researchers developed the standard for something that reflects how humans use colours. Artists often use HSL and HSV because they feel more natural to use.

What is a wide gamut?

What is a wide gamut
Image Credit - Unsplash
The technology behind monitors and similar devices continues to advance, with ever-increasing fidelity and, of course, more colours. Some modern devices have developed to the point where there are almost no limitations on the colours they can display. Such cases are known as a wide colour gamut.
Until recently, most computer monitors would display around 75% of the Adobe RGB standard, or about 75% of the sRGB standard. However, many manufacturers now make monitors with a wide gamut as the standard itself. In time, gamuts may become obsolete where devices are concerned because they will all show all colours regardless.
A wide gamut is particularly useful for editing photographs because it means the screen can reproduce more of the original colours, potentially providing a significant boost in quality. Not only that, but a wide colour gamut can also result in better quality prints because the monitor can accurately represent the colours that a printer can produce.

Which gamut should I choose?

For most people, any colour gamut will do just fine. This is especially the case in recent times, considering most of the latest devices offer a wide gamut. However, many people will still need a specific gamut to get the best results.
Of course, which colour gamut you need depends on your line of work or hobby, which will then decide which gamut you are going to use. In many cases, it is a decision between sRGB vs RGB, or sRGB vs Adobe RGB.
So, for example, if you're a photographer, you should use a gamut that gives you the best possible representation of the sRGB space. If you're a graphic designer, you should select a gamut that can reproduce as much of the Adobe RGB standard as possible.


With widening gamuts, modern devices are suitable for most people's needs, including those in the media industry. However, some people who need particular colour spaces must be mindful of which colour gamut they select.
When selecting a gamut, you will need to consider which colour spaces you need, because this information will decide which gamut is best for you. In addition, some colour spaces have been developed with specific professions or pastimes in mind, making some gamuts suitable for niche roles.
Regardless, the technology behind TVs and computer monitors will continue to evolve, and new standards will need to be introduced to help ensure continued quality and consistency. Gamuts may even become obsolete eventually, but they will still likely need to be replaced by something else that will help keep up with technological developments.
About the Author: Jamie is contributing writer for HP Tech Takes with almost 20 years of writing experience. He has a focus on marketing topics but enjoys writing on pretty much any topic under the sun. Jamie enjoys gaming, virtual reality workouts, and relaxing with friends and family in his spare time.

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