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The number of bits used to represent each pixel in a digital image. This figure suggests the image colour or tone range.
The amount of colours that can be captured by the scanner : 24-bit is 8-bit red, 8-bit green and 8-bit blue, giving a total of over 16 million colours. Most of the latest scanners have 30-bit or 36-bit, to capture billions of colours. In practice it's very difficult to see any difference once you go beyond 24-bit.