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Each colormap is a table 256 bytes long. It is indexed using a pixel value (from 0 to 255) and yields a new, brightness-adjusted pixel value.
The first 32 colormaps (0-31) are used for sector brightness, with colormap 0 being the brightest and 31 is the darkest. Walls, flats, and sprites are assigned a colormap based both on the sector they are in and the distance they are from the viewer. Walls additionally have their colormap modified by what direction they are facing. Colormap 6 is used to give a sprite partial invisibility by remapping pixels behind the object to darker shades of nearby pixels. This is replaced by the TINTTAB function in Heretic and Hexen.
The light amplification visor is implemented by ignoring brightness values and using colormap 1 for all sectors (although the engine still utilizes the partial invisibility effect).
Colormap 32 is used when the player has the invulnerability powerup: everything is painted in shades of grey, with black and white reversed and sector brightness disregarded. However, because of the Invulnerability colormap bug, the sky is always painted using colormap 0 regardless of invulnerability.
Colormap 33 is all black and was originally used in the Doom press release beta as the light amplification visor effect.
Fans have released PWADs that imitate the "look and feel" of older graphics standards that predate the release, even before the development of DOOM. Color palette standards such as CGA and EGA have been emulated on PWADs that fans released.