Absorbance spectra were recorded by microspectrophotometry from 39 different rod and cone types representing amphibians. reptiles, and fishes, with A1- or A2-based visual pigments and lambdamax ranging from 357 to 620 nm. The purpose was to investigate accuracy limits of putative universal templates for visual pigment absorbance spectra, and if possible to amend the templates to overcome the limitations. It was found that (1) the absorbance spectrum of frog rhodopsin extract very precisely parallels that of rod outer segments from the same individual, with only a slight hypsochromic shift in lambdamax, hence templates based on extracts are valid for absorbance in situ: (2) a template based on the bovine rhodopsin extract data of Partridge and De Grip (1991) describes the absorbance of amphibian rod outer segments excellently, contrary to recent electrophysiological results; (3) the lambdamax/lambda invariance of spectral shape fails for A1 pigments with small lambdamax and for A2 pigments with large lambdamax, but the deviations are systematic and can be readily incorporated into, for example, the Lamb (1995) template. We thus propose modified templates for the main "alpha-band" of A1 and A2 pigments and show that these describe both absorbance and spectral sensitivities of photoreceptors over the whole range of lambdamax. Subtraction of the alpha-band from the full absorbance spectrum leaves a "beta-band" described by a lambdamax-dependent Gaussian. We conclude that the idea of universal templates (one for A1- and one for A2-based visual pigments) remains valid and useful at the present level of accuracy of data on photoreceptor absorbance and sensitivity. The sum of our expressions for the alpha- and beta-band gives a good description for visual pigment spectra with lambdamax > 350 nm.