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gray scaling
Last modified: Friday, May 15, 1998 

The use of many shades of gray to represent an image. Continuous-tone images, such as black-and-white photographs, use an almost unlimited number of shades of gray. Conventional computer hardware and software, however, can only represent a limited number of shades of gray (typically 16 or 256). Gray-scaling is the process of converting a continuous-tone image to an image that a computer can manipulate.

While gray scaling is an improvement over monochrome, it requires larger amounts of memory because each dot is represented by from 4 to 8 bits. At a resolution of 300 dpi, you would need more than 8 megabytes to represent a single 8½ by 11-inch page using 256 shades of gray. This can be reduced considerably through data compression techniques, but gray scaling still requires a great deal of memory.

Many optical scanners are capable of gray scaling, using from 16 to 256 different shades of gray. However, gray scaling is only useful if you have an output device -- monitor or printer -- that is capable of displaying all the shades. Most color monitors are capable of gray scaling, but the images are generally not as good as on dedicated gray-scaling monitors.

Note that gray scaling is different from dithering. Dithering simulates shades of gray by altering the density and pattern of black and white dots. In gray scaling, each individual dot can have a different shade of gray.

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continuous tone

data compression




optical scanner

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