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The Perils of Image.getScaledInstance()

April 3, 2007


Best Frienemies

For years, the Java 2D team has been encouraging developers to
move away from JDK-1.0-isms like
Image.getScaledInstance() and onto more modern APIs.
We often make blanket statements like, "oh you don't want to do it
that way, here's a better approach" and hope that developers take
our word for it. It's a great strategy, that is until we receive
the inevitable follow-up question: "But why?"

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate once and for all
why Image.getScaledInstance() isn't the pleasant
fellow you've been acquainted with (at arm's length) for the last
decade or so. As with many other parts of the Java 2D API, there's
more than one way to skin a cat, and most often the best approach
depends on your goal: performance or quality. In this case however,
I'll show that Image.getScaledInstance() isn't the
fastest route; nor does it necessarily offer the best quality.
(Hint: Graphics.drawImage() is your friend.)

History Lesson

The "">java.awt.Image
class has been around since the beginning of time, which in the
Java world means the JDK 1.0 release. Since JDK 1.1, that class has
offered a convenience method called ",%20int,%20int)">
, which will (unsurprisingly)
return a scaled version of the image that is sized according to the
provided dimensions. The method also accepts one of five "hint"
constants that are defined on the Image class:

  • SCALE_REPLICATE: Specific hint that provides
    higher performance, but lower-quality, "blocky" results.
  • SCALE_FAST: General hint meaning "I prefer speed
    over quality, but I'm not picky about the exact algorithm;" in
    Sun's current implementation (JDK 6 at the time of this writing)
    this is synonymous with SCALE_REPLICATE.
  • SCALE_AREA_AVERAGING: Specific hint that is
    slower, but provides higher-quality, "filtered" results.
  • SCALE_SMOOTH: General hint meaning "I prefer
    quality over speed, but I'm not picky about the exact algorithm;"
    in Sun's current implementation, this is generally synonymous with
    SCALE_AREA_AVERAGING. (As with the other hints, this
    mapping is implementation-dependent and subject to change; read the
    Performance Notes section below for more
    on how this mapping could change in an upcoming release of Sun's
    JDK implementation.)
  • SCALE_DEFAULT: General hint meaning "I don't
    care, just pick something for me;" in Sun's current implementation,
    this is synonymous with SCALE_FAST.

Lots of developers have grown accustomed to the nice quality
offered by SCALE_AREA_AVERAGING (or SCALE_SMOOTH) over the years, but the general complaint is about poor performance. Due to the overly complicated
(in my opinion) design of the image handling APIs in JDK 1.0 and
1.1 (e.g., having to deal with asynchronous loading, animated GIFs,
and the whole consumer/producer model), it is very difficult to
optimize this code path, so performance of this case has improved
little over the years.

Fast forward to JDK 1.2 and the introduction of the Java 2D
API. The redesigned API offered shiny new classes like
BufferedImage and Graphics2D, as well as
more flexibility in the form of RenderingHints. Much
like the old scaling "hints" in the Image class, the
RenderingHints class provides a number of similar
switches to help developers control the quality of image scaling in
a number of situations, like when calling the ",%20int,%20int,%20int,%20int,%20java.awt.image.ImageObserver)">
scaling variant of Graphics.drawImage()


    hint that provides higher performance, but lower-quality, "blocky"
    is typically a bit slower, but provides higher-quality, "filtered"
    is similar to BILINEAR except that it uses more
    samples when filtering and therefore has generally higher quality
    than BILINEAR. (Note: this hint constant has been
    available since JDK 1.2, but was not implemented by Sun until the
    JDK 5 release; prior to that release, this hint was synonymous with

For RenderingHints.KEY_RENDER_QUALITY:

  • VALUE_RENDER_SPEED: General hint meaning "I
    prefer speed over quality, but I'm not picky about the exact
    algorithm;" in Sun's current implementation this is synonymous with
  • VALUE_RENDER_QUALITY: General hint meaning "I
    prefer quality over speed, but I'm not picky about the exact
    algorithm;" in Sun's current implementation, this is generally
  • VALUE_RENDER_DEFAULT: General hint meaning "I
    don't care, just pick something for me;" in Sun's current
    implementation, this is synonymous with

As was the case with a number of improvements in JDK 1.2, we
were unfortunately left with two different systems: the new way
and the old way (think Swing versus AWT, ArrayList versus
Vector, and so on). The same holds true when it comes
to image scaling. The new RenderingHints provide much
more flexibility than the older "hints" in the Image
class, but as the saying goes, with great power comes great
responsibility. There isn't necessarily a one-to-one mapping
between the new hints and the old ones, especially in the case of
the "quality" hints. In the post-JDK 1.2 world, there are multiple
approaches to choose from, and the right technique often depends on
the situation. The next two sections will discuss these approaches
in more detail.

On-The-Fly Scaling

As previously stated, the right scaling approach often depends
on the context. For the purposes of this discussion, I will
highlight the two most common strategies. I call the first approach
"on-the-fly" scaling because it is generally used in dynamic
situations. For example, you may want to scale a bunch of images as
part of an animation sequence. Or you may have a custom component
that lets the user zoom in on and out of an image. In these cases, the
scale factor is constantly changing, so it does not make much sense
to cache a scaled instance of the image at each size. Instead, we
can simply use the scaling variant of
Graphics.drawImage() to scale an image into the
destination (e.g. a custom Swing component, or perhaps an offscreen
image that will later be saved to disk):

    private float xScaleFactor, yScaleFactor = ...;
    private BufferedImage originalImage = ...;

    public void paintComponent(Graphics g) {
        Graphics2D g2 = (Graphics2D)g;
        int newW = (int)(originalImage.getWidth() * xScaleFactor);
        int newH = (int)(originalImage.getHeight() * yScaleFactor);
        g2.drawImage(originalImage, 0, 0, newW, newH, null);

Creating Scaled Instances

The second approach is useful in those scenarios where the
developer has a source image at one size, but is planning to render
that image over and over again at a different size. Probably the
most common case where scaled instances are useful is in
applications that display lots of small "thumbnail" images that are
generated from larger originals. In these kinds of applications, it
would be wasteful to downscale each original image "on the fly"
every time the component is repainted. If instead the original
images are downscaled once into smaller scaled instances,
performance is improved because only a much smaller number of
pixels needs to be copied to the screen each time around. Footprint
is also greatly reduced because fewer pixels need to be stored in
system memory at runtime.

Another common scenario where scaled instances are useful is
when a image is used scaled to fill the background of a custom
Swing component. Even if the frame is resizable, most of the time
the background image is rendered with the same dimensions each
time. So rather than incur the overhead of scaling the image upon
each repaint to fill the component bounds, wouldn't it be better to
scale the image once, and then copy the scaled instance to the
screen each time? (This technique is often applied in modern user
interfaces that use a gradient as the background of a custom
component. For more information, refer to the blog entry " "">
Java2D Gradients Performance
" by Swing guru "">Romain Guy.)

When creating scaled instances, choosing between the various
RenderingHints is an important part of the process;
the best hint for the job often depends on the desired quality, and
whether the image is being scaled larger or smaller. When
upscaling an image (that is, when the dimensions of the scaled
image are larger than those of the original) the choice is fairly
simple: for speed, use
for good quality, use
even better quality, use
idea is to create a new image with the desired dimensions, and then use
the scaling variant of Graphics.drawImage() to scale
the original image into the new one.

When downscaling an image, the choice is slightly more complex.
The same advice regarding RenderingHints given for
upscaling is generally applicable to downscaling as well.
However, be aware that if you try to downscale an image by a
factor of more than two (i.e., the scaled instance is less than
half the size of the original), and you are using the
BILINEAR or BICUBIC hint, the quality of
the scaled instance may not be as smooth as you might like. If
you are familiar with the quality of the old
Image.SCALE_SMOOTH) hint, then you may be especially
dismayed. The reason for this disparity in quality is due to the
different filtering algorithms in use. If downscaling by more than
two times, the BILINEAR and BICUBIC algorithms
tend to lose information due to the way pixels are sampled from
the source image; the older AreaAveragingFilter
algorithm used by Image.getScaledInstance() is quite
different and does not suffer from this problem as much, but it
requires much more processing time in general.

To combat this issue, you can use a multi-step approach when
downscaling by more than two times; this helps prevent the information
loss issue and produces a much higher quality result that is
visually quite close to that produced by
Image.SCALE_AREA_AVERAGING. Despite the fact that
there may be multiple temporary images created, and multiple calls
made to Graphics.drawImage() in the process, this
approach can be significantly faster than using the older, slower
Image.getScaledInstance() method. The basic idea here
is to repeatedly scale the image by half (using
BILINEAR filtering), and then, once the target size is
near, perform one final scaling step to reach the target
dimensions. The following convenience method can be used to achieve
higher quality downscaling in your application (there are similar
helper methods available in the "">

class, which is part of the SwingLabs

     * Convenience method that returns a scaled instance of the
     * provided {@code BufferedImage}.
     * @param img the original image to be scaled
     * @param targetWidth the desired width of the scaled instance,
     *    in pixels
     * @param targetHeight the desired height of the scaled instance,
     *    in pixels
     * @param hint one of the rendering hints that corresponds to
     *    {@code RenderingHints.KEY_INTERPOLATION} (e.g.
     *    {@code RenderingHints.VALUE_INTERPOLATION_NEAREST_NEIGHBOR},
     *    {@code RenderingHints.VALUE_INTERPOLATION_BILINEAR},
     *    {@code RenderingHints.VALUE_INTERPOLATION_BICUBIC})
     * @param higherQuality if true, this method will use a multi-step
     *    scaling technique that provides higher quality than the usual
     *    one-step technique (only useful in downscaling cases, where
     *    {@code targetWidth} or {@code targetHeight} is
     *    smaller than the original dimensions, and generally only when
     *    the {@code BILINEAR} hint is specified)
     * @return a scaled version of the original {@code BufferedImage}
    public BufferedImage getScaledInstance(BufferedImage img,
                                           int targetWidth,
                                           int targetHeight,
                                           Object hint,
                                           boolean higherQuality)
        int type = (img.getTransparency() == Transparency.OPAQUE) ?
            BufferedImage.TYPE_INT_RGB : BufferedImage.TYPE_INT_ARGB;
        BufferedImage ret = (BufferedImage)img;
        int w, h;
        if (higherQuality) {
            // Use multi-step technique: start with original size, then
            // scale down in multiple passes with drawImage()
            // until the target size is reached
            w = img.getWidth();
            h = img.getHeight();
        } else {
            // Use one-step technique: scale directly from original
            // size to target size with a single drawImage() call
            w = targetWidth;
            h = targetHeight;
        do {
            if (higherQuality && w > targetWidth) {
                w /= 2;
                if (w < targetWidth) {
                    w = targetWidth;

            if (higherQuality && h > targetHeight) {
                h /= 2;
                if (h < targetHeight) {
                    h = targetHeight;

            BufferedImage tmp = new BufferedImage(w, h, type);
            Graphics2D g2 = tmp.createGraphics();
            g2.setRenderingHint(RenderingHints.KEY_INTERPOLATION, hint);
            g2.drawImage(ret, 0, 0, w, h, null);

            ret = tmp;
        } while (w != targetWidth || h != targetHeight);

        return ret;

An Aside

I frequently see developers using
AffineTransform.scale() and similar methods when
performing simple image scaling. While there isn't anything wrong
with this approach per se, it's often unnecessarily complicated and
also requires the creation of an AffineTransform. I'll
admit, it is sometimes useful if you're feeling lazy and want to
scale a bunch of images/geometry by a certain pre-calculated
factor; for example:

    public void paintComponent(Graphics g) {
        Graphics2D g2 = (Graphics2D)g;
        AffineTransform oldXform = g2.getTransform();
        g2.scale(2.0, 2.0);
        g2.drawImage(img, 0, 0, null);
        // Or I sometimes see this even more complicated approach...
        // AffineTransform xform = AffineTransform.getScaleInstance(2, 2);
        // g2.drawImage(img, xform, null);
        g2.setTransform(oldXform); // restore transform

But in a majority of cases, there is a better approach: use the
scaling variant of Graphics.drawImage(). I can only
guess that developers aren't aware of this much more
straightforward method. Compare the previous example to the
following (equivalent) code:

    public void paintComponent(Graphics g) {
        g.drawImage(img, 0, 0, img.getWidth()*2, img.getHeight()*2, null);

Not only is this cleaner and more readable code, but it doesn't
require restoring the transform state of the
Graphics2D (a requirement when writing custom painting
code in Swing). It may also perform slightly better because it
doesn't require the creation of an AffineTransform
object and it avoids some more complicated logic in Java 2D's image
drawing code.

As an aside to the aside, in some rare cases I've even seen
the following technique used in developers' code (this is an
example of what not to do):

    public void paintComponent(Graphics g) {
        int newW = img.getWidth() * 2;
        int newH = img.getHeight() * 2;
        Image scaledImage = img.getScaledInstance(newW, newH, SCALE_FAST);
        g.drawImage(scaledImage, 0, 0, null);

This is really bad practice because every time the custom Swing
component is repainted, a new scaled image needs to be created
(resulting in unnecessary garbage generation). More simply, it
represents wasted effort, especially with the knowledge that
Image.getScaledInstance() is generally much slower
than the more straightforward Graphics.drawImage()
approaches described above.

The bottom line: the scaling variant of
Graphics.drawImage() is your friend! Use it whenever


I've generated both sample images (for comparing quality) and
average compute times (for comparing performance) using a simple
test case/micro-benchmark. (Here's the "/today/2007/04/03/">source code.) Note that I could've written
these performance tests using our "">
framework, but I'll save that for another day. (I've
been meaning to write a blog entry about the wonders of J2DBench for, oh,
about 18 months now. Let's hope it doesn't take another 18 months
to finish that one.)

The following data was generated using JDK 6 (-d32 -client),
Solaris 10, 2.0GHz Opteron, 2GB RAM. The numbers reflect the
average time (in milliseconds; lower is better) to perform a single
scaling operation. Your mileage may vary.

Figure 1 shows a downscaling comparison (472 by 472
BufferedImage of TYPE_INT_RGB scaled down
to 100 by 100):

Downscaling comparison
Figure 1. Downscaling comparison

From this screenshot, it is clear that performing a simple
one-step downscale using any of the three
RenderingHints will not produce quality results that
most developers will find acceptable (although performance is great
in these cases). Using
Image.getScaledInstance(SCALE_AREA_AVERAGING) does
produce the nice "filtered" results that many developers have grown
to expect, but it incurs a severe performance penalty, up to 50
times slower than a one-step BILINEAR operation.
Finally, the last box shows the multi-step BILINEAR
technique advocated earlier in this article. Notice that the visual
results are on par with those produced by
SCALE_AREA_AVERAGING, but at a fraction of the
performance cost.

Bonus: As an incentive to check out the "/today/2007/04/03/">source code for this article, I've
included code for a "trilinear mipmapping" technique written by Jim
Graham (Java 2D architect). Just uncomment the two lines marked
"BONUS" and give it a try. This technique is not discussed in this
article, but some developers may find the somewhat "fuzzy" results
appealing in certain downscaling situations.

Figure 2 shows an upscaling comparison (62 by 62
BufferedImage of TYPE_INT_RGB scaled up
to 230 by 230):

Upscaling comparison
Figure 2. Upscaling comparison

For the upscaling case, it is again clear that
Image.getScaledInstance(SCALE_AREA_AVERAGING) has the
poorest performance, and in addition, its visual quality is only
marginally better than NEAREST_NEIGHBOR. Both
BILINEAR and BICUBIC produce higher
quality, "filtered" results that most developers find attractive,
especially when scaling photographic content. If you squint, you
can see that BICUBIC retains more detail from the
original image than does BILINEAR, and it is also less
blurry than BILINEAR, but this increased quality comes
with some performance cost.

Which hint or method you choose in your application largely
depends on the image content being scaled, the desired visual
results, and the performance constraints of the situation. The
above screenshots demonstrate that there are trade-offs with each
approach, and therefore the decision of which one to choose
ultimately lies in the hands of the developer.

Performance Notes

When using either of the one-step or multi-step approaches
described above, the performance of the scaling operation (and that
of all Java 2D operations) is dependent on the pixel format of the
source and destination images. For example, in Sun's Java 2D
implementation, it is always much faster to scale a
BufferedImage than, say, one that is
TYPE_CUSTOM (because the loops for the former can be
much more optimized than those for custom surfaces). In practice,
some Image I/O readers will produce BufferedImages
with a pixel layout that is best for that particular image format,
but it may be a pixel layout for which our Java 2D implementation
is not well-optimized. For these reasons, we recommend first
copying the source image into one of the more common formats for
which we have optimized loops, such as TYPE_INT_RGB,
before performing the scaling operation. This technique can be much
faster than directly scaling a TYPE_CUSTOM or other
suboptimal image format. For more information on this
"intermediate image" technique, refer to the article " "">Intermediate
" written by Java 2D expert "">Chet Haase. To determine
whether your application is using less-optimized image scaling
loops, refer to "">
this item
about tracing tips in the "">
Java 2D FAQ

Some readers may have noticed that there has been no mention
thus far of hardware acceleration of scaled images. It is worth
noting that another reason to avoid
Image.getScaledInstance() is that there is no
potential for accelerating the scale operation in hardware; in
contrast, using the Graphics.drawImage() method does
open the possibility for hardware acceleration, depending on the
pipeline in use. For example, when Sun's OpenGL-based Java 2D
pipeline is enabled and an image is frequently scaled on the fly
to an accelerated destination (such as the Swing backbuffer), the
source "managed" image may be automatically cached in OpenGL
texture memory so that subsequent scale or copy operations are
extremely fast. For more information, consult Chet's fine blog
entry " "">
BufferedImage as Good as Butter, Part II
" on managed images, as
well as "Behind
the Graphics2D: The OpenGL-based Pipeline
" (although that article refers to J2SE 5.0, the
information is generally applicable to Java SE 6 as well).

Finally, a number of developers have wondered over the years: if
there are faster alternatives to
Image.getScaledInstance(), then couldn't that method
be reimplemented using the more modern techniques? Well, the answer
is: yes and no. Yes, for certain image types like
BufferedImage it should be relatively straightforward
to use the scaling variant of Graphics.drawImage() as
demonstrated above in an updated implementation of
Image.getScaledInstance(). But as previously touched
upon, it can be quite difficult to do something similar for other
image types, such as Images loaded via the old
Toolkit image loaders and hardware-accelerated

In JDK 7 we do plan to
provide a more optimized implementation of
BufferedImage.getScaledInstance(), which will at least
reduce the performance impact for older applications and for
developers who may have not been aware of the better alternatives.
In addition, we plan to better document these performance issues
and direct developers to the preferred modern APIs. To follow the
progress of these improvements, check out the relevant bug report
. Also consider voting for "">RFE
, which requests alternative filtering algorithms such
as sinc, lanczos, and mitchell.


From the above results, it should be clear that the
Graphics.drawImage()-based approaches are faster than,
and at least as nice as (if not nicer than),
Image.getScaledInstance(). By now I'm sure you're all
scouring your code and looking to kick
Image.getScaledInstance() to the curb once and for
all. But remember, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to image
scaling, and sometimes even a hybrid approach is best. Take, for
example, an application that allows the user to drag the mouse to
scale an image preview up and down. In this scenario, the user is
unlikely to notice the scaling quality while the image is
animating, so a one-step on the fly technique is probably best to
keep things nimble. Once the user has stopped dragging, you might
decide to use a multi-step "scaled instance" technique to update
the area, to provide the highest-quality rendering.

Always take the time to understand the context in which image
scaling is used in your application, and then use the most appropriate
of the techniques described above. Above all, try to avoid
Image.getScaledInstance() whenever possible; the other
alternatives are both faster and more flexible, and in the end,
your users will thank you for it.


width="1" height="1" border="0" alt=" " />
Chris Campbell is an engineer on the Java 2D Team at Sun Microsystems, working on OpenGL hardware acceleration and imaging related issues.
Related Topics >> GUI   |   


can somebody please upload

can somebody please upload the source code because the link is NOT working. THANKS !

Thanks for the great

Thanks for the great article.
I used it in one of my projects. One thing i would add is the following: When calling the function with an image 64x64 and scale it to 128x128 for instance in highQuality the function runs into an endless loop. I found out thats because of the if condition at the start:
if (higherQuality){ ... } else { ... }
Here it runs through the if and not to the else. For upscaling the algorithm should always run through the else so i changed it to the following and it worked well for me:
if (higherQuality && (img.getWidth() > targetWidth && img.getHeight() > targetHeight)) { ... } else { ... }

Just wanted to say thank you

Just wanted to say thank you for the awesome article. It really helped. Other than the endless loop if the method is calling for upsizing, the article was very concise and well-written.

Thanks for the great article. I found one problem with ...

Thanks for the great article.

I found one problem with getScaledInstance.

  If you pass in &quot;true&quot; for higher quality with an image that needs to be scaled up (rather than down), then the code goes into an infinite loop.  Found this out the hard way.<br />
One fix is to change [prettify]if (higherQuality) {[/prettify]


[prettify]if (higherQuality &amp;amp;&amp;amp; (img.getWidth() &amp;gt; targetWidth || img.getHeight() &amp;gt; targetHeight) ) {[/prettify]

so that it only uses iterative scaling if the target is smaller than the original.

Great article, I used this principle in my app: ...

Great article, I used this principle in my app:
(It resizes images for Android, and your algorithm gives really good result)