PhotoSauce Blog


Welcome to the final post in my series examining image resizing with DrawImage().

In this final part, I will be covering the concept of image validation in the System.Drawing GDI+ wrappers.

There’s an easily-overlooked call in all the Image factory methods and Bitmap constructors that load images from a file or stream. After loading the image, they all include a call to the virtually undocumented GDI+ function GdipImageForceValidation(). I say virtually undocumented because the only reference I could find for it is this MSDN page. If you read the first paragraph of that page and then glance down at the very bottom of the table below it, you’ll learn two things:

  1. There is a Flat API for GDI+ that isn’t supported for use directly (you’re supposed to use the C++ class wrappers).
  2. GdipImageForceValidation() is only available in the Flat API.

I would hazard a guess based on those points that the function in question probably exists solely for use by System.Drawing. But what does it do? The table just says this:

“This function forces validation of the image.”

Well, that’s not particularly informative. Nor is it particularly accurate. I mean, I guess it does do some form of validation, but it’s the way it does it that’s of interest to us. What that function actually does is force GDI+ to materialize the bitmap during load. That can have a profound impact on performance.

Normally, GDI+ (like WIC, WPF, MagicScaler and anything else sensible) uses a ‘pull’ model for its processing pipeline. What that means is when you open an image file, the only thing done at that point is the image header is loaded and validated. It’s not until the pixel data is required (during DrawImage() in our case) that decoding, format conversion, color correction, etc is performed. And those steps are performed only for the pixels we actually consume.

Essentially, System.Drawing breaks that model by default and turns it into a ‘push’ model, where the image is first completely decoded into a bitmap in memory and then pushed through to the next step. That’s incredibly wasteful if, for example, you’re cropping a section out of a large image. Why decode the whole thing and use up all that memory if you’re not even using all the pixels?

In addition, using the default pull mode pipeline allows GDI+ to avoid ever holding the entire decoded bitmap in memory even if you are using all the pixels. It will instead read individual scanlines as they are needed. System.Drawing breaks that by default as well. In order to illustrate this, I wrote a sample program that uses four different methods of opening the same image file and then uses those images as inputs to DrawImage(). In each case, I resized the same 18MP source image to 100x100. The four methods I used are as follows:

  1. Image.FromStream(filestream, useEmbeddedColorManagement: true, validateImageData: true)
  2. Image.FromStream(filestream, useEmbeddedColorManagement: true, validateImageData: false)
  3. Image.FromFile(filename, useEmbeddedColorManagement: true)
  4. new Bitmap(filestream, useIcm: true)

And here is the Visual Studio 2015 Diagnostic Tools graph of the CPU and RAM usage from a test run. I forced a garbage collection after each test to isolate the memory usage from each one.


The area of higher CPU usage (bottom graph) covers the four test runs and the orange GC arrows mark the end of each one. The times before and after show the test app’s baseline memory usage, which was steady at around 23MiB. You can see that during tests 1, 3, and 4, the memory usage spiked up (to a peak of 75MiB in each case) whereas test 2 stayed down near the baseline (24MiB actually). Test 2, of course, is the one that disabled ‘validation’ of the image. In addition to the memory savings, the test without validation also ran more quickly.


Notice that test 2 took 42ms less than the best of the others. This was an expensive test in that the source image was high resolution and had an embedded color profile. Due to the sampling rate of the graph, it was easier to show the correlation between each test run and its memory usage with a slower operation. The corresponding improvement in performance when skipping validation is potentially more significant on a more typical operation. Here it amounted to 9%, but it’s not uncommon to see an improvement closer to 15% with high-res images.

The source image for these tests was a 5184x3456 JPEG. Just doing a quick bit of math, 5184 * 3456 * 3 (bytes per pixel) / 1024 / 1024 = 51.25MiB – the exact difference in memory usage between the tests with validation and the test without. 42ms of CPU time is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s not a huge deal. The extra 51MiB of memory can be pretty significant, though, especially when dealing with a server app. And of course more MPs means more MiBs.

But wait, there’s more!

In my first trial, I kept things simple by using the default Graphics settings for my DrawImage() call. Stepping things up and using my recommended settings from Part 3 of this series, the graph looks like this:


Here we see that the memory usage is a lot higher across the board and has some even higher spikes. The difference here goes back to my point about the HighQuality interpolators in GDI+ working only in RGBA mode. More specifically, they work in Premultiplied (or Associated) Alpha mode, aka PARGB. What happened here is that because my input image was a JPEG, it had to be converted from RGB to PARGB for processing. The baseline memory is the same in this trial: 23MiB. We can see the memory move up to 75MiB as soon as the image is loaded in test 1, just as before. It plateaus there while the image is ‘validated’, then it spikes again once DrawImage() starts. That moves it up to 144MiB(!). The reason for the second spike is the PARGB conversion. 5184 * 3456 * 4 / 1024 / 1024 = 68.34MiB. That, plus the buffering required by the scaler accounts for the difference in memory usage. During the 2nd test, the memory usage dips to a constant 93MiB, which is just the baseline plus the ~70MiB for the converted PARGB version and buffering. Again there, we save the 51MiB for the decoded image, so while the memory usage is high, it could be worse. Like in tests 3 and 4, which match test 1 exactly.

As an aside, in case anyone is wondering how I came to the conclusion that DrawImage() converts the source image to PARGB or whether that can be avoided, I’ll explain. The memory spike during the DrawImage() call very clearly correlates to a 32bpp copy of the entire source image being held in memory, as indicated by the math above. That seems to imply that it works in RGBA mode. I wondered whether this conversion always occurred, so I re-saved my test JPEG as an RGBA TIFF and ran the test again. The spikes were still there. But TIFF supports storing an alpha channel in either associated or unassociated forms, and I had tried it with an unassociated alpha channel first. So I re-saved again with associated alpha, and the memory graph profile changed to only include a single spike for each test (to 93MiB). Mystery solved. Note, however, that although the conversion didn’t happen with the PARGB image, the HighQuality interpolation modes do apparently require that the entire image be decoded into memory for processing, which is why all the tests showed the same memory usage. Whether the image was loaded during the ‘validation’ step or at the start of DrawImage(), it was completely held in memory for the duration of each test.

Getting back to the above graph, the more astute among you may have noticed that in test 2, the PARGB copy was held in memory for the entire length of the test, which would lead you to believe that DrawImage() took longer. And you’d be right. When the validation step is performed, the entire decode and color management process occurs before DrawImage() starts, so less time is spent in that method. And while we haven’t discussed it in this series, some of you might be aware that DrawImage() holds a process-wide lock while it does its work. I’ll be talking more about that when I compare GDI+ with MagicScaler.

With that locking business in mind, you might be thinking it’s worth doing anything you can to reduce the amount of time spent inside DrawImage(). There, you’d be wrong (IMHO). Consider a scenario where you have a large number of image resizing requests coming in to a web app simultaneously. If you allow all of them to completely load their corresponding bitmaps before queuing up for their turn at DrawImage(), they could be waiting in that queue for a long time with all that memory held. You’ll potentially have a memory spike that can cause the server to start paging memory or may cause your app pool to cross its memory limit and get recycled. Those things are bad. I would suggest letting them queue a bit longer without tying up any memory. The total processing time will be reduced, and your app will be more stable. In fact, considering that, and seeing what we saw above with regard to the amount of memory consumed by a single resize operation, it seems that GDI+ has a good reason for not allowing you to run multiple DrawImage() operations in parallel. Depending on your workload, the memory requirements could be ridiculous.

So I think I’ve made my point by now that System.Drawing’s ‘validation’ of the image is all-around bad for performance. What can you do about it? Well, be like Test 2. That’s the one (and only one) way to skip the validation step from System.Drawing. Because the validateImageData parameter to Image.FromStream() is not available on any of the Image.FromFile() overloads, I use a FileStream and pass that to Image.FromStream() whenever loading from a file.

“But skipping validation sounds dangerous”, I hear some of you saying…

Actually, I can’t find any evidence to suggest it’s dangerous at all, nor have I ever had a problem with it in the many years I’ve been doing it. I suppose It’s possible that in olden times, the GDI+ image decoders might have been able to cause access violations, buffer overflows, etc when reading corrupted image data. It’s also entirely possible the designers of System.Drawing just went into total overkill mode when working on the safety of the framework.

What I can say for sure is that starting with Windows 7, GDI+ uses WIC internally for decoding/encoding. And I can say that WIC’s built-in decoders are extremely resilient when it comes to corrupted or truncated files. Keep in mind, WIC is used by Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer, so it has to be pretty well bulletproof. So as far as I know, there is absolutely no risk to skipping the image data validation step from System.Drawing. You can read more about Microsoft’s security recommendations for WIC codec developers here. It’s a safe bet their codecs follow their own advice, and GDI+ doesn’t allow you to access any third-party codecs which may be less safe.

In my own testing of a suite of broken image files, the WIC decoders always either silently decoded what they could of the images (filling in the rest with blank pixels) or threw an exception as soon as the header was loaded. What’s more, in the cases where WIC silently processed the corrupted images, GDI+ failed to report any problems in its validation step despite the images being corrupted or incomplete. That’s further evidence it’s not doing anything for you that the underlying WIC decoder isn’t already.

And really, if the validation is actually worth doing, why is GdipImageForceValidation() left out of the supported C++ wrappers?



Tune in next time when I’ll turn my copy of ResampleScope loose on the WIC interpolators to see how they do. It’s gonna be fun on a bun.


In my last post, I detailed most of the Graphics class settings/values and some tips for getting the best balance of performance and quality. In this post I’ll be examining the InterpolationMode values in detail. The short version of this post is that if you want to get the best quality from System.Drawing/GDI+, use InterpolationMode.HighQualityBicubic. But if you’re curious as to what that means or what the other values mean, read on.

I won’t be doing sample comparisons of the various interpolators’ output because that’s already been done, and I don’t have much to add to that. This is more of a technical analysis of the exact implementations and parameters used and how they compare with the standard definitions of those algorithms.

This post assumes you have a basic understanding of image resampling algorithms and want to see what the GDI+ implementation actually does compared to other software. If you’re not familiar with image resampling terminology or methods, I’d suggest starting with Jason Summers’ excellent article “Basics of Image Resampling”. Once you’ve read that, you may also find his “What is Bicubic Resampling?” enlightening. And if you want to completely geek out on the various standard interpolation algorithms, you can’t go wrong with ImageMagick’s Resampling Filters page. I’ll be linking to that one a lot as I go through the individual interpolators. They have detailed explanations and sample images to go with most.

For my analysis of the GDI+ implementation, I’ll be using the ResampleScope utility, also by Jason Summers. It’s a great piece of software. If he had a donate button on his site, I’d totally click it.


There’s not much to say about this one nor I can I show a graph of it like I will with the rest. It’s the fastest and lowest quality interpolator available. Also sometimes referred to as a Point Filter, it simply maps each pixel in the destination image to the nearest corresponding pixel in the source image. The results will be blocky, but when dealing with enlargements of a blocky source, that may actually be desirable. It shouldn’t be used for downscaling. The GDI+ implementation is completely standard and its output matches my implementation in MagicScaler pixel-for-pixel.


The Bilinear (also commonly known as Linear, Tent, or Triangle) interpolator is another completely standard implementation. As long as you’re enlarging, that is…


Yep, that’s a perfectly normal Triangle Filter, all right.

These graphs are fairly large, so I’m showing them at half size.  You can click the images to embiggen them if you like.

One of the neat things about ResampleScope is that it will also show you when the sample points are calculated incorrectly. For example, if I set the GDI+ PixelOffsetMode to None, here’s what the graph looks like:


The shape is right, but it’s not centered at 0, so it will shift the image up and left. We saw that in the previous post. I’ll be using the correct PixelOffsetMode.Half from now on. I just wanted to show that once. An eerily similar graph will appear in my upcoming breakdown of the WIC interpolators as well.

The documentation for InterpolationMode has an interesting note for the Bilinear value.

“This mode is not suitable for shrinking an image below 50 percent of its original size”.

Let’s see why that is, shall we?


This graph is from a resize to 50% of the original size. Notice that we no longer have a triangle. The top is cut off, plus it’s squished in at the bottom. In a properly implemented scaler, we would expect that the shape of the graph would be the same regardless of the resize direction or ratio. Here’s the graph for a resize to 25%


Essentially, this interpolator is devolving toward a Box Filter the more we shrink the image. This interpolator will produce aliased output. That’s what happens when the edges of the sample range (also known as the filter support) don’t extend to at least ~.75px in each direction, which is about where it was on the 50% shrink. This interpolator is fine for enlarging, but you probably don’t want to use it for shrinking unless speed is more important to you than quality.


Having gotten a taste of the Bilinear interpolator, I think I can guess what we’re going to see with Bicubic. We’ll jump straight into the graphs.


For enlarging, we have a perfectly normal Cubic Filter. I can compare the shape of the curve to that of a known configuration from MagicScaler to get a more precise definition. ResampleScope lets me overlay those together to compare them easily. This one is a near-perfect match for the MagicScaler implementation of the Catmull-Rom (B=0, C=0.5) Cubic – a nice choice.


Let’s see what happens when we shrink to 50%.


Gross. That’s no good for nobody. And 25%?


Also gross. In the docs for this one, there’s a note saying it’s unsuitable for shrinking below 25%, but I’ll just go ahead and say this one’s really unsuitable for shrinking at all. In fact, this one is worse than Bilinear for shrinking. It will, however, give nicer, sharper results for enlargements.


What we’ve seen so far are quite standard implementations of well-known resampling algorithms that simply aren’t scaled fully for shrinking images. That makes them faster, but they sacrifice quality. We can probably assume that the HighQuality variants are correctly scaled, though. The documentation has the following note on both of the HighQuality options:

“Prefiltering is performed to ensure high-quality shrinking”.

That’s vague and mysterious, but let’s see what the graphs say, starting with an enlargement.


Well, that’s interesting… It’s not even close to linear. It looks more like a Quadratic Filter, and sure enough it’s a dead ringer for MagicScaler’s Quadratic implementation with its blurriest setting.


But the real test is the downscaling, so let’s see what happens there.


Much like the low quality modes, at 50% it appears to be just squeezing the filter in, although it still has a large enough support range to give good quality at this size. Let’s see 25%.


What do you know… it appears to be converging on an actual Linear filter.

So it turns out the HighQualityBilinear filter is actually a blurry Quadratic for enlarging and minor shrinking but becomes a Linear for higher-ratio shrinking. This is a perfectly cromulent interpolator. It’s suitable for all uses as long as you don’t mind the blurring.

As for the prefiltering they mentioned, the discontinuities in the graph may be a reflection of that. ResampleScope will sometimes show gaps in the graph for higher-ratio shrinking, but the gaps in these graphs are abnormally large. My guess is they’re doing a blur before resizing. You can approximate a correctly scaled resampling filter by blurring the source image first and sampling a smaller range. They may be doing that instead of scaling the filter up all the way. The results end up similar, so I’ll take their word for it. That may also be a clue to the poor relative performance of this interpolation mode. In my testing, it has often been slower than HighQualityBicubic despite the fact that it has a smaller sample range.


We already know this is the best one, but let’s see what it actually does. As before, we’ll enlarge first.


We would normally expect a Cubic to have a support of 2px, and this one reaches just beyond that. The closest match I could find with MagicScaler was a nonstandard Cubic (B=0, C=0.625) with a blur factor of 1.15, which means the normal sample range is simply stretched by 15%, giving a smoothing effect.


The blur factor will soften edges when enlarging, which can prevent aliasing, so that’s not a bad choice. In fact, This is actually very similar to PhotoShop’s Bicubic Smoother resizing mode. Here’s a shrink to 50%.


This one looks more like a Cardinal Cubic (B=0, C=1), which can cause some ringing artifacts, with a very slight blur factor of 1.025 balancing that out. And finally a shrink to 25%…


On this one, the blur factor is gone, and we’re left with just a Cardinal Cubic. That seems to hold up at more extreme downscale ratios as well. Again, it sharpens more than some people would prefer and can cause some ringing and moiré, but it’s a correctly-implemented interpolator. It’s certainly the best GDI+ has to offer for shrinking.

Once again the the slight discontinuities in the graphs indicate there may be a pre-blur at work, but they match the reference curves closely, so the results will be very close to correct (for this algorithm).

The Others

Now that we know what all the explicitly named interpolators actually do, it’s a simple matter of comparing the graphs to put real names to the generic ones. Why the docs don’t do this is beyond me, but here goes…

InterpolationMode.Default = InterpolationMode.Low = InterpolationMode.Linear

InterpolationMode.High = InterpolationMode.HighQualityBicubic

That’s it?

Pretty much. GDI+ obviously has a limited selection of interpolators, and the tradeoff in speed between the Default/Low/Linear and the High/HighQualityBicubic is quite dramatic. Adding to that speed difference is the fact that both of the HighQuality interpolators require that the input image be converted to RGBA format for processing, while the Linear interpolator is able to process in RGB mode directly. If you think about resizing a high-res file, that conversion cost could be quite high, not to mention the work done by the interpolator itself. It’s not uncommon in cases of extreme downscaling to use a hybrid approach, where the image is downscaled to an intermediate size using a faster/lower-quality interpolation and then finished off with a high quality interpolator to get to the final size. In fact, MagicScaler does just that with its hybrid scaling modes. Photoshop does too. I didn’t bother implementing that in my reference resizer, but if you’re stuck with GDI+, it might be worth a try for you.

So there you have it… more than you probably ever wanted to know about GDI+’s interpolator implementations. This info will come in handy when comparing GDI+ with MagicScaler, though, as we want to make sure we’re doing the same work in both. Wouldn’t be fair otherwise, would it?

In the next and final installment, I’ll be going over the image ‘validation’ in System.Drawing and looking a bit further into that RGBA conversion I mentioned for the HighQuality interpolators.