JBIG Compression

JBIG is a method for compressing bi-level (two-color) image data. The acronym JBIG stands for Joint Bi-level Image Experts Group, a standards committee that had its origins within the International Standards Organization (ISO). The compression standard they developed bears the name of this committee.

In 1988, the ISO and CCITT formed JBIG by joining the ISO/IEC JTC1/SC29/WG9 group and the CCITT SGVIII subgroup for the joint purpose of developing a standard, lossless method of compressing bi-level data. In 1993, the standard defining the JBIG method of bi-level data encoding was finalized and released.

The main features of JBIG are:

JBIG is intended to completely replace the less efficient MR (Modified READ) and MMR (Modified Modified READ) compression algorithms used by the CCITT Group 3 (G3) and Group 4 (G4) data transmission protocols, respectively. In 1995, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) proposed an extension of the G3 and G4 standards to allow the use of JBIG-compressed image data in conjunction with these protocols. (Refer to the section on CCITT compression for more details about the G3 and G4 protocols.)

On scanned images of line art and printed text, JBIG achieves compression ratios 10 percent to 50 percent greater than that of G4, and up to 500 percent greater on computer-generated images of printed text. Bi-level images processed with half-toning or dithering are compressed 2 to 30 times smaller than when compressed with G4.

JBIG achieves these impressive compression ratios by adapting to the information content of the image data being encoded. An adaptive arithmetic coder is used to predict and code future data symbols based on the characteristics of the data currently being encoded. G3 and G4 however, are non-adaptive and use the same fixed patterns and algorithms to encode all image data regardless of the content.

JBIG also supports both sequential and progressive encoding methods. Sequential encoding reads data from the top to bottom and from left to right of an image and encodes it as a single image. Progressive encoding allows a series of multiple-resolution versions of the same image data to be stored within a single JBIG data stream. In contrast, G3 and G4 only support sequential coding at a fixed resolution.

JBIG is platform-independent and implements easily over a wide variety of distributed environments. It achieves excellent compression ratios on bi-level images, and it is capable of efficiently encoding some types of color and gray-scale images as well. JBIG's progressive encoding capabilities appear to make it the obvious choice for transmitting and storing bi-level information on networked environments, such as the World Wide Web. So why isn't JBIG more popular and widespread?

It is questionable how much success JBIG will have in replacing either G3 or G4. G3 and MR are the most widely used protocol and compression method, respectively, for facsimile transmission, and they are already supported by most telecommunications equipment that use bi-level image data. And G4, while typically requiring too great a bandwidth for conventional facsimile purposes, is a primary method of data compression in most document imaging systems. G4 achieves effective compression ratios of up to 20-to-1 on both scanned and computer-generated bi-level document image data.

Perhaps the greatest advantage the CCITT protocols offer over JBIG is that they are free and unencumbered by patents and legal disputes. Anyone may freely implement and distribute G3 and G4 codecs without the need of licensing agreements or royalty payments. JBIG, on the other hand, contains many patented processes (24 are listed in the JBIG Recommendation); the most prominent is the IBM arithmetic Q-coder, which is an option in JPEG, but is mandatory in JBIG.

JBIG Basics

Bi-level images contain only two colors and are stored using a single bit per pixel. Black-and-white images, such as the pages of a book, are the most common type of bi-level images. However, any two colors may be represented by the 1 (foreground color) or 0 (background color) state of a single bit.

Typical bi-level compression algorithms encode only a single scan line at a time using a run-length encoding technique. Such algorithms are referred to as 1D encoding methods. 2D encoding methods encode runs of pixels by describing the differences between the pixel values in the current and the previous scan lines.

JBIG encodes redundant image data by comparing a pixel in a scan line with a set of pixels already scanned by the encoder. These additional pixels are called a template, and they form a simple map of the pattern of pixels that surround the pixel that is being encoded. The values of these pixels are used to identify redundant patterns in the image data. These patterns are then compressed using an adaptive arithmetic compression coder.

The adaptive nature of templates allows the color of the pixel values being encoded to be predicted with a high degree of success. For gray-scale images with halftoning, compression ratios are increased by as much as 80 percent over non-adaptive methods.

Although designed primarily as a method for compressing bi-level image data, JBIG is capable of compressing color or gray-scale images with a depth of up to 255 bits per pixel. Such multi-bit pixel images are compressed by bitplane rather than by pixel. For example, an 8-bit image compressed using JBIG would be encoded into eight separate bitplanes.

This type of encoding may be used as an alternative to lossless JPEG. JBIG has been found to produce better compression results than lossless JPEG (using the Q-coder) on images with two to five bits per pixel and to produce identical results on image data with pixels six to eight bits in depth.

It is recommended that each bitplane be preprocessed with a gray-coding algorithm to normalize the changes between adjacent byte values in the image data. This process increases the efficiency of the JBIG encoder.

JBIG images may be encoded sequentially or progressively. Sequentially encoded images are stored in a single layer at full resolution and without other lower resolution images being stored in the same data stream. This sequential JBIG image is equivalent in function and application to a G4 image. Such an image is decoded in a single pass and has at least as good a compression ratio as G4.

Progressively encoded images start with the highest resolution image and end with the lowest. The high-resolution image is stored in a separate layer and is then used to produce a lower resolution image, also stored in its own layer. Each layer after the first layer is called a resolution doubling. An image with three layers is said to have two doublings.

There is no imposed limit to the number of doublings that may be encoded. For example, a 1200-dpi image may be encoded as one layer (1200 dpi), three layers (1200, 600, and 300 dpi), or five layers (1200, 600, 300, 150, and 75 dpi). The lowest resolution is determined by whatever is considered useful. Even a 10-dpi image, though not legible, is still useful as an icon.

Progressive decoding is the opposite process, with the lowest resolution image being decoded first, followed by increased resolutions of the image until the full resolution is achieved. This technique has the advantage of allowing data to appear immediately on the output device. Only data up to the appropriate resolution of the output device need be decoded and sent.

Both sequential and progressive JBIG encoding are completely compatible. Images compressed using sequential encoding are readable by progressive JBIG decoders. Sequential JBIG decoders are only capable of reading the first, lowest-resolution layer within a progressively-encoded JBIG image.

Many applications that utilize JBIG may only have use for sequential encoding and decoding, especially those used for facsimile transmission. It is therefore possible to implement a simplified JBIG algorithm that encodes only the first layer in a JBIG data stream. Such encoders produce a valid JBIG-encoded data stream that is readable by all JBIG decoders.

Progressive encoding does not add much more data to a JBIG data stream than does sequential encoding, but it does have greater memory requirements. Because a lower resolution image is encoded from data of the next higher resolution image (and vice versa when decoding), a frame buffer must be used to store image data that is being used as a reference.

For Further Information About JBIG

JBIG is published both as an ITU Recommendation and as an ISO/IEC Standard:

ITU-T Recommendation T.82|ISO/IEC 11544:1993, Coded representation of Picture and Audio Information--Progressive Bi-Level Image Compression.

This document is available, at cost, from the ITU, ISO, and many document services. For more information on the ITU and ISO, please visit their Web sites:


The November 1988 issue of the IBM Journal of Research and Development contains a set of five articles describing the IBM Q-coder and a basic, bi-level image encoder that implements the Q-coder. See:

Pennebaker, W.B., J.L. Mitchell, G.G. Langdon, and R.B. Arps, "An Overview of the Basic Principles of the Q-coder Adaptive Binary Arithmetic Coder," IBM Journal of Research and Development, vol. 32, no. 6, November 1988, pp. 717-726.

The Q-coder is also described as an extension in Part 1 of the JPEG ITU-T Recommendation T.81 and ISO/IEC Standard 10918-1.

The following paper covers T.4, T.6, JBIG, and other facsimile communications protocols:

Urban, Stephen J., "Review of Standards for Electronic Imaging for Facsimile Systems," Journal of Electronic Imaging, vol. 1, no. 1, January 1992, pp. 5-21.

JBIG-KIT, a JBIG bi-level image compression toolkit, is provided on the CD-ROM and also available via anonymous FTP from either of the following:


JBIG-KIT is an ANSI C implementation of the JBIG encoding standard in the form of a portable library used for encoding and decoding JBIG data streams. This library is specifically designed for 32-bit (and greater) machine architectures, although 16-bit systems are also supported.

JBIG-KIT is free software under the GNU General Public License and provides complete code and documentation. A 1992 draft copy of the CCITT T.82 Recommendation for JBIG is also currently included in this distribution.


Due to patent restrictions, do not assume that it is legal to use the code in JBIG-KIT, or any other JBIG implementation, unless the proper licensing agreements have been obtained.

The author of JBIG-KIT, Markus Kuhn, may be contacted at:


Information and discussions on JBIG may also be found on USENET in the comp.compression.research newsgroup and in the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) listing for comp.compression, found in the news.answers, comp.answers, and comp.compression newsgroups and on the CD-ROM.

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