I have a rasterized image that contains two colors: white and black. The black portion is entirely connected and looks like a big blob. Is there a good way to estimate the length of the boundary between the regions?

One method I have considered is to simply count how many "edges" of the rasterized grid have a different color on each side. However, for e.g. a purely diagonal line, this will overestimate the distance of the boundary by a factor of sqrt(2). Is there a better method for estimating the boundary length which does not have this problem?

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    @rwong Sure, that will give me a set of points in the boundary, but how can I then determine the "length" of this set of points? Aug 6, 2013 at 0:44
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    This is where it gets complicated. Actually, for almost all kinds of blobs that have smooth contours, the contour coordinates could be smoothed (averaged) to yield smooth curves, after which a sum of Euclidean distances between successive points along the contour would be sufficient. I paused before posting a follow-up or an answer because I was intrigued by Level Set, which is the mathematical and computational method that can handle pathological cases as well. Probably doesn't matter for the typical use cases, though.
    – rwong
    Aug 6, 2013 at 1:49

3 Answers 3


The blog post "Measuring boundary length" by Cris Luengo discusses precisely this problem and describes several solutions of increasing sophistication. In case the blog goes down, here is a permanent reference to the best one discussed in the post:

Vossepoel and Smeulders, "Vector code probability and metrication error in the representation of straight lines of finite length" (Computer Graphics and Image Processing 20(4):347-364, 1982).

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    Could you work to summarize and put the information into your own words? The goal of Stack Exchange is to become the source of knowledge, not a link aggregator and place to send people to other sites. Its great to have additional reading material, but the links to that additional material shouldn't be the entirety of the content.
    – user40980
    Jul 24, 2014 at 14:09
  • @MichaelT: I used to believe that, but I found that the expectation that every answer ought to be carefully written work of self-contained knowledge was just making me post fewer answers. Lots of times I knew the answer but it just wasn't worth putting in the effort to clear that bar. So now I don't care that much. But if you would like to summarize the linked material and put the information into the answer, please do! You have the reputation for it.
    – user143893
    Jul 24, 2014 at 18:25

Issue with length overestimation for diagonal lines stems entirely from the approach you are taking, namely to count "edges of the pixel grid which different color on each side" and declare the sum a contour length. Those two are not equivalent in general case.

Essentially you are restricting yourself to calculating distances "on the grid" instead of Euclidian ("direct") or "smoothed out for multiple points" distances between actual edges of the contour (not "edges" of the grid). The reason you find your approach inaccurate for diagonal lines is because your criteria of accuracy has to do with sub-pixel precision, while in your algorithm you are operating on a pixel precision level ("edges" of rasterized grid).

Why not first apply edge detection and get a list of edges with sub-pixel coordinates (you can apply any general purpose sub-pixel edge detection algorithm). Your output from this step is going to be a list of pairs of doubles. This step will transform your problem to a sub-pixel domain, where you can calculate distances and meet your accuracy criteria.

After drilling down to edges on sub-pixel level we have two main options:

  • to calculate the sum of Euclidian distances between successive edges. It is going to give us acceptably accurate countour length given that we've picked a decent edge-detection algorithm;
  • to connect your edges in a smooth way (E.g. B-splines) and calculate a sum of arc lengths between successive edges according to the interpolating function you've picked.

UPDATE Simplified approach for step one would be to pick a sub-pixel middle point of your your eligible "edges" of rasterized grid and declare it a center of your edge. From there you continue with calculating distances - even with Euclidian distances between center points you'll get a much accurate result then with counting elidgible "edges" of rasterized grid. At least your "overestimation by factor of sqrt(2)" issue for diagonal lines will be resolved. Hope it helps.


As rwong wrote, you can use findContours to get the countours, if you don't already have them. Then you can use arcLength to compute the length of the contour.

  • Not helpful? Okay.
    – weeska
    Aug 21, 2013 at 14:10
  • I checked the source code of openCV arcLength... It just returns the sum of distances between consecutive contour points. A diagonal would also be off by sqrt(2)
    – Bgie
    Feb 28, 2014 at 15:28

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