February 17, 2009
Getting the First Non-transparent Pixel in an Image

I just came across Sakri Rosenstrom's posts (1 2) about his methods of finding the first non-transparent pixel in a bitmap. Looks like he got inspired by my talk at MAX Europe - unfortunately he seems to have misunderstood my explanation back then. My bad - I should have posted my method a long time ago - so here we go. [Notice: it turns out that Sakri's method is faster than mine - please check the update at the bottom of this post]

Here's a little demo.

First you might ask what the hell this method is needed for at all. There are three applications that come to my mind right away: blob tracking for multi-touch interfaces (using my flood fill method), QR-code recognition and bitmap vectorization. All of them have in common that after having detected a blob of uniform color in a bitmap you want to trace the outline of it. In order to do that you need to have a starting point of which you know that it lies on the edge. That's what the method I will show you here does.

If we were programming in C the approach would be to start at the top left corner of the bitmap and do a getPixel(x,y) from left to right and top to bottom until you find a pixel that is not 0x00000000. But since we are using Actionscript there are a few methods in the BitmapData class that will be quite faster than a loop.

The workhorse in this case is the getColorBoundsRect() method. In case you forgot what it does: this method will return you a Rectangle which encloses all pixels of a certain color inside a BitmapData object.

The starting situation: we have a transparent bitmap which contains non-transparent pixels somewhere. In step one we use getColorBoundsRect to narrow down on the minimum area that still contains any non transparent pixels:

var r1:Rectangle = bitmapData.getColorBoundsRect( 0xff000000, 0, false );

If the height of r1 equals 0 we know that the image is completely empty and can stop rightaway. If not we can continue. And here's the trick. We've got a rectangle now and we know for sure that somewhere in the topmost row of that rectangle there is a non-transparent pixel. What we cannot count on is that it is the one at the very left, aka r1.topLeft - it's absolutely possible that there is just a single pixel set in that row and it can be anywhere between r1.left and r1.right.

But here's the trick: we simply use getColorBoundsRect again - unfortunately we cannot do this using the same bitmapData. We need to extract that first row of pixels into a separate temporary bitmap:

var temp:BitmapData = new BitmapData( r1.width, 1, true, 0 );
temp.copyPixels( bitmapData, r1, new Point());

Now that we've got a 1 pixel high bitmapdata which contains at least one non-transparent pixel we can continue:

var r2:Rectangle = temp.getColorBoundsRect( 0xff000000, 0, false );

The last step is to add the offset we have found here to the previously found top left corner of first colorbounds:

var startPoint:Point = r1.topLeft.add( r2.topLeft );

All together it looks like this:

public static function getFirstNonTransparentPixel( bmd:BitmapData ):Point
var r1:Rectangle = bmd.getColorBoundsRect( 0xff000000, 0, false );
if ( r1.width > 0 )
var temp:BitmapData = new BitmapData( r1.width, 1, true, 0 );
temp.copyPixels( bmd, r1, new Point());
var r2:Rectangle = temp.getColorBoundsRect( 0xff000000, 0, false );
return r1.topLeft.add( r2.topLeft );
return null;

Or you can download the EdgeFinder.as class here

[Important Notice] I should have made some speed test before recommending this method. It turns out that getColorBoundsRect() is not as fast as I thought it was. Sakri Rosenstrom's HitTest method is twice as fast as mine. So I've taken another look at his implementation and optimized it a bit more, making a kind of hybrid between both of our methods. My test tell me that this optimzed version is about twice as fast - I have updated the code in EdgeFinder.as already

public static function getFirstNonTransparentPixel( bmd:BitmapData ):Point
var hit_rect:Rectangle=new Rectangle(0,0,bmd.width,1);
var p:Point = new Point();
for( hit_rect.y = 0; hit_rect.y < bmd.height; hit_rect.y++ )
if( bmd.hitTest( p, 0x01, hit_rect) )
var hit_bmd:BitmapData=new BitmapData( bmd.width, 1, true, 0 );
hit_bmd.copyPixels( bmd, hit_rect, p );
return hit_rect.topLeft.add( hit_bmd.getColorBoundsRect(0xFF000000, 0, false).topLeft );
return null;

Posted at February 17, 2009 05:24 PM | Further reading

Hey Mario,

There's a small typo in the link:
edgeFinder.as should be EdgeFinder.as (capital E)

Posted by: Gepatto on February 17, 2009 09:09 PM

Thanks for the notice Gepatto - I've updated that link now.

Posted by: Mario Klingemann on February 17, 2009 09:35 PM

Hi Mario!

First of all, thanks for taking the time out at Max to explain this to me! I apologize for "smudging your name" with code that wasn't actually yours ;) Should have probably emailed you before posting that blog entry.

I added your correct method to my test run, and it turns out that the testing wasn't a complete waste of time:


The HitTest method seems to run marginally faster?!

Anyway, I think I've polluted my blog with enough entries about this topic now! See you at FITC!


Posted by: sakri on February 18, 2009 11:20 AM

Hey Sakri,

it turns out that your method is at least twice as fast as mine. Gosh - I'm impressed!

Posted by: Mario Klingemann on February 18, 2009 12:36 PM

Interesting discussion, but what would you use this for?

Posted by: Ian on February 19, 2009 06:49 PM

Hey guys,
Was playing around with this method a little and managed to make it about 30% faster on average. Varies quite a bit depending on the data and settings, though. Change the n property for different results and inputs.

public static function getFirstNonTransparentPixel2( bmd:BitmapData ):Point
var n:int = 4;
var h:int = bmd.height;
var p:Point = new Point();
var hit_rect:Rectangle = new Rectangle(0,0,bmd.width,n);
var hit_bmd:BitmapData = new BitmapData( bmd.width, n, true, 0 );
for( hit_rect.y = 0; hit_rect.y < h; hit_rect.y+=n)
if( bmd.hitTest( p, 0x01, hit_rect) )
hit_bmd.copyPixels( bmd, hit_rect, p );
return hit_rect.topLeft.add( hit_bmd.getColorBoundsRect(0xFF000000, 0, false).topLeft );
return null;

Posted by: Stuart on February 22, 2009 03:24 PM

Stuipd question:

how to find the first Transparent pixel? :D
i mean with alpha = 0?

Posted by: Gino on May 7, 2009 04:04 AM

And another "stupid" question....

Can this be tweaked to find the largest contiguous rectangle of all transparent pixels?

I have a series of for loops to do this now, but it seems horribly inefficient.

Posted by: Ross R on November 30, 2009 08:14 PM
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