What are Some Common Algorithm used in Lossless Image Compression?

Lossless image compression is a technique that aims to reduce the size of digital images while retaining all the original information. In contrast to lossy compression techniques that discard some of the image data, lossless compression algorithms preserve all the data, allowing the original image to be reconstructed exactly. This makes lossless compression techniques particularly suitable for images that require high fidelity, such as medical imagery or scientific data.

In this article, we will explore some of the common algorithms used in lossless image compression.

1. Run-length encoding (RLE)

Run-length encoding (RLE) is a simple and efficient compression algorithm that works by identifying and encoding runs of identical pixels. In RLE, a run is a sequence of consecutive pixels that have the same color value. The algorithm encodes each run as a pair of values: the color value and the length of the run.

For example, consider the following row of pixels:


The RLE algorithm would encode this as follows:

(0, 6)(1, 9)(0, 8)

This means that the first run consists of 6 zeros, the second run consists of 9 ones, and the third run consists of 8 zeros.

RLE works particularly well for images that contain long runs of identical pixels, such as binary images or simple graphics.

2. Huffman coding

Huffman coding is a widely used algorithm for lossless compression of data. It works by assigning variable-length codes to different symbols based on their frequency of occurrence. The more frequently a symbol occurs, the shorter its code. The algorithm then generates a binary tree that can be used to encode and decode the symbols.

In image compression, Huffman coding is often used to compress the color palette of an image. This involves creating a table of color values and their corresponding frequencies, and then using Huffman coding to assign variable-length codes to the colors based on their frequencies.

For example, consider a color palette that contains the following colors and their frequencies:

Color Frequency
Red 5
Green 3
Blue 2

The Huffman coding algorithm would assign the following codes to each color:

Color Code
Red 0
Green 10
Blue 11

The resulting compressed image would use these codes instead of the original color values.

3. Lempel-Ziv-Welch (LZW) compression

Lempel-Ziv-Welch (LZW) is a dictionary-based compression algorithm that is widely used in image compression. The algorithm works by building a dictionary of previously encountered patterns in the image and then encoding each new pattern as a reference to the dictionary entry.

The LZW algorithm works by starting with a dictionary that contains all the possible pixel values. The algorithm then reads through the image data one pixel at a time, looking for repeated patterns of pixels. When a new pattern is encountered, the algorithm adds it to the dictionary and encodes it as a reference to the dictionary entry.

For example, consider the following image:


The LZW algorithm would start with a dictionary containing the values 0 and 1. It would then encounter the pattern "0000" and add it to the dictionary with the next available index (2). The algorithm would then encode the pattern as a reference to index 2 (2, 2).

The algorithm would then encounter the pattern "1111" and add it to the dictionary with the next available index (3). It would encode the pattern as a reference to index 3 (3, 3).

The compressed data would then be:

(2, 2)(3, 3)(2, 4)(3, 4)

The LZW algorithm is particularly effective for images that contain repeated patterns. 

4. Arithmetic coding

Arithmetic coding is another widely used lossless compression algorithm that works by assigning a single value to a range of symbols instead of a unique code for each symbol. This results in a more efficient compression as the code length is not fixed and can vary according to the symbol frequency.

In image compression, arithmetic coding is often used in conjunction with predictive coding techniques. Predictive coding works by predicting the value of a pixel based on its neighboring pixels and then encoding the difference between the predicted value and the actual value. Arithmetic coding is then used to encode the difference values.

5. Differential pulse-code modulation (DPCM)

Differential pulse-code modulation (DPCM) is a predictive coding technique that works by encoding the difference between adjacent pixels. This technique exploits the spatial correlation between adjacent pixels in an image.

In DPCM, the predictor calculates an estimate of the current pixel based on the previous pixel. The difference between the actual value of the current pixel and the predicted value is then encoded using a lossless compression algorithm such as Huffman coding or arithmetic coding.

DPCM can achieve high compression ratios, particularly for images with smooth variations in intensity.

6. Burrows-Wheeler Transform (BWT)

The Burrows-Wheeler Transform (BWT) is a reversible transform that rearranges the characters in a string to improve compressibility. It is often used as a preprocessing step before applying other lossless compression algorithms such as Huffman coding or arithmetic coding.

In image compression, the BWT can be applied to the image data to transform the pixel values into a more compressible form. The resulting transformed data is then compressed using a lossless compression algorithm.


Lossless image compression algorithms play a crucial role in reducing the size of digital images while retaining all the original information. The choice of algorithm depends on the type of image being compressed and the desired compression ratio. Some algorithms, such as RLE, work well for images with long runs of identical pixels, while others, such as DPCM, exploit the spatial correlation between adjacent pixels in an image.

The key to effective image compression is to choose the right combination of algorithms that work well together. A common approach is to use a preprocessing step such as the BWT to transform the image data into a more compressible form and then apply a combination of algorithms such as Huffman coding, arithmetic coding, and DPCM to achieve high compression ratios.

Overall, lossless image compression algorithms continue to evolve, and new algorithms are being developed that can achieve even higher compression ratios while maintaining high fidelity. As digital images continue to become an increasingly important part of our lives, lossless compression algorithms will continue to play a vital role in managing and sharing digital images.