I want to write a program in Mathematica that takes an image and converts it into a drawing made completely of straight full-length lines.
The program should check all the lines of the image, then find the line with the darkest pixels, convert it to white and place a black line with the same coordinates in the new image.
This is for greyscale results

here is an example

enter image description here

there is a very nice video that explains the algorithm


here is also a website that does exactly this


try it!

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ are you aware of this ? $\endgroup$
    – andre314
    Oct 11, 2018 at 18:06
  • $\begingroup$ @andre yes I've seen it, but I'm interested in finding the series of points just like in the video. Using CirclePoints would be nice $\endgroup$
    – ZaMoC
    Oct 11, 2018 at 18:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Here is an alternative way to do it using Radon transformation - and I have no idea how that works. $\endgroup$
    – Sumit
    Oct 12, 2018 at 11:13

1 Answer 1


Actually, the algorithm is straightforward, it is perfectly well explained in the video you linked, and I'm not entirely sure why you haven't simply tried it yourself. So what I will provide is a version for grayscale images and I'll leave it to you to extend this for colour images.


The algorithm itself is highly modular and you can work on each subproblem almost separately. In the video, it was explained that you put nails around the image and then use one long dark string that goes from nail to nail to resemble the image.

We start by using the pixel matrix of an image which is a matrix. Then we extract the nail positions which are all pixels around the image. Extracting the positions for all four sides can be done with the dimension of the matrix

getNailPositions[{nx_, ny_}] := Join[
  Table[{x, 1}, {x, nx - 1}],
  Table[{nx, y}, {y, ny - 1}],
  Table[{x, ny}, {x, nx, 2, -1}],
  Table[{1, y}, {y, ny, 2, -1}]

As explained in the video, we start at one nail and we need to make a line to all other nails and check, which of these lines is the darkest one. One prerequisite is an algorithm that takes two points and gives us all integer positions on the line between the points. I have written here about the Bresenham algorithm which is stunningly simple. For the answer here, I'm going to re-implement my solution using Compile so that we can check all lines in parallel

bresenhamC = Compile[{{p0, _Integer, 1}, {p1, _Integer, 1}},
   Module[{dx = 0, dy = 0, sx = 0, sy = 0, err = 0, newp = p0, 
     result = Internal`Bag[p0]},
    {dx, dy} = Abs[p1 - p0];
    {sx, sy} = Sign[p1 - p0];
    err = dx - dy;
    While[newp =!= p1,
     newp = With[{e2 = 2 err}, {
        If[e2 > -dy, err -= dy; Compile`GetElement[newp, 1] + sx, 
         Compile`GetElement[newp, 1]],
        If[e2 < dx, err += dx; Compile`GetElement[newp, 2] + sy, 
         Compile`GetElement[newp, 2]]
     Internal`StuffBag[result, Compile`GetElement[newp, 1]];
     Internal`StuffBag[result, Compile`GetElement[newp, 2]];
    Partition[Internal`BagPart[result, All], 2]
   CompilationTarget -> "C",
   Parallelization -> True,
   RuntimeAttributes -> {Listable}

But that's not all, because it is not sufficient to get all the positions. What we need is the mean darkness along the lines, as this is our selector that indicates which string we draw next. So having two nails we want to check, we need to get all points along the line in between and then we have to calculate the mean pixel values in the image on this line. There are other measures that could be used when you want to implement an adaption for colour images.

With[{bresenhamC = bresenhamC},
 pixelMeasure = 
  Compile[{{img, _Real, 2}, {p0, _Integer, 1}, {p1, _Integer, 1}},
   Module[{points = bresenhamC[p0, p1], v = p1 - p0},
    Mean[Table[Compile`GetElement[img, p[[1]], p[[2]]], {p, points}]]
   CompilationOptions -> "InlineCompiledFunctions" -> True,
   Parallelization -> True,
   RuntimeAttributes -> {Listable},
   CompilationTarget -> "C"

If we have found the best next nail (p1) to our starting nail p0, we need to brighten the image on this line. Otherwise, the algorithm would end up using the same connections. I will make this in place which means that we have one starting image that gets continually brighter. To make this work, I'm using HoldFirst to get the symbol that contains the image matrix instead of getting the matrix itself

SetAttributes[weakenLine, {HoldFirst}];
weakenLine[img_, {p0_, p1_}] := With[{pts = bresenhamC[p0, p1]},
   Part[img, Sequence @@ p] += 0.03
   , {p, pts}

One step of the algorithm works as follows

  1. Take the image matrix, a starting nail point, and a list of all possible nail points
  2. Select the next best nail point that has the lowest pixel measure alone the line
  3. Make this line weaker in the image matrix
  4. Return the new next nail position

That gives us

SetAttributes[step, {HoldFirst}];
step[img_, p0_, nails_] := Module[{points, sel},
  sel = First@Ordering[pixelMeasure[img, p0, nails]];
  weakenLine[img, {p0, nails[[sel]]}];

We are ready to put everything together to calculate the series of nail positions we need to visit. I left out one little detail: It is probably a good idea to pad the image matrix with one pixel-layer of white. This will prevent the algorithm from going along the image border

calculateLines[img_, n_] := Module[
    data = ArrayPad[ImageData[img, "Real"], 1, 1.0],
  positions = With[{pos = getNailPositions[Dimensions[data]]}, 
    Table[pos[[i]], {i, 1, Length[pos]}]
  NestList[step[data, #, positions] &, {1, 1}, n]

Now it is time for a first test. The dynamic output I put inside the above function is to show you how the original image slowly degrades. Three parameters influence the degradation:

  1. The number of lines n you create
  2. How much white gets added in the weakenLine function
  3. How many nailpoints you have choosen inside the calculateLines function (currently all pixel positions around the image)

Here is how the code can be used:

img = ColorConvert[Import["https://i.sstatic.net/YRCQD.png"], "Grayscale"];
lines = calculateLines[img, 2000];

This is the degraded image after 2000 lines. As you can see nothing much happend and with the current settings, we aim for a very detailed image that needs way more lines.

Mathematica graphics

To show this in a Graphics (which we won't do later), we need to massage the coordinates of the lines a bit as they are in pixel coordinates which use a different coordinate-system:

Graphics[{Opacity[0.1, Black], AbsoluteThickness[1], 
  Line[{1, -1}*Reverse[#] & /@ lines]}]

Mathematica graphics

Since we have already have implemented the Bresenham, a better idea is to use it and draw the lines onto a completely white image. That however, is again very simple. We need a more general function of our weakenLine algorithm that applies a function to all pixels on a line between points p0 and p1

SetAttributes[applyLine, {HoldFirst}];
applyLine[img_, {p0_, p1_}, f_Function] := 
 With[{pts = bresenhamC[p0, p1]},
    Part[img, Sequence @@ p] = f@Part[img, Sequence @@ p]
    ,{p, pts}

Now, we calculate 10000 lines and after that, we draw the lines onto the white canvas

lines = calculateLines[img, 10000];

Time for tea.. and when this is done

out = ConstantArray[1.0, Reverse[ImageDimensions[img]] + 2];
 applyLine[out, line, Function[val, val - .028]],
 {line, Partition[lines, 2, 1]}

Mathematica graphics

  • $\begingroup$ Crazy...man.... $\endgroup$
    – yode
    Oct 12, 2018 at 6:51
  • $\begingroup$ wow. this looks absolutely stunning! $\endgroup$
    – ZaMoC
    Oct 12, 2018 at 7:32
  • $\begingroup$ great answer. I have a problem running the code. I think it has to do with Compile`GetElement. What should I do to initialize the libraries? $\endgroup$
    – shrap
    Nov 12, 2018 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ First, try to remove the CompilationTarget -> "C" from the compiled functions. It is possible you don't have a C compiler installed. $\endgroup$
    – halirutan
    Nov 12, 2018 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ @halirutan, very well done. Is there any way that I can contact you please? $\endgroup$
    – Seyed
    Aug 7, 2020 at 19:40

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