A grayscale (or graylevel) image is simply one in which the only colors are shades of gray. The reason for differentiating such images from any other sort of color image is that less information needs to be provided for each pixel. In fact a `gray' color is one in which the red, green and blue components all have equal intensity in RGB space, and so it is only necessary to specify a single intensity value for each pixel, as opposed to the three intensities needed to specify each pixel in a full color image.
Often, the grayscale intensity is stored as an 8-bit integer giving 256 possible different shades of gray from black to white. If the levels are evenly spaced then the difference between successive graylevels is significantly better than the graylevel resolving power of the human eye.
Grayscale images are very common, in part because much of today's display and image capture hardware can only support 8-bit images. In addition, grayscale images are entirely sufficient for many tasks and so there is no need to use more complicated and harder-to-process color images.
©2003 R. Fisher, S. Perkins,
A. Walker and E. Wolfart.