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Pattern Recognition 38 (2005) 2363 2372 www.elsevier.


Image thresholding using type II fuzzy sets

Hamid R. Tizhoosh
Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence Laboratory, Systems Design Engineering, University of Waterloo, 200 University Avenue West, ON, Canada N2L 3G1

Received 5 September 2003; received in revised form 15 November 2004; accepted 18 February 2005

Abstract Image thresholding is a necessary task in some image processing applications. However, due to disturbing factors, e.g. non-uniform illumination, or inherent image vagueness, the result of image thresholding is not always satisfactory. In recent years, various researchers have introduced new thresholding techniques based on fuzzy set theory to overcome this problem. Regarding images as fuzzy sets (or subsets), different fuzzy thresholding techniques have been developed to remove the grayness ambiguity/vagueness during the task of threshold selection. In this paper, a new thresholding technique is introduced which processes thresholds as type II fuzzy sets. A new measure of ultrafuzziness is also introduced and experimental results using laser cladding images are provided. 2005 Pattern Recognition Society. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Image thresholding; Fuzzy sets; Type II fuzzy sets; Measures of fuzziness; Ultrafuzziness

1. Introduction In some image processing applications, we often have to threshold gray-level images into binary images. In these cases, the image contains a background and one or more objects. The generation of binary images mainly serves for feature extraction and object recognition. Image thresholding can be regarded as the simplest form of segmentation, or more general, as a two-class clustering procedure. Extensive research has been already conducted to introduce new and more robust thresholding techniques [14]. Sankura and Sezginb list over 40 different thresholding techniques [5]. Fuzzy techniques are suitable for the development of new algorithms because they are, as nonlinear knowledge-based methods, able to remove grayness ambiguities in a robust way [6]. In this paper, a new thresholding technique will be introduced which processes thresholds as type II fuzzy

E-mail address: tizhoosh@uwaterloo.ca.

sets (also called ultrafuzzy sets). The concept of ultrafuzziness aims at capturing/eliminating the uncertainties within fuzzy systems using regular (type I) fuzzy sets (ultrafuzzy sets should not only remove the vagueness/imprecision in the data but also the uncertainty in assigning membership values to the data). A measure of ultrafuzziness is also introduced. Experimental results using laser cladding images are provided in order to demonstrate the usefulness of the proposed approach. This paper is organized as follows: In Section 2, a brief review of fuzzy thresholding techniques is provided. In Section 3, the fuzzy information theoretical approach to image thresholding is discussed. Section 4 describes briey the type II fuzzy sets. Here, a new measure for ultrafuzziness is introduced. Section 5 introduces image thresholding using type II fuzzy sets and by means of the measure of ultrafuzziness. In Section 6 laser cladding images are used to demonstrate the advantage of the proposed technique. Finally, the paper is summarized with some conclusions in Section 7.

0031-3203/$30.00 2005 Pattern Recognition Society. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.patcog.2005.02.014


H.R. Tizhoosh / Pattern Recognition 38 (2005) 2363 2372

2. Fuzzy thresholding techniques Under the title fuzzy thresholding, one should distinguish between different pixel classication techniques that, on the one hand, are all based on the same idea (namely the use of fuzzy sets [7]), but on the other hand are very different because they use different aspects and tools of fuzzy set theory. Generally, regarding existing fuzzy algorithms in the literature, one can distinguish between following fuzzy approaches to image thresholding: Fuzzy clustering considers the thresholding as a two-class clustering problem. There are some algorithms such as fuzzy c-means (FCM), possibilistic c-means (PCM), etc. that can be applied to image thresholding [811]. Rule-based approach uses fuzzy ifthen rules to nd the suitable threshold. This method is suitable if there exists explicit expert knowledge about the image (e.g. in medical applications) [12]. Fuzzy-geometrical approach optimizes geometrical measures such as compactness, index of area coverage, etc. This approach uses, in contrast to other fuzzy techniques, spatial image information [6,1317]. Information-theoretical approach minimizes or maximizes measures of fuzziness and image information such as index of fuzziness or crispness, fuzzy entropy, fuzzy divergence, etc. Because of its simplicity and high speed, this approach is the most used fuzzy technique in the literature [6,1724]. In this work, we focus on the last approach because it is the most common fuzzy approach to image thresholding. However, all other approaches could be reviewed to verify how extension of type I to type II could eventually be implemented. The main purpose of this work is to demonstrate that algorithms based on type II fuzzy sets are (can be) superior to their counterparts which use ordinary fuzzy sets.

For the spatial case, the fuzziness can be calculated as follows:

l (A) =

2 MN

M 1 N 1 i =1 j =1

min[ A (gij ), 1 A (gij )].


To measure the global or local image fuzziness, a suitable membership function A (g) should be dened. Different functions are already used in the literature, such as the standard S-function [28,27] and the Huang and Wang function [20]. Tizhoosh [17] dened the suitable threshold as an LRtype fuzzy number (Fig. 1), which was dened as follows: 0, g gmin or g gmax , g g min , g L(g) = min g T , T gmin (g)= R(g) = gmax g , T g gmax , gmin T (3) where g is the gray level, gmin and gmax are the minimum and maximum gray levels and T [0, L 1] is a suitable constant. The linguistic hedges and (0, ) can be determined with respect to the statistical properties of the image histogram. However, the proper selection of parameters is not easy and can add more complexity to the algorithm at hand. Using a fuzzy number seems to be more natural since we usually try to segment the image by means of a preferably single number (a unique threshold for the entire image). Only if this fails, which occurs in many applications, advanced techniques for adaptive thresholding are employed. A single threshold, globally determined for an entire image or locally calculated for an image region, remains uncertain. Therefore, removing the uncertainty around a crisp number by considering/representing it as a fuzzy number seems to be benecial. The general algorithm for image thresholding based on measures of fuzziness can be formulated as follows (Fig. 2): (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) Select the shape of the membership function. Select a suitable measure of fuzziness (e.g. Eq. (1)). Calculate the image histogram. Initialize the position of the membership function. Shift the membership function along the gray-level range (Fig. 2) and calculate in each position the amount of fuzziness, for instance using Eq. (1). (6) Locate the position gopt with minimum/maximum fuzziness. (7) Threshold the image with T = gopt . Fig. 3 shows an example of thresholding with measures of fuzziness with different membership functions. It should be noted that it is not possible to say which membership function is the best one (Murthy and Pal [28] make some considerations on the choice of an appropriate membership function). One can always nd images for which a certain technique delivers good or bad results. This is one of the

3. Information-theoretical approach If we are to understand images as fuzzy sets (or subsets), the question arises how fuzzy is a fuzzy set? For instance, if the membership function is at, then it is very fuzzy, and if it is steep, then it is rather crisp. A at membership function (high fuzziness) indicates the high image data vagueness, and hence a difcult thresholding. Measures of fuzziness give a quantitative answer to this issue. The most common measure of fuzziness is the linear index of fuzziness [6,22,2427]. For an M N image subset A X with L gray levels g [0, L 1], the histogram h(g) and the membership function X (g), the linear index of fuzziness l can be dened as follows:
l (A) =

2 MN

L1 g =0

h(g) min[ A (g), 1 A (g)].


H.R. Tizhoosh / Pattern Recognition 38 (2005) 2363 2372


1 0.5 0 A B gray levels C



1 L(g) R(g)

0.5 threshold T 0 gray levels L-1


0 0 T gray levels L-1

Fig. 1. Different membership functions for image thresholding. From left to right: S-function used by Pal and Rosenfeld [14], function used by Huang and Wang [20], and threshold as a fuzzy number used by Tizhoosh [17].

m,h moving the fuzzy number 1

0 T


the parameters of type I fuzzy sets may also be noisy. Type I fuzzy sets are not able to directly model such uncertainties because their membership functions are totally crisp. On the other hand, type-2 fuzzy sets are able to model such uncertainties because their membership functions are themselves fuzzy (Mendel and Bob John [29]). The term footprint of uncertainty (FOU) is used in the literature to verbalize the shape of type II fuzzy sets (shaded area in Fig. 4) [29,30]. The FOU implies that there is a distribution that sits on top of that shaded area. When they all equal one, the resulting type II fuzzy sets are called interval type II fuzzy sets. Fuzzy sets of type II are, therefore, fuzzy sets for which the membership function does not deliver a single value for every element but an interval. is dened by a type II Denition. A type II fuzzy set A membership function A (x, u), where x X and u Jx [0, 1], i.e. [30], = {((x, u), (x, u))| x X, u Jx [0, 1]}, A A (4) in which 0 (x, u) 1. A can also be expressed in the A usual notation of fuzzy sets as = A
(x, u) A ,

Fig. 2. The membership function is shifted over the gray-level range to calculate the amount of fuzziness in each position. The maximum fuzziness indicates the optimal threshold (how and what we shift may differ for other membership functions).

major motivations of this work to remove the uncertainty of membership values by using type II fuzzy sets (see the next section).

4. Type II fuzzy sets The main problem with fuzzy sets type I, regardless of which shape we use and what algorithm is applied, is that the assignment of a membership degree to an element/pixel is not certain. Membership functions are usually dened by the expert and are based on his intuition/knowledge. The fact that different fuzzy techniques differ mainly in the way that they dene the membership function is for the most part due to this dilemma. To nd a more robust solution, type II fuzzy sets should be introduced. There are different sources of uncertainties in type I fuzzy sets (see [29]): the meanings of the words that are used, measurements may be noisy, the data that are used to tune

x X


(x, u)

Jx [0, 1],


where the double integral denotes the union over all x and u. In order to dene a type II fuzzy set, one can dene a type I fuzzy set and assign upper and lower membership degrees to each element to (re)construct the footprint of uncertainty (Fig. 4). A more practical denition for a type II fuzzy set can be given as follows: = {(x, U (x), L (x))| x X , A (x) [0, 1]}. L (x) U (x),


The upper and lower membership degrees U and L of initial (skeleton) membership function can be dened by


H.R. Tizhoosh / Pattern Recognition 38 (2005) 2363 2372

Fig. 3. From left to right: original image, thresholded using S-function (T = 51), using the Huang and Wang function (T = 39), and using a fuzzy number as in Fig. 1 (T = 19).

type I fuzzy set 1 upper limit membership lower limit 0 0 1

type II fuzzy set

Fig. 4. A possible way to construct type II fuzzy sets. The interval between lower and upper membership values (shaded region) should capture the footprint of uncertainty (FOU).

means of linguistic hedges like dilation and concentration:

0.5 U (x) = [ (x)] , 2 L (x) = [ (x)] .

4.1. A measure of ultrafuzziness If we interpret images or thresholds as type II fuzzy sets, then the question arises as to how ultrafuzzy is a fuzzy set. We have to answer this question to extend the aforementioned fuzzy thresholding to type II fuzzy sets. If the degrees of membership can be dened without any uncertainty (ordinary or type I fuzzy sets), then obviously the ultrafuzziness should be 0. For the case that individual membership values can only be indicated as an interval, the amount of ultrafuzziness will increase. The extreme case of maximal ultrafuzziness (=1) is comparable to total ignorance in measure theory, whereas we absolutely do not know anything about the nature of membership degrees of the problem at hand. With respect to these thoughts and the way we dene a type II fuzzy set, a measure of ultrafuzziness for an M N X with L gray levels g [0, L 1], image subset A histogram h(g) and the membership function A (g) can be dened as follows: = (A) where
U (g) = [ A (g)] 1/ , L (g) = [ A (g)] ,

(7) (8)

Of course, other linguistic hedges such as deaccentuation and accentuation can also be employed:
0.75 , U (x) = [ (x)] 1.25 . L (x) = [ (x)]

(9) (10)

Hedges are generally available as pairs, which represent diagonally different modications of a basic term. It seems, therefore, practical to use a linguistic hedge and its reciprocal value to draw the footprint of uncertainty. Hence, the upper and lower membership values can be dened as follows:
1/ , U (x) = [ (x)] L (x) = [ (x)] ,

(11) (12)

1 MN

L1 g =0

h(g) [ U (g) L (g)],


where (1, ). In the conducted experiments, (1, 2] has been used because ?2 is usually not meaningful for image data.

(1, 2].

(14) (15)

H.R. Tizhoosh / Pattern Recognition 38 (2005) 2363 2372


For the spatial case, the ultrafuzziness can be calculated as follows: = (A) 1 MN
M 1 N 1 i =1 j =1

[ U (gij ) L (gij )].


This basic denition relies on the assumption that the singletons sitting on the FOU are all equal in height (which is the reason why the interval-based type II is used). Hence, it can only measure the variation in the length of the FOU. Kaufmann [26] introduced rst an index of fuzziness to measure the imprecision/vagueness of a fuzzy set. He also established four conditions that every measure of fuzziness should satisfy. Analogously, we can demand that the measure of ultrafuzziness should satisfy the following conditions: = 0 if is a type I fuzzy (1) Minimum ultrafuzziness: (A) A set (g X U (g) = L (g)). = (A) . (2) Equal ultrafuzziness: (A) be a type II fuzzy set: A = {(x, U , L )| Proof:1 Let A 1 / can , U= }. Then the complement set A L= be dened as follows: = {(x, U , L )| L = 1 1/ , U = 1 }. A can be The ultrafuzziness for the complement set A calculated as follows: = (A) 1 MN 1 MN
L1 g =0 L1 g =0 L1 g =0

(2) Calculate the image histogram. (3) Initialize the position of the membership function. (4) Shift the membership function along the gray-level range. (5) Calculate in each position the upper and lower membership values U (g) and L (g). (6) Calculate in each position the amount of ultrafuzziness (Eq. (13)). (7) Find out the position gopt with maximum ultrafuzziness. (8) Threshold the image with T = gopt . Using the fuzzy number in Eq. (3) the thresholding based on this scheme can be formulated as solving the following equation: j = j 1 (A) jT jT MN

g =0

[ U (g, T ) L (g, T )] = 0. 6. Experimental results


h(g) [(1 L (g)) (1 U (g))], h(g) [(1 L (g)) 1 + U (g)], h(g) [ U (g) L (g)], (17)

In this section two sets of test images will be used to investigate the effect of type II fuzzy sets on the results of image thresholding. The purpose of these experiments is mainly to compare the type I fuzzy thresholding with its type II counterpart. However, results by other techniques are also presented to have non-fuzzy references. 6.1. Experiments with laser cladding images In order to test the performance of the proposed technique, images from laser cladding are used. Laser cladding by powder injection is an advanced material processing with applications in manufacturing, part repairing, metallic rapid prototyping and coating [31,32]. A laser beam melts powder and a thin layer of the substrate to create a layer on the substrate. Having a reliable feedback system for the closed loop control is crucial to this process. For this purpose and beside other sensors, a CCD camera is used to feed the required data to a controller. From the captured images, the laser height hL should be measured (Fig. 5) and sent to the controller. The measurement accuracy of laser height plays here a pivotal role.

1 = MN . = (A)

is an inten ) if A (3) Reduced ultrafuzziness: (A) (A (A has a shorter/narrower sied (crisper) version of A ). FOU than A = 1 if g X U (g) (4) Maximum ultrafuzziness: (A) L (g) = 1. 5. Thresholding with fuzzy sets of type II The general algorithm for image thresholding based on type II fuzzy sets and measures of ultrafuzziness can be formulated as follows: (1) Select the shape of skeleton membership function (g) and initialize .
1 We are considering the special case with dilation and concentration modiers as means for constructing the FOU. The proof of the general case will remain a subject for future works.

Fig. 5. Calculation of laser height for control.

2368 Table 1 Results of thresholding for laser images

H.R. Tizhoosh / Pattern Recognition 38 (2005) 2363 2372

Test image

Type I fuzzy sets

Otsu algorithm

Type II fuzzy sets

The result of the proposed approach based on type II fuzzy sets was compared to its counterpart with fuzzy sets type I. The interval-based type II fuzzy set was dened with = 2 (Eqs. (11), (12)). Also the Otsu algorithm was considered. Results for different laser

cladding images are illustrated in Table 1. Based on subjective determination of the optimal height hLopt , the from the optimal height was calaverage difference d culated for every algorithm. The results are presented in Table 2.

H.R. Tizhoosh / Pattern Recognition 38 (2005) 2363 2372


Fig. 6. Test images and the corresponding (manually generated) ground-truth images. From top left to bottom right: blocks, zimba, gearwheel, shadow, stones, rice, potatoes, text, ultrasonic, and newspaper. Table 2 (in pixel) from optimal (manual) measurement Average difference d means that the laser height measurement is closer to (smaller d = 0) the expert measurement: ideally d Using type I fuzzy sets d 6.3 Using Otsu algorithm 6.8 Using type II fuzzy sets 2.1

(ground-truth image). A measure of performance was used to compare the individual gold images with the binary result delivered by type I and type II thresholding. Based on the misclassication error [5,33], the performance measure was dened as = 100 |BO BT | + |FO FT | , |BO | + |FO | (19)

6.2. Experiments with other images The effect of thresholding with type II fuzzy sets was also tested using 9 different images. These images contained small and large objects, text, objects with clear or fuzzy boundaries, and were noisy or smooth. In order to verify the performance of the thresholding, the optimal thresholded image was created manually and used as a gold standard

where BO and FO denote the background and foreground of the original (ground-truth) image, BT and FT denote the background and foreground area pixels in the result image, and |.| is the cardinality of the set. The Otsu technique, as a well-established algorithm, and the clustering-based Kittler method were employed as well to have non-fuzzy references (according to Sankur and Sezgin, the Kittler algorithm is the best thresholding technique available [5]). The test images with corresponding


H.R. Tizhoosh / Pattern Recognition 38 (2005) 2363 2372

Fig. 7. Results of four algorithms for thresholding of images in Fig. 6. From left to right: result of type I algorithm, Otsu method, type II algorithm, and Kittler clustering.

H.R. Tizhoosh / Pattern Recognition 38 (2005) 2363 2372 Table 3 Performance of individual methods based on comparison of their results with the ground-truth images (see Figs. 6 and 7, and Eq. (19)) Image Blocks Zimba Gearwheel Shadow Stones Rice Potatoes Text Ultrasonic Newspaper m Type I 71.21 86.31 64.47 75.75 39.96 99.98 98.96 36.37 92.63 93.68 75.93 23.15 Otsu 94.32 97.87 98.13 90.64 95.96 94.34 98.01 77.28 96.25 99.00 94.18 6.44 Type II 98.98 99.52 98.21 94.39 96.99 99.65 99.77 93.44 97.56 98.17 97.67 2.19 Kittler 98.35 98.85 92.24 78.33 81.10 93.44 99.21 90.02 96.81 96.31 92.47 7.38


Acknowledgements The author wants to thank Dr. E. Toyserkani and Dr. A. Khajepour (Mechanical Engineering, University of Waterloo, Canada) for providing the test images and necessary descriptions.

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ground-truth images are illustrated in Fig. 6, and the results of the four techniques are presented in Fig. 7. The performance measure for every algorithm is listed in Table 3. As is apparent from Table 3, type II thresholding has the highest average performance of 97.67% with the lowest standard deviation of 2.19%. In contrast, the type I algorithm with 75.93% average performance and 23.15% standard deviation is clearly inferior to the type II algorithm. 7. Concluding remarks Image thresholding is a difcult task in image processing. Probably, we will never nd a super algorithm that can be successfully applied to all kinds of images. Therefore, it is appropriate to look for new techniques. Fuzzy set theory provides us with knowledge-based and robust tools for developing new thresholding techniques. They, however, usually suffer from the problem that the optimal membership function cannot be easily determined. The central idea of this work was to introduce the application of type II fuzzy sets into fuzzy thresholding in order to overcome this dilemma. For this purpose, a new measure of ultrafuzziness is introduced to quantify the vagueness of a type II fuzzy set. A new thresholding algorithm based on fuzzy numbers and type II fuzzy sets was then introduced. A practical example from laser cladding demonstrated the usefulness of the proposed approach and its superiority to the same algorithm incorporating type I (ordinary) fuzzy sets. Additional experiments with different test images reinforced this conclusion. In future works, the effect of extension to type II fuzzy sets for other algorithms, comparisons with non-fuzzy techniques, and an adaptive version of the proposed technique will be the subject of investigations. More extensive investigations on other measures of ultrafuzziness and the effect of parameters inuencing the width/length of FOU should certainly be conducted.


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About the AuthorHAMID R. TIZHOOSH received the M.S. degree in electrical engineering from University of Technology, Aachen, Germany, in 1995. From 1993 to 1996, he worked at Management of Intelligent Technologies Ltd. (MIT GmbH), Aachen, Germany, in the area of industrial image processing. Dr. Tizhoosh received his Ph.D. degree from University of Magdeburg, Germany, in 2000 in the eld of computer vision. He was active as a scientist in the engineering department of Image Processing Systems Inc. (IPS), Markham, Canada, until 2001. For 6 months, he visited the Knowledge/Intelligence Systems Laboratory, University of Toronto, Canada. Since September 2001, he is a faculty member at the Department of Systems Design Engineering, University of Waterloo, Canada. His research encompasses machine intelligence, computer vision and soft computing. Currently he is a member of the Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence Group at the University of Waterloo.