Using the image layer#

In this document, you will learn how to use the napari image layer, including the types of images that can be displayed, and how to set properties like contrast limits, opacity, colormaps, blending and interpolation. You will also understand how to add and manipulate a variety of different types of images both from the GUI and from the console.

For more information about layers, refer to Layers at a glance.

Controlling the image layer using the GUI#

The GUI contains following tools in the layer controls panel for the image layer:

  • Buttons

    • Pan/zoom

    • Transform

  • Controls

    • Opacity

    • Contrast Limits

    • Auto-contrast

    • Gamma

    • Colormap

    • Blending

    • Interpolation

Before we can use any of the GUI layer controls, we must load an image.

  1. Start napari.

  2. Click File > Open Sample > napari builtins > Cells (3D+2Ch) or any sample image of your choice.


  • Pan/zoom image: Pan/zoom tool is the default mode of the layer and supports panning and zooming. Press the 1 key when the layer is selected to use this mode.

  • Transform image: Transform enables you to rotate, scale, or translate the layer. Note: at present this feature is limited to 2D viewer display mode. To reset the transformation, you can Option/Alt-click the transform button (a confirmation dialog will open to confirm the reset). Press the 2 key when the layer is selected to use this mode.


The GUI controls may be adjusted as follows:

  • opacity is adjusted by moving the circle along the slider until the image has the opacity you want. 0 is transparent and 1 is completely opaque.

  • contrast limits are adjusted by moving the minimum and maximum circles along the slider until you have the contrast limits you want. For more precise control, including the ability to set specific numerical values, you can right-click on the slider. Note: Contrast limits are explained in Adjusting contrast limits.

  • auto-contrast is adjusted by selecting either once or continuous. once adjusts the contrast one time while continuous adjusts the contrast as you explore the image.

  • gamma can be adjusted from a minimum of 0.20 to a maximum of 2.00. Gamma correction or gamma is a nonlinear operation used to encode and decode luminance or tristimulus values.

  • colormap is selected from the dropdown. Note: If the image you select is an RGB or RGBA image, the colormap is automatically assigned RGB and cannot be changed. You can find out if your image is RGB or RGBA by looking at the .rgb property of the image layer.

  • blending has the options of translucent, translucent no depth, additive, minimum, or opaque in the dropdown. Refer to the Blending layers section of Layers at a glance for an explanation of each type of blending.

  • interpolation may be assigned one of the following from the dropdown:

    • cubic

    • linear

    • kaiser

    • nearest - default

    • spline36

    Note: There is a brief explation of interpolation in Layers at a glance.

Controlling the image layer from the console#

A simple example#

Create a new viewer and add an image in one go using the napari.view_image() function, or if you already have an existing viewer, add an image to it using viewer.add_image. The API for both methods is the same. In these examples we’ll mainly use view_image.

A simple example of viewing an image is as follows:

import napari
from skimage import data

cells = data.cells3d()[30, 1]  # grab some data
viewer = napari.view_image(cells, colormap='magma')
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from napari.utils import nbscreenshot

nbscreenshot(viewer, alt_text="Cells")

Arguments of view_image and add_image#

view_image() and add_image() accept the same layer-creation parameters.

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Help on function view_image in module napari.view_layers:

view_image(data=None, *, channel_axis=None, affine=None, attenuation=0.05, blending=None, cache=True, colormap=None, contrast_limits=None, custom_interpolation_kernel_2d=None, depiction='volume', experimental_clipping_planes=None, gamma=1.0, interpolation2d='nearest', interpolation3d='linear', iso_threshold=None, metadata=None, multiscale=None, name=None, opacity=1.0, plane=None, projection_mode='none', rendering='mip', rgb=None, rotate=None, scale=None, shear=None, translate=None, units=None, visible=True, title='napari', ndisplay=2, order=(), show=True, camera: = None, cursor: napari.components.cursor.Cursor = None, dims: napari.components.dims.Dims = None, grid: napari.components.grid.GridCanvas = None, layers: napari.components.layerlist.LayerList = None, help: str = '', status: Union[str, dict] = 'Ready', tooltip: napari.components.tooltip.Tooltip = None, theme: str = None, mouse_over_canvas: bool = False) -> napari.viewer.Viewer
    Create a viewer and add an image layer.
    data : array or list of array
        Image data. Can be N >= 2 dimensional. If the last dimension has length
        3 or 4 can be interpreted as RGB or RGBA if rgb is `True`. If a
        list and arrays are decreasing in shape then the data is treated as
        a multiscale image. Please note multiscale rendering is only
        supported in 2D. In 3D, only the lowest resolution scale is
    channel_axis : int, optional
        Axis to expand image along. If provided, each channel in the data
        will be added as an individual image layer. In channel_axis mode,
        other parameters MAY be provided as lists. The Nth value of the list
        will be applied to the Nth channel in the data. If a single value
        is provided, it will be broadcast to all Layers.
        All parameters except data, rgb, and multiscale can be provided as
        list of values. If a list is provided, it must be the same length as
        the axis that is being expanded as channels.
    affine : n-D array or napari.utils.transforms.Affine
        (N+1, N+1) affine transformation matrix in homogeneous coordinates.
        The first (N, N) entries correspond to a linear transform and
        the final column is a length N translation vector and a 1 or a
        napari `Affine` transform object. Applied as an extra transform on
        top of the provided scale, rotate, and shear values.
    axis_labels : tuple of str
        Dimension names of the layer data.
        If not provided, axis_labels will be set to (..., 'axis -2', 'axis -1').
    attenuation : float or list of float
        Attenuation rate for attenuated maximum intensity projection.
    blending : str or list of str
        One of a list of preset blending modes that determines how RGB and
        alpha values of the layer visual get mixed. Allowed values are
        {'translucent', 'translucent_no_depth', 'additive', 'minimum', 'opaque'}.
    cache : bool or list of bool
        Whether slices of out-of-core datasets should be cached upon
        retrieval. Currently, this only applies to dask arrays.
    colormap : str, napari.utils.Colormap, tuple, dict, list or list of these types
        Colormaps to use for luminance images. If a string, it can be the name
        of a supported colormap from vispy or matplotlib or the name of
        a vispy color or a hexadecimal RGB color representation.
        If a tuple, the first value must be a string to assign as a name to a
        colormap and the second item must be a Colormap. If a dict, the key must
        be a string to assign as a name to a colormap and the value must be a
    contrast_limits : list (2,)
        Intensity value limits to be used for determining the minimum and maximum colormap bounds for
        luminance images. If not passed, they will be calculated as the min and max intensity value of
        the image.
    custom_interpolation_kernel_2d : np.ndarray
        Convolution kernel used with the 'custom' interpolation mode in 2D rendering.
    depiction : str or list of str
        3D Depiction mode. Must be one of {'volume', 'plane'}.
        The default value is 'volume'.
    experimental_clipping_planes : list of dicts, list of ClippingPlane, or ClippingPlaneList
        Each dict defines a clipping plane in 3D in data coordinates.
        Valid dictionary keys are {'position', 'normal', and 'enabled'}.
        Values on the negative side of the normal are discarded if the plane is enabled.
    gamma : float or list of float
        Gamma correction for determining colormap linearity; defaults to 1.
    interpolation2d : str or list of str
        Interpolation mode used by vispy for rendering 2d data.
        Must be one of our supported modes.
        (for list of supported modes see Interpolation enum)
        'custom' is a special mode for 2D interpolation in which a regular grid
        of samples is taken from the texture around a position using 'linear'
        interpolation before being multiplied with a custom interpolation kernel
        (provided with 'custom_interpolation_kernel_2d').
    interpolation3d : str or list of str
        Same as 'interpolation2d' but for 3D rendering.
    iso_threshold : float or list of float
        Threshold for isosurface.
    metadata : dict or list of dict
        Layer metadata.
    multiscale : bool
        Whether the data is a multiscale image or not. Multiscale data is
        represented by a list of array-like image data. If not specified by
        the user and if the data is a list of arrays that decrease in shape,
        then it will be taken to be multiscale. The first image in the list
        should be the largest. Please note multiscale rendering is only
        supported in 2D. In 3D, only the lowest resolution scale is
    name : str or list of str
        Name of the layer.
    opacity : float or list
        Opacity of the layer visual, between 0.0 and 1.0.
    plane : dict or SlicingPlane
        Properties defining plane rendering in 3D. Properties are defined in
        data coordinates. Valid dictionary keys are
        {'position', 'normal', 'thickness', and 'enabled'}.
    projection_mode : str
        How data outside the viewed dimensions, but inside the thick Dims slice will
        be projected onto the viewed dimensions. Must fit to cls._projectionclass
    rendering : str or list of str
        Rendering mode used by vispy. Must be one of our supported
        modes. If a list then must be same length as the axis that is being
        expanded as channels.
    rgb : bool, optional
        Whether the image is RGB or RGBA if rgb. If not
        specified by user, but the last dimension of the data has length 3 or 4,
        it will be set as `True`. If `False`, the image is interpreted as a
        luminance image.
    rotate : float, 3-tuple of float, n-D array or list.
        If a float, convert into a 2D rotation matrix using that value as an
        angle. If 3-tuple, convert into a 3D rotation matrix, using a yaw,
        pitch, roll convention. Otherwise, assume an nD rotation. Angles are
        assumed to be in degrees. They can be converted from radians with
        'np.degrees' if needed.
    scale : tuple of float or list of tuple of float
        Scale factors for the layer.
    shear : 1-D array or list.
        A vector of shear values for an upper triangular n-D shear matrix.
    translate : tuple of float or list of tuple of float
        Translation values for the layer.
    units : tuple of str or pint.Unit, optional
        Units of the layer data in world coordinates.
        If not provided, the default units are assumed to be pixels.
    visible : bool or list of bool
        Whether the layer visual is currently being displayed.
        title : string, optional
        The title of the viewer window. By default 'napari'.
    ndisplay : {2, 3}, optional
        Number of displayed dimensions. By default 2.
    order : tuple of int, optional
        Order in which dimensions are displayed where the last two or last
        three dimensions correspond to row x column or plane x row x column if
        ndisplay is 2 or 3. By default None
    axis_labels : list of str, optional
        Dimension names. By default they are labeled with sequential numbers
    show : bool, optional
        Whether to show the viewer after instantiation. By default True.
    viewer : :class:`napari.Viewer`
        The newly-created viewer.

Image data and NumPy-like arrays#

napari can take any NumPy-like array as input for its image layer. A NumPy-like array can be a numpy array, a dask array, an xarray, a zarr array, or any other object that you can index into and when you call np.asarray on it you get back a NumPy array.

The great thing about napari support of array-like objects is that you get to keep on using your favorite array libraries without worrying about any conversions. napari handles all of that for you.

napari will also wait until just before it displays data onto the screen to actually generate a NumPy array from your data, and so if you’re using a library like dask or zarr that supports lazy loading and lazy evaluation, we won’t force you to load or compute data that you’re not examining. This enables napari to seamlessly browse enormous datasets that are loaded in the right way. For example, here we are browsing over 100GB of lattice lightsheet data stored in a zarr file:

Multiscale images#

For exceptionally large datasets, napari supports multiscale images (sometimes called image pyramids). A multiscale image is a list of arrays, where each array is downsampling of the previous array in the list. This means you end up with images of successively smaller and smaller shapes. A standard multiscale image might have a 2x downsampling at each level, but napari can support any type of multiscale image as long as the shapes are getting smaller each time.

Multiscale images are especially useful for incredibly large 2D images when viewed in 2D or incredibly large 3D images when viewed in 3D. For example this ~100k x 200k pixel pathology image consists of 10 pyramid levels and can be easily browsed as at each moment in time we only load the level of the multiscale image and the part of the image that needs to be displayed:

This example had precomputed multiscale images stored in a zarr file, which is best for performance. If you don’t have a precomputed multiscale image but try and show an exceptionally large image, napari will try and compute the multiscale image for you unless you tell it not to.

You can use the boolean multiscale keyword argument when creating an image layer to specify if your data is a multiscale image or not. If you don’t provide this value, then napari will try and guess whether your data is or needs to be a multiscale image.

Loading multichannel images#

Each channel in a multichannel image can be displayed as an individual layer by using the channel_axis argument in viewer.add_image(). All the rest of the arguments to viewer.add_image() (e.g. name, colormap, contrast_limit) can take the form of a list of the same size as the number of channels.

For example, the multichannel image below has dimensions (60, 2, 256, 256) with axes ordered ZCYX (so the channel axis has an index of 1). It is loaded into napari in one line, as shown below:

import napari
from skimage import data

cells = data.cells3d() #ZCYX image data

# load multichannel image in one line
viewer = napari.view_image(cells, channel_axis=1)

# load multichannel image in one line, with additional options
viewer = napari.view_image(
    name=["membrane", "nuclei"],
    colormap=["green", "magenta"],
    contrast_limits=[[1000, 20000], [1000, 50000]],
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from napari.utils import nbscreenshot

nbscreenshot(viewer, alt_text="napari viewer with a multichannel image of cells displayed as two image layers: nuclei and membrane.")
napari viewer with a multichannel image of cells displayed as two image layers: nuclei and membrane.

Viewing RGB vs luminance (grayscale) images#

In this example, the rgb keyword is explicitly set to True because we know we are working with an rgb image:

viewer = napari.view_image(data.astronaut(), rgb=True)
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from napari.utils import nbscreenshot

nbscreenshot(viewer, alt_text="napari viewer with the left sidebar layer controls and an image of astronaut Eileen Collins. In the layer controls, the colormap is fixed to RGB")