Photoshop is a wonderful tool, but it tends to require mousing (even with shortcuts), likes to eat up as much RAM as possible, and doesn't play nice with bash scripts. Thats why I prefer Image Magick: a quirky, insanely full-featured CLI image manipulation library. I'll run through some examples of using it do a few common tasks that I previously used photoshop for, such as:

  • Identify the size/type of image
  • Convert image types
  • Resize images to a maximum width/height
  • Reduce image filesize
  • Trim Whitespace
  • Create new images from scratch
  • Add borders

Example Repository

If you want to follow along, i've created an example repository with some source files. I'll be referencing them through the post.


Mac Os X

Mac users can (and should) use brew :

brew install imagemagick


Most linux distributions should have the imagemagick package available by default.

For Ubuntu:

apt-get install imagemagick

There be dragons: Mogrify Vs. Convert

One important thing to cover before we start slicing and dicing images is that IM has two major methods for manipulating images: convert and mogrify. Convert takes a source file, makes whatever changes you desire to it and ouptus them to a file you specify. Mogrify only accepts one file, and makes all changes on that file (unless you specify a destination directory). mogrify has a simpler syntax for performing batch operations on images, but that elegance comes with the potential of deleting precious content. There's an example of how to handle batch operations using both commands in the "resize" section later on. For now, just be warned that mogrify will write any changes you make to the original files. Back up early; back up often.

Identify the size and type of images

identify is great for getting a quick overview of an image's properties.

Our example's source file includes an image file named 300, which i've nabbed from PlaceKitten. Photoshop doesn't know what to do with the image, because it is missing an extension, and while we could try and guess the extension by renaming the file to (gif|png|jpg) and seeing what happens, but it's cooler (and faster) to use the identify command to figure things out:

identify 300
300 JPEG 200x200 200x200+0+0 8-bit sRGB 8KB 0.000u 0:00.009

Ah, a jpeg. I suspected it all along.

Formatting identify's output

The default output of the identify command is a little verbose for my taste. We can trim it down by using IM built in -format escapes

 # Print the name, and dimensions of the file named 300
  identify -format "Name: %f Dimensions: %P Type: %m" 300 

Batch identification is simple with your shell's built in globbing:

  # '*' will get you more than you ask for, so it's best to narrow
  # things down based on the file structure you are dealing with
  identify *

Convert image formats

Imagemagick's powerhouse is the convert command. You can use it to do almost anything you can imagine through some terrifyingly complex flags. We'll try to keep things simple : )

Convert from tiff to jpg

Image magick can effortlessly convert images between various formats. A problem one of my coworkers ran into recently involved clients needing images in the tiff format. Photoshop can do batch operations, but the process is clunky, and — in my experience— unreliable.

Single Images:

  • convert convert.tiff kitten.jpg Simple, no?

Multiple Images:

  • destroying the original image:
    • mogrify mogrify --format tiff *.jpg
  • retaining the original image, the mogrify command can be used with the -path flag
    • mogrify --format tiff -path converted *.jpg
    • The path (in this case the 'converted' directory) must exist, or IM will complain
    • Make sure that this path is different than the files you are using mogrify on, or they will be overwritten.
  • retaining the original image, you can use a longconvert statement (see batch resizing below).

Resize images

Simple Resize

convert kitten.jpg -resize 80% resized-kitten.jpg

Batch Resizing

Clients rarely have a images in a uniform, web-optimized format, and even if they do I usually need need two copies: retina-ready images, and images for us normal folks. ImageMagick makes generating those a snap.

In our resize/batch folder:

convert *.jpg -resize 80% -set filename:f '%t@2x' '%[filename:f].jpg'

Here we are resizing all jpg images by 80%, setting the filename the filename %t plus the string @2x to follow apple's convention for retina images, and then outputting the file. The syntax is a little esoteric (more details on that here), but once you get the hang of it it can be quite useful.

We can now run mogrify !(*@2x).jpg -resize 40% to cut the non retina images down to size (note, this will "destroy" the original images -- I have a backup handy).

Resizing to a maximum pixel width

If you have do not have a specific size for your images, but want to keep things small, you can use the following syntax:

In our resize folder, there is a max width image. Running identify gives us the following:

max-width.jpg JPEG 408x287 408x287+0+0 8-bit sRGB 15.8KB 0.000u 0:00.000

Let's resize that to a max width of 200px:

convert max-width.jpg -resize 200\> max-width-resized.jpg

One special thing to note is the icky need for the \ in \>. This is necessary to escape to prevent your shell from interpreting that as an output redirection >.

Replacing "save-for-web" and reducing file size with -strip

When resizing images (especially large images), you may notice that the file size of the images does not decrease as much as you might expect. This is typically due the meta-data and other kruft that may come attached to your image file. Using the -strip flag on any IM operation will remove this data, which, in my experience, typically results in a 10-30% reduction in size.

In our trim folder: convert -strip strip.jpg stripped.jpg

Use identify to compare the file sizes. Not a huge reduction (this image is pretty slim already), but imagine those percentage savings being applied to a larger image.

Obviously, Photoshop's "Save for web" combines resizing and optimizing functions, but you can too.

convert sample.png -strip -resize 80% optimized.png


Add a 5px black border to an image.

In our borders folder:

convert kitten.jpg -bordercolor '#000' -border 5 bordered.jpg

Trim Whitespace

My jaw dropped when I first found out about this command (thanks to this brilliant gentleman)

In our trim-whitespace folder

convert trim.png -trim trimmed.png

Unfortunately, for images with gradients, or subtle transitions between subject/background, the results are not quite as spectacular:

convert not-quite-trim.jpg -trim not-quite-trimmed.jpg

Will output an image that still has a background bleed :(

Create Images from the command line

Imagemagick can also help you with bespoke iamges as well, if you need some filler content and can't use a service like or (my favorite)

To create a simple gray (usinga hex value), sized 100x100 you can use the convert command.

  • Solid Color: convert -size 100x100 canvas:#a19c9e canvas.png (note, you may need to quote/escape hex colors, as your shell may try glob them)

  • Gradient: convert -size 100x100 gradient:#a19c9e-#000000 canvas.png

  • Pattern: convert -size 100x100 pattern:HEXAGONS canvas.png

There are a host of options here

The start of a beautiful friendship

Hopefully these examples have whet your appetite for handling images on the command line. IM can do so so much more, and all those features are listed in IM's extensive documentation.


Os X Users: sips

If you don't want to bother installing IM, or you are on a friend's Macbook and can't. Use the built-in utility sips to do some batch image processing. While not as robust as ImageMagick, it suffice in a pinch. More on that here.

IM and Build Processes

While IM is an excellent choice for performing large batch operations on images, it has been my experience that it is better suited for one off batch jobs than a constant build/deploy process. I'd suggest using tools like the HTML5 BoilerPlate Build script or Grunt with the grunt-contrib-imgmin plugin on projects that may need to consistently run and rerun optimization.

A note on Performance

ImageMagick has a more performant fork GraphicsMagick if you are concerned about keeping resource usage down or if you are etsy. Most of the commands are similar, but the differences between the command structure and GM's elusive api documentation make starting with imageMagick a better fit. You can always move on to GM when performance becomes a concern.


If you are a command-line master, and i've missed something or missed a performant shortcut, don't hesitate to note it in the comments. Or open an issue