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"Digitizer" redirects here. This article covers the general concept of digitization- for other uses, see Digitizer (disambiguation).

Digitizing or digitization[1] is the representation of an object, image, sound, document or a signal (usually an analog signal) by a discrete set of its points or samples. The result is called digital representation or, more specifically, a digital image, for the object, and digital form, for the signal. Strictly speaking, digitizing means simply capturing an analog signal in digital form. For a document the term means to trace the document image or capture the "corners" where the lines end or change direction.

McQuail identifies the process of digitization having immense significance to the computing ideals[which?] as it "allows information of all kinds in all formats to be carried with the same efficiency and also intermingled". (2000:28)[2]


The term digitization is often used when diverse forms of information, such as text, sound, image or voice, are converted into a single binary code. Digital information exists as one of two digits, either 0 or 1. These are known as bits (a contraction of binary digits) and the sequences of 0s and 1s that constitute information are called bytes.[3]

Analog signals are continuously variable, both in the number of possible values of the signal at a given time, as well as in the number of points in the signal in a given period of time. However, digital signals are discrete in both of those respects – generally a finite sequence of integers – therefore a digitization can, in practical terms, only ever be an approximation of the signal it represents.

Digitization occurs in two parts:

The reading of an analog signal A, and, at regular time intervals (frequency), sampling the value of the signal at the point. Each such reading is called a sample and may be considered to have infinite precision at this stage;
Samples are rounded to a fixed set of numbers (such as integers), a process known as quantization.

In general, these can occur at the same time, though they are conceptually distinct.

A series of digital integers can be transformed into an analog output that approximates the original analog signal. Such a transformation is called a DA conversion. The sampling rate and the number of bits used to represent the integers combine to determine how close such an approximation to the analog signal a digitization will be.


The term is often used to describe the scanning of analog sources (such as printed photos or taped videos) into computers for editing, but it also can refer to audio (where sampling rate is often measured in kilohertz) and texture map transformations. In this last case, as in normal photos, sampling rate refers to the resolution of the image, often measured in pixels per inch.

Digitizing is the primary way of storing images in a form suitable for transmission and computer processing, whether scanned from two-dimensional analog originals or captured using an image sensor-equipped device such as a digital camera, tomographical instrument such as a CAT scanner, or acquiring precise dimensions from a real-world object, such as a car, using a 3D scanning device.[4]

Digitizing is central to making a digital representations of geographical features, using raster or vector images, in a geographic information system, i.e., the creation of electronic maps, either from various geographical and satellite imaging (raster) or by digitizing traditional paper maps or graphs[5] (vector).

"Digitization" is also used to describe the process of populating databases with files or data. While this usage is technically inaccurate, it originates with the previously proper use of the term to describe that part of the process involving digitization of analog sources, such as printed pictures and brochures, before uploading to target databases.

Digitizing may also used in the field of apparel, where an image may be recreated with the help of embroidery digitizing software tools and saved as embroidery machine code. This machine code is fed into an embroidery machine and applied to the fabric. The most supported format is DST file.

Analog signals to digital

Analog signals are continuous electrical signals; digital signals are non-continuous. Analog signal can be converted to digital signal by ADC.[6]

Nearly all recorded music has been digitized. About 12 percent of the 500,000+ movies listed on the Internet Movie Database are digitized on DVD.

Handling of analog signal becomes easy [according to whom?] when it is digitized because the signal is digitized before modulation and transmission. The conversion process of analog to digital consists of two processes: sampling and quantizing.

Digitization of personal multimedia such as home movies, slides, and photographs is a popular method of preserving and sharing older repositories. Slides and photographs may be scanned using an image scanner, but videos are more difficult.[7]

Analog texts to digital

About 5 percent of texts have been digitized as of 2006.[8]

Older print books are being scanned and optical character recognition technologies applied by academic and public libraries, foundations, and private companies like Google.[9]

Unpublished text documents on paper which have some enduring historical or research value are being digitized by libraries and archives, though frequently at a much slower rate than for books (see digital libraries). In many cases, archives have replaced microfilming with digitization as a means of preserving and providing access to unique documents.

Implications of digitization

This shift to digitization in the contemporary media world has created implications for traditional mass media products, however these "limitations are still very unclear" (McQuail, 2000:28). The more technology advances, the more converged the realm of mass media will become with less need for traditional communication technologies. For example, the Internet has transformed many communication norms, creating more efficiency for not only individuals, but also for businesses. However, McQuail suggests traditional media have also benefited greatly from new media, allowing more effective and efficient resources available (2000:28).

Collaborative digitization projects

There are many collaborative digitization projects throughout the United States. Two of the earliest projects were the Collaborative Digitization Project in Colorado and NC ECHO - North Carolina Exploring Cultural Heritage Online,[10] based at the State Library of North Carolina.

These projects establish and publish best practices for digitization and work with regional partners to digitize cultural heritage materials. Additional criteria for best practice have more recently been established in the UK, Australia and the European Union.[11] Wisconsin Heritage Online[12] is a collaborative digitization project modeled after the Colorado Collaborative Digitization Project. Wisconsin uses a wiki[13] to build and distribute collaborative documentation. Georgia's collaborative digitization program, the Digital Library of Georgia,[14] presents a seamless virtual library on the state's history and life, including more than a hundred digital collections from 60 institutions and 100 agencies of government. The Digital Library of Georgia is a GALILEO[15] initiative based at the University of Georgia Libraries.

In South-Asia Nanakshahi trust is digitizing manuscripts of Gurmukhīscript.

Library preservation

Main article: Digital preservation

Digital preservation in its most basic form is a series of activities maintaining access to digital materials over time.[16] Digitization in this sense is a means of creating digital surrogates of analog materials such as books, newspapers, microfilm and videotapes. Digitization can provide a means of preserving the content of the materials by creating an accessible facsimile of the object in order to put less strain on already fragile originals. For sounds, digitization of legacy analogue recordings is essential insurance against technological obsolescence.[17]

The prevalent Brittle Books[18] issue facing libraries across the world is being addressed with a digital solution for long term book preservation.[19] For centuries, books were printed on wood-pulp paper, which turns acidic as it decays. Deterioration may advance to a point where a book is completely unusable. In theory, if these widely circulated titles are not treated with de-acidification processes, the materials upon those acid pages will be lost forever. As digital technology evolves, it is increasingly preferred as a method of preserving these materials, mainly because it can provide easier access points and significantly reduce the need for physical storage space.

Cambridge University Library is working on the Cambridge Digital Library, which will initially contain digitised versions of many of its most important works relating to science and religion. These include examples such as Isaac Newton's personally annotated first edition of his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica [20] as well as college notebooks[21][22] and other papers,[23] and some Islamic manuscripts such as a Quran[24] from Tipoo Sahib's library.

Google, Inc. has taken steps towards attempting to digitize every title with "Google Book Search".[25][26] While some academic libraries have been contracted by the service, issues of copyright law violations threaten to derail the project.[27] However, it does provide - at the very least - an online consortium for libraries to exchange information and for researchers to search for titles as well as review the materials.

Lean philosophy

The broad use of internet and the increasing popularity of Lean philosophy has also increased the use and meaning of "digitizing" to describe improvements in the efficiency of organizational processes. This will often involve some kind of Lean process in order to simplify process activities, with the aim of implementing new "lean and mean" processes by digitizing data and activities.


Works of science-fiction often include the term digitize as the act of transforming people into digital signals and sending them into a computer. When that happens, the people disappear from the real world and appear in a computer world (as featured in the cult film Tron, the animated series Code: Lyoko, or the late 1980s live-action series Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future). In the video game Beyond Good & Evil, the protagonist's holographic friend digitizes the player's inventory items.

See also


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