Introduction to Image Segmentation for Data Science

Shipra Saxena 30 Mar, 2021
5 min read


  • Computer vision is being widely used in the industry. You must have come across the applications where computer vision played a major role.
  • In this article, we will see image segmentation, a fascinating problem domain in computer vision.



Computer vision is one of the hottest research fields in the data science world. Moreover, it has become a part of our personal lives. Knowingly or unknowingly, we all use various features which have computer vision techniques running at the backend.

Note: If you are more interested in learning concepts in an Audio-Visual format, We have this entire article explained in the video below. If not, you may continue reading.



Like computer vision is being used for the security cameras in identifying the person or in self-driving cars for detecting the object present in front of the car.

If we try to define computer vision formally

Computer vision is artificially recreating the human vision in perceiving and understanding the images.

Once we have a clear idea of computer vision. Now, let’s understand some real-world problems that can be solved using computer vision.


Image classification

Image Segmentation - Image classification

Suppose we an image and the question we are trying to solve here is what image is present in the picture? The object of importance is here the Dog. This looks like a simple problem, Right? We can formulate this as an image classification problem.

Multi-class image classification

Image Segmentation - Multi-class image classification

Now instead of having a single object in the image, we can have multiple objects. So our question would change accordingly, What are the objects present in the image. The answer to this is a dog and a cat. We can formulate this as a multiclass classification problem.

Object Detection

Image Segmentation - Object Detection

Now suppose we also care about where are the objects are present instead of just seeing what are the objects. We can identify what objects are present in the image and also draw a bounding box alongside these objects to specify their location.

For example, we say here is a cat and we draw a red box around it. Similarly, we say that there is a dog and draw a blue box around it. This problem can be specified as an object detection task.


Image segmentation

Further, if we have the same question of finding the objects in the same image and their location but instead we want the exact location of the objects.

We can give the exact location by identifying every pixel that represents the object. In simple words, instead of drawing a rough rectangular box around the object, we draw a polygon around the object and also color every pixel of that object as can be seen here.  This can be formulated as an Image Segmentation problem.

Image segmentation

Formally speaking,

 Image segmentation is the task of partitioning an image based on the objects present and their semantic importance.

This makes it a whole lot easier to analyze the given image, because instead of getting an approximate location from a rectangular box. We can get the exact pixel-wise location of the objects.

Applications of image segmentation

Now there are multiple applications where image segmentation can be applied, Let’s discuss a few interesting image segmentation applications.

Medical Imaging

Medical Imaging

Image segmentation can be applied for medical imaging tasks such as cancer cell segmentation. Where it is of utmost importance that we identify the exact location of the tumors or cancerous cells.

Self-driving cars

Self-driving cars

Other applications of image segmentation could be self-driving systems. for lane segmentation or pedestrian identification. By precisely predicting the location of the object of importance like roads or a person, a self-driving system can take appropriate steps to handle the downstream task like applying the breaks or slowing down the car.

Satellite Imaging/ Remote sensing

Satellite Imaging/ Remote sensing

Another application could be in the remote sensing domain. Where we can identify the composition of the ground such as what is the forest cover in the region or finding illegal activities like mining or even forest fires.


Types Of Image Segmentation

Now even in Image segmentation, there are a few types of problems that you should get yourself acquainted with. First and foremost is the semantic segmentation then comes instance segmentation. The next one is panoptic segemntation. Let’s see each of them.

Types Of Image Segmentation

Semantic segmentation

Semantic segmentation describes the process of associating each pixel with a class label. So simply, here we just care about a coarse representation of all the objects present in the image. Here you can see all the cars represented in blue, the pedestrian with red, and the street as slightly pink.

So there is no clear distinction between the cars, which means all the cars are colored blue. This is the simplest way to define an image segmentation problem.

Instance segmentation

Now If you want to go a bit further and want to represent each instance of a class differently, this problem will be formally known as instance segmentation.

Unlike semantic segmentation, in image segmentation, we mask each instance of an object contained in an image independently. So this implies, that we will focus on the object of importance first and then identify each instance of the object separately.

You can see that all objects in the image cars and persons are highlighted and all of these are different colors. This is what instance segmentation is.

Panoptic segmentation

When you combine semantic segmentation and instance segmentation, you get panoptic segmentation. It is a recent research area where we need to associate each pixel in the image with the semantic label for the classification and also identify the instances of a particular class.

So this is a more complex problem for image segmentation.


To summarize, in this article we saw different computer vision tasks and discussed image segmentation in detail. Also, we saw a few applications of image segmentation like medical imaging, self-driving systems, and remote sensing.

At last, we discussed different types of image segmentation given as semantic segmentation, instance segmentation, and panoptic segmentation.

If you have any queries, let me know in the comments below!



Shipra Saxena 30 Mar, 2021

Frequently Asked Questions

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Responses From Readers


Anurag Singh
Anurag Singh 22 Mar, 2021

Nice explanation

Deepak Agrawal
Deepak Agrawal 25 Mar, 2021

Shipra, You made it so simple, even computer illiterate like me can also understand it. Continue like this for benefit of people like me Thank you so much