iOS7 Day-by-Day :: Day 15 :: CoreImage Filters

Written by Sam Davies

This post is part of a daily series of posts introducing the most exciting new parts of iOS7 for developers –#iOS7DayByDay. To see the posts you’ve missed check out the introduction page, but have a read through the rest of this post first!


CoreImage is a framework for image processing which was introduced in iOS5. It abstracts all the low-level guff associated with dealing with images away from the user and has an easy-to-use filter-chain architecture. iOS7 introduces new filters, some of which we’re going to take a look at in today’s DbD. We’ll start by taking a look at some more traditional photo effect filters, before taking a look at a new creative filter which generates QR codes.

The code for this blog post is available in the github repo which accompanies this series – at

Photo Effect Filters

The ability to apply ‘cool’ effects to your photos is now ever-present in the mobile app world. Made popular by instagram, it seems that it’s no longer possible to take a photo without being encouraged to make it appear that you took it on a 40 year old camera which has a light-leak. Well, CoreImage has added some really easy to use filters to help you out with adding this functionality to your apps.

In order to use these filters we’ll need to have do a bit of CoreImage. CoreImage specifies it’s own image type – CIImage, which can be created from lots of different sources, including the CoreGraphics equivalent CGImage:

UIImage *_inputUIImage = [UIImage imageNamed:@"shinobi-badge-head.jpg"];
CIImage *_inputImage = [CIImage imageWithCGImage:[_inputUIImage CGImage]];

Using filters is really simple – they can even be chained together, but for our purposes we just want to specify a single filter:

CIFilter *filter = [CIFilter filterWithName:@"CIPhotoEffectChrome"];
[filter setValue:_inputImage forKey:kCIInputImageKey];

A CoreImage filter is represented by the CIFilter class, which has a factory method to create a specific filter object. These filter object then use KVC to specify the relevant filter arguments. All of the new photo-effect filters take just a single argument – the input image, which is specified using the string constand kCIInputImageKey.

We can then turn this back into a UIImage for display in a UIImageView:

UIImage *outputImage = [UIImage imageWithCIImage:filter.outputImage];

The new photo-effect filters are referenced with the following strings:


In the app which accompanies today’s post we have a collection view which demonstrates the output of each of the new filters on a single input image. Since we don’t have loads of images, we process the images up-front, to preserve the scrolling performance we expect from iOS.

This also requires that we construct CGImage versions of each of the CIImage filter outputs. This is because the outputImageproperty is generated lazily. To do this, we use a CIContext to draw the CIImage into a CoreGraphics context:

// Create a CG-back UIImage
CGImageRef cgImage = [[CIContext contextWithOptions:nil] createCGImage:filter.outputImage fromRect:filter.outputImage.extent];
UIImage *image = [UIImage imageWithCGImage:cgImage];

[images addObject:image];

The rest of the code in the SCPhotoFiltersViewController is the boilerplate code required to run a collection view with custom cells. If you run up the app you can see the different filtered results:

Core Image Filter1Filter2

QR Code Generation

In addition to the photo effect filters iOS7 also introduces a filter which is capable of generating QR codes to represent a specific data object. In the sample app the second tab (SCQRGeneratorViewController) demonstrates this functionality – when the ‘Generate’ button is pressed then the content of the text field is encoded in a QR code, displayed above.

The method which creates the QR code is really rather simple:

- (CIImage *)createQRForString:(NSString *)qrString
    // Need to convert the string to a UTF-8 encoded NSData object
    NSData *stringData = [qrString dataUsingEncoding:NSUTF8StringEncoding];

    // Create the filter
    CIFilter *qrFilter = [CIFilter filterWithName:@"CIQRCodeGenerator"];
    // Set the message content and error-correction level
    [qrFilter setValue:stringData forKey:@"inputMessage"];
    [qrFilter setValue:@"H" forKey:@"inputCorrectionLevel"];

    // Send the image back
    return qrFilter.outputImage;

The QR filter requires an NSData object which it will encode, and hence we first take the NSString and encode it into anNSData object using UTF-8 encoding.

Then, same as we did before, we create a CIFilter using the filterWithName: factory method, specifying the name to beCIQRCodeGenerator. The two keys we need to set in this case are called inputMessage, which is the NSData object we just created, and inputCorrectionLevel, which specifies how resilient to error the code will be. There are 4 levels:

  • L 7% error resilience
  • M 15% error resilience
  • Q 25% error resilience
  • H 30% error resilience

Once we’ve done this we can return the outputImage of the filter, which will be a CIImage with 1pt resolution for the smallest squares.

We want to be able to resize this image, but we don’t want to allow any interpolation since what we have is pixel-perfect. In order to do this we create a new method which enables rescaling an image with interpolation disabled:

- (UIImage *)createNonInterpolatedUIImageFromCIImage:(CIImage *)image withScale:(CGFloat)scale
    // Render the CIImage into a CGImage
    CGImageRef cgImage = [[CIContext contextWithOptions:nil] createCGImage:image fromRect:image.extent];

    // Now we'll rescale using CoreGraphics
    UIGraphicsBeginImageContext(CGSizeMake(image.extent.size.width * scale, image.extent.size.width * scale));
    CGContextRef context = UIGraphicsGetCurrentContext();
    // We don't want to interpolate (since we've got a pixel-correct image)
    CGContextSetInterpolationQuality(context, kCGInterpolationNone);
    CGContextDrawImage(context, CGContextGetClipBoundingBox(context), cgImage);
    // Get the image out
    UIImage *scaledImage = UIGraphicsGetImageFromCurrentImageContext();
    // Tidy up
    return scaledImage;

Like we did in the previous example, we first create a CGImage representation of the CIImage. Then we create a core graphics context of the correctly rescaled resolution. The important line here is that we set the interpolation quality to none. If we were rescaling a photo, this would look pretty terrible and pixelized, but pixelized is exactly what we want for a QR code:

CGContextSetInterpolationQuality(context, kCGInterpolationNone);

Once we’ve drawn the image into the context then we can grab it out as a UIImage and return it. Thus, our completed generation handler looks like this:

- (IBAction)handleGenerateButtonPressed:(id)sender {
    // Disable the UI
    [self setUIElementsAsEnabled:NO];
    [self.stringTextField resignFirstResponder];

    // Get the string
    NSString *stringToEncode = self.stringTextField.text;

    // Generate the image
    CIImage *qrCode = [self createQRForString:stringToEncode];

    // Convert to an UIImage
    UIImage *qrCodeImg = [self createNonInterpolatedUIImageFromCIImage:qrCode withScale:2*[[UIScreen mainScreen] scale]];

    // And push the image on to the screen
    self.qrImageView.image = qrCodeImg;

    // Re-enable the UI
    [self setUIElementsAsEnabled:YES];

There’s a call to a utility method to disable the UI whilst we’re generating:

- (void)setUIElementsAsEnabled:(BOOL)enabled
    self.generateButton.enabled = enabled;
    self.stringTextField.enabled = enabled;

If you run the app up now you’ll be able to generate QR codes all day and night. No idea what you’re going to do with them… maybe soon we’ll work out a way to read them.

QR Generator


CoreImage is a handy framework for doing some fairly advanced image processing without having to get too involved with the low-level image manipulation. It has its quirks, but it can be really useful. With the new photo-effect filters and QR code generator it might just have saved you finding an external dependency or writing your own versions.

Don’t forget that you can get the code for this project on github at If you have any feedback/comments then feel free to use the comments box below, or hit me up on twitter – @iwantmyrealname.