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Monday, November 25, 2013

SDL2: Loading Images with SDL_image


[Update 2015-11-14: This article is out of date. Check out the latestversion at Gigi Labs.]

In the previous article, "SDL2: Displaying an Image in the Window", we saw how we could load bitmaps using the SDL_LoadBMP() function. Unfortunately, working with bitmaps is very limiting, and the core SDL2 library does not provide the means to work with other image formats. However, such functionality is provided by an extension library called SDL_image. In this article, we will learn how to set up SDL_image and also how to use it to load other image formats.

Setting up SDL_image is not very different from setting up SDL 2.0 itself. You need to go to the SDL_image homepage and download the development libraries and runtime binaries:

Let's concentrate on those development libraries for the moment. Once you extract the contents of the zip file, you'll be able to find an include folder and a lib folder among other stuff. The include folder contains a single header file, SDL_image.h. This needs to go into your C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft SDKs\Windows\v7.0A\Include\SDL2 folder (this is for Visual Studio 2010; you may need to change the v7.0A part depending on the version you're using), or wherever your other SDL2 header files are located, and drop the SDL_image.h file there.

As for the lib folder, whatever is in the x86 subfolder goes into the C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft SDKs\Windows\v7.0A\Lib folder, and whatever is in the x64 subfolder goes into C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft SDKs\Windows\v7.0A\Lib\x64.

With that done, let's set up a new project using Visual Studio 2010. Create an Empty Project from the Visual C++ category. Right click on the project and select Properties. In Configuration Properties -> Linker -> System, change the SubSystem to Windows (/SUBSYSTEM:WINDOWS). Then go to Input (also under Linker) and replace the Additional Dependencies with the following:


You'll notice this is a little different from "SDL2: Setting up SDL2 in Visual Studio 2010" in that we've added the SDL2_image.lib. Since this is a new library, we need to link it into our program to use its functionality.

Now let's try some code. Add a file called main.cpp, and let's start off with the following code (it's the same as that used in "SDL2: Displaying an Image in the Window", without the error checking to keep it concise, and also filling the window):
#include <SDL2/SDL.h>
#include <SDL2/SDL_image.h>

int main(int argc, char ** argv)
    bool quit = false;
    SDL_Event event;


    SDL_Window * window = SDL_CreateWindow("SDL2 Displaying Image",
    SDL_Renderer * renderer = SDL_CreateRenderer(window, -1, 0);
    SDL_Surface * image = SDL_LoadBMP("image.bmp");
    SDL_Texture * texture = SDL_CreateTextureFromSurface(renderer,

    while (!quit)

       case SDL_QUIT:
           quit = true;

       SDL_RenderCopy(renderer, texture, NULL, NULL);


    return 0;

Now, we're going to load this nice photo (.jpg format) taken in Gardaland in 2006:

Doing this is quite simple. First, we initialise SDL_image by calling IMG_Init() right after the call to SDL_Init():
...and before the call to SDL_Quit(), we shut down SDL_Image using IMG_Quit():

All we have left to do now is replace the line calling SDL_LoadBMP() with one that uses IMG_Load() instead:
    SDL_Surface * image = IMG_Load("PICT3159.JPG");
You should now be able to build this program (Ctrl+Shift+B). Before you run it, though, make sure that SDL2.dll is in the same folder as your executable. You'll also need to toss in all the DLLs from the runtime binaries package (most likely the x86 one is what you'll be using by default) - that includes SDL2_image.dll along with format-specific files such as libjpeg-9.dll, libpng16-16.dll, etc. If you're going to run from Visual Studio, make sure the image is in the same folder as your main.cpp file; otherwise if you're running straight from the executable, the image should be in the same folder with it.

And voilĂ :

Isn't that sweet? The SDL_image library allows you to load a large variety of image formats, by just replacing SDL_LoadBMP() with IMG_Load(). You'll need to initialise and cleanup the library (although it seems to work even without this) and remember to link the library and include the appropriate header file. But as you can see, it's pretty straightforward.

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