Image (mathematics)

In mathematics, the image of a function is the set of all output values it may produce.
More generally, evaluating a given function f at each element of a given subset A of its domain produces a set called the "image of A under f ". The inverse image or preimage of a given subset B of the codomain of f is the set of all elements of the domain that map to the members of B.
Image and inverse image may also be defined for general binary relations, not just functions.


The word "image" is used in three related ways. In these definitions, f : XY is a function from the set X to the set Y.

Image of an element

If x is a member of X, then f = y is the image of x under f. y is alternatively known as the output of f for argument x.

Image of a subset

The image of a subset AX under f is the subset fY defined by :
When there is no risk of confusion, f is simply written as f. This convention is a common one; the intended meaning must be inferred from the context. This makes f a function whose domain is the power set of X, and whose codomain is the power set of Y. See [|Notation] below.

Image of a function

The image of a function is the image of its entire domain.

Generalization to binary relations

If R is an arbitrary binary relation on X×Y, the set is called the image, or the range, of R. Dually, the set is called the domain of R.

Inverse image

Let f be a function from X to Y. The preimage or inverse image of a set BY under f is the subset of X defined by
The inverse image of a singleton, denoted by f −1 or by f −1, is also called the fiber over y or the level set of y. The set of all the fibers over the elements of Y is a family of sets indexed by Y.
For example, for the function f = x2, the inverse image of would be. Again, if there is no risk of confusion, denote f −1 by f −1, and think of f −1 as a function from the power set of Y to the power set of X. The notation f −1 should not be confused with that for inverse function. The notation coincides with the usual one, though, for bijections, in the sense that the inverse image of B under f is the image of B under f −1.

Notation for image and inverse image

The traditional notations used in the previous section can be confusing. An alternative is to give explicit names for the image and preimage as functions between powersets:

Arrow notation

  1. f: → defined by The image of the set under f is f =. The image of the function f is. The preimage of a is f −1 =. The preimage of is also. The preimage of is the empty set.
  2. f: RR defined by f = x2. The image of under f is f =, and the image of f is R+. The preimage of under f is f −1 =. The preimage of set N = under f is the empty set, because the negative numbers do not have square roots in the set of reals.
  3. f: R2R defined by f = x2 + y2. The fibres f −1 are concentric circles about the origin, the origin itself, and the empty set, depending on whether a > 0, a = 0, or a < 0, respectively.
  4. If M is a manifold and π: TMM is the canonical projection from the tangent bundle TM to M, then the fibres of π are the tangent spaces Tx for xM. This is also an example of a fiber bundle.
  5. A quotient group is a homomorphic image.


Counter-examples based on
f:ℝ→ℝ, xx2, showing
that equality generally need
not hold for some laws:


For every function and all subsets and, the following properties hold:

For functions and and subsets and, the following properties hold:
For function and subsets and, the following properties hold:

The results relating images and preimages to the algebra of intersection and union work for any collection of subsets, not just for pairs of subsets:
With respect to the algebra of subsets, by the above the inverse image function is a lattice homomorphism while the image function is only a semilattice homomorphism.